Story by Muriel Vega
With the rise of ticket booking and hotel aggregator sites on the Internet, you may think that the travel agent profession has become obsolete. However, the personalized curation done by travel consultants is here to stay, even during the holidays, according to Lindsey Epperly.
“The biggest misconception people have about travel agencies is that they’re still old school, purely transactional and that the agents haven’t traveled anywhere,” says Epperly, an Atlanta-based travel consultant and entrepreneur. “In the past, they would just book a trip for the client without getting to know them, whereas we’re very service-oriented.”
Epperly owns travel consultancy Epperly Travel, an agency that offers luxury travel services for those users who aren’t interested in navigating travel forums online and need a little extra assistance to find activities that fit their itinerary and budget.
She started traveling at a young age, when her family booked cruises to the Caribbean and Alaska. “When I was in college, I studied abroad in France and attended the Cannes Festival, thinking I wanted to do film,” she says. “I came back from my semester abroad, [having] fallen in love with travel.”
As a 20-year-old English major at the University of Georgia looking for more information on an upcoming family cruise, she walked into a small Athens travel agency. “I wasn’t vying for a job at all and they offered me one on the spot to sell honeymoons. I said, ‘I’ve never been on one, but let’s see who buys one from me,’” she laughs.
Three years ago, she expanded Epperly Travel past her one-woman operation, bringing on several travel coordinators and partnering with a bigger umbrella agency to provide more buying power for their clients.
Now her travel consultancy specializes in foreign, 5-star luxury getaways, from honeymoons to family travel. Partnerships with vetted properties, tour groups, and other vendors can help clients skip the often nebulous reviews online that leave them wondering if the lodging or tour will be a good fit. These questions become especially pressing during the holiday season, traditionally one of the year’s busiest times to travel domestically.
“When you go online, you’re just putting in what you think you want, or what Expedia tells you is the cheapest thing out there,” she says. “Whereas we’re serving as that interpreter. I’ve had so many people find out that their dream trip is in a different area than they were expecting — they are open to the new destination just based on our expertise. I don’t believe that travel is one-size-fits-all.”
Epperly shares the best spots to spend the holiday season and take advantage of the slow season for destinations abroad.
Christmas in Italy. During the off-season, Italy has become a great bang for your buck over the holidays, Epperly says. While you won’t be able to go wine tasting in Tuscany or hang on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, major cities like Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice offer beautiful winter attractions like the Christmas Market of Piazza Navona in Rome or the many piazzas decorated to the nines with large Christmas trees, like Milan’s Piazza Duomo. “You can still have a lovely time in major cities at great rates with next to no crowds,” she says.
Holidays in the sun. “A lot of travelers are hoping to find a little fun in the sun during the holidays, but it’s important to note that the Christmas and New Year’s period are the most expensive times to visit sunny destinations like the Caribbean and Hawaii,” Epperly says. Her main tip if you choose to go the sandy route: Find recently opened properties or new hidden gem hotels to grab lower rates.
She recommends Solaz, the new Luxury Collection property in Cabo, and the beachfront Park Hyatt St. Kitts in the West Indies. At St. Kitts, don’t miss the Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its well-preserved grounds and forts. If you climb to the top, you can see up to six other islands in the distance.
Adventure in the new year. A big fan of the Southern Hemisphere, Epperly recommends using the slow time at the end of the year to escape the winter and enjoy Australia and New Zealand’s summer. She recommends a stay at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand for the incredible views and farm-to-table offerings during your stay.
In New Zealand, take a short 30-min ferry to Waiheke Island for a tour of the local wineries. There are several tours available that take you to three to four wineries, and if you want to unwind after, there’s a beach and restaurants near the ferry port before making your way back to Auckland.
For 2019, Epperly recommends East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), especially for people who’ve already done South Africa and a more approachable outdoor adventure with access to beaches and wildlife. But her No. 1 destination is Portugal. “I personally traveled to Portugal last year and I think it’s best kept secret of Europe,” she says.
Lindsey Epperly’s No. 1 travel tip is packing clothes within the same color scheme so you have more versatile outfits and can fit them all in one carry-on.
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