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Secrets of Successful Travelers | T+L Family

Livia Corona Secrets of a Successsful Travel Planner

Photo: Livia Corona

The planner Gail Gross, M.D. She and her husband, Georges Sulmers, a recently retired pilot for United, have six children between them: DeeDee, 17; twins Teri and Toni, 22; Claire, 26; André, 30; and Georges, 40. Home base Atlanta, Georgia

Gail, a busy ob-gyn, was the widowed mother of year-old twins when she married Georges, a pilot with three teens of his own. The couple then had DeeDee, but this Brady Bunch has never been housebound. Georges’ airline discounts meant Gail could take the three youngest on monthly outings to the Caribbean. Every winter the clan hit the slopes in Steamboat Springs or Vail, and they also took off on one or two big trips a year (Costa Rica, Rome, South Africa). Now, with almost all of the children grown, they still love to travel as a pack.

My never-fail planning method

For our trip to Egypt in 2004, I came up with a strategy that I now use whenever we’re going someplace exotic. I first go to a high-end tour operator’s site to see how they structure their excursions; I take that itinerary as a starting point, then find someone locally to do it cheaper. For Egypt, I e-mailed 20 travel agents—I found them on Google, and just cut-and-pasted the same query letter over and over. Once I got their responses, I rejected the highest and lowest bids, figuring they were unrealistic, then asked for references from the others. Some agents put in bids as high as $3,000 per person for an eight-day tour that included a Nile cruise and four nights in Cairo, but a company called KET Travel (kettravel.com) did it all for just $450 per person. And it was so terrific, we added extra days.

Unforgettable vacation

Georges thought I was crazy years ago when I told him I was bringing the children (the twins were 8, and DeeDee was 3) dogsledding in Ely, Minnesota. Now he says it was our best family trip, partly because of our amazing guide, Paul Schurke from Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge (dogsledding.com). We stayed at three different lodges and went from place to place by sled. The kids helped harness the dogs in the morning and mush them during the rides. It was yap, yap, yap all day, and so much fun.

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