Travel planning usually focuses on the where, the destination printed on our boarding passes or train tickets, the name typed into the Google search bar in neat Arial letters. There's the pin on the map, the destination's sights and smells, the perfect Instagram square of beach, skyline, or mountain.
But the who is at least as important as the where. The right tour leader can make a walk around the block into a thrilling adventure—the wrong companions can ruin even the most magical locale.
Today, more tour operators and cruise lines are thinking about the who when they weave together itineraries and programming. They’re inviting along scientists, adventurers, journalists and photographers who transform trips into mobile TED talks where you can learn about climate change on Easter Island from Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times, or visit Cuba alongside a James Beard-winning chef.
Whether you prefer to cruise, tour, cook, or hike, here are 10 fascinating people you can travel with in 2017.
Archaeology is a challenging pursuit, but Argentine anthropologist Constanza Ceruti adds an extra layer of difficulty to the discipline with her specialty: alpine investigations in the high peaks of the Andes.
The lone woman in the field of high-altitude archaeology, Ceruti studies Incan shrines and ceremonial sites—often the location of human sacrifices—on summits higher than 19,000 feet. On a National Geographic expedition in the Atacama Desert, Ceruti was part of the team that discovered the Children of Llullaillaco, three 500-year-old kids among the best preserved mummies in the world.
Ceruti will share her experiences in mountaineering and research on National Geographic Expeditions’ Exploring Patagonia itinerary, which visits Buenos Aires, Tierra del Fuego, and Torres del Paine National Park.
Born in the U.S. to Cuban parents, chef Douglas Rodriguez made a name for himself in the 1990s cooking Nuevo Latino cuisine at New York restaurants Patria and Chicama, and helping usher traditional dishes like ceviche and arepas into the American consciousness.
While the James Beard-winner is still regularly in the kitchen at his 15-year-old Philadelphia restaurant Alma de Cuba, these days Rodriguez also leads culinary trips to Cuba, which he has visited more than 13 times in the last three years. In 2017, he’ll guide travelers through the booming Havana dining scene and introduce them to organic farms and ceviche techniques on three separate departures.
Dr. Brent Stewart
That drone buzzing overhead? If you’re cruising Antarctica with G Adventures, it likely belongs to Dr. Brent Stewart. Stewart is the Canadian tour company’s scientist in residence, a biologist who’s been studying marine mammals, sea turtles, whale sharks and penguins for more than 30 years and exploring questions like how penguins find their mate among colonies of thousands.
Learn more about the flightless birds on G Adventures’ Spirit of Shackleton voyage, which cruises through the Drake Passage to Antarctica, the Falkland Islands and Shackleton’s South Georgia grave.
Via Dinarica pioneer
Dutchman Thierry Joubert arrived in the Balkans in 1992, just as the former Yugoslavia was disintegrating and the region was plunging into war. Despite the bitter conflict, Joubert fell in love with the region through humanitarian work, and in 2000 he co-founded Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first ecotourism company, Green Visions.
In the last few years, Joubert has been instrumental in developing the Via Dinarica, a new trans-Balkan hiking trail that covers almost 2,000 kilometers in the little-explored Dinaric Alps and passes through mountain villages, virgin forests and stunning river canyons as it connects eight different countries, including Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia. Travelers can tackle sections of the trail with Joubert during guided Green Visions trips.
Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Jay Dickman has plied his craft all over the world, from a Stone Age village in Papau New Guinea to a nuclear sub gliding beneath Arctic ice. In the last year alone he’s visited nearly 30 countries on behalf of National Geographic, and when he’s not on assignment, Dickman also leads photography workshops both as a National Geographic Expert and for his own FirstLight series.
Since launching FirstLight in 2003, Dickman has hosted groups in places like Namibia, Scotland, and the American West, helping aspiring shooters hone their talents and create their best images.
“I hope these folks leave the workshop with this refreshed, emboldened perspective of seeing photographically,” he said. For 2017, trips are in the works to Mongolia and a Wyoming ranch, timed to coincide with the total solar eclipse.
For Naomi Duguid, food is a lens through which to see a country and learn about its culture. The writer and cookbook author, who has published tomes on Thailand, Burma and most recently Persia, also leads culinary focused trips under the name Immerse Through.
“What else do we do everyday besides eat?” she said. “Food is a subject and an activity and a preoccupation for everyone every day. It’s the most accessible human activity.”
On her trips to Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand, guests spend the mornings at various markets, then return to the kitchen to craft meals from the bounty they’ve collected. In Burma, her tours travel the country, getting to know its diverse geography and culinary traditions.
In fall 2017, she also plans to launch a pair of new itineraries in Georgia and Iran inspired by her most recent book, “A Taste of Persia.” Guests will visit the bazaars of Iran, meet Georgian cheese producers and taste as much as possible.
As co-host of NPR’s Peabody-winning show Radiolab, Robert Krulwich has helped tell stories about pregnancy surrogates, rhino hunting and the dark web using humor to illuminate dense scientific concepts and explore tough issues.
The veteran journalist will lend his famous voice, scientific expertise and general curiosity to an 8-day Lindblad Expeditions voyage to southeastern Alaska that travels through the whale-rich waters of Icy Strait and into the fjords of Glacier Bay National Park. With only 100 guests onboard, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to rub elbows with the radio host and pump him for info on upcoming podcasts.
Over three decades of guiding, Kate Ulberg has forged a connection to Japan that runs deep and opens doors. Along with understanding the intricacies of Japanese culture, she’s privy to more simple secrets, like which tofu maker to visit first thing in the morning when the good stuff is extra fresh. Ulberg’s relationship with the country took a new turn in 2013 when her brother discovered a traditional Japanese Torii gate claimed by the 2011 tsunami that had washed up on an Oregon beach. Ulberg helped track down the gate’s home village, and on Wilderness Travel’s new trip, Japan: The Road to the North, Ulberg leads guests in the footsteps of famed Japanese poet Matsuo Basho including a visit to the village of Okuki to see the Torii gate back in its rightful place.
In his National Book Award-winner “Arctic Dreams,” author Barry Lopez describes the far north as beautiful and powerful, a place where “darkness and light are bound together” and “where airplanes track icebergs the size of Cleveland and polar bears fly down out of the stars.”
Known for his writings on humans’ relationship with the natural environment in books and essays for magazines like Outside and National Geographic, Lopez will serve as a special co-leader on Wilderness Travel’s small-ship Alaskan Dreams departure, during which guests spend their days exploring southeastern Alaska by paddle board and kayak and their evenings listening to talks from Lopez and fellow nature writer Richard Nelson.
Secret Service agent (retired)
Few days in U.S. history have achieved the mythological status of November 22, 1963. Former Secret Service agent Clint Hill was traveling in President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade the day he was assassinated, and his experiences around the shooting and over four years working for First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy have become the subject of a pair books. The retired agent, who served five administrations and rose to the rank of assistant director of the Secret Service, will share unclassified memories of his days on the job aboard a 15-day Crystal Cruises sailing around New Zealand and Australia.
And in 2018...
Columnist, The New York Times
Got a month and $135,000? Then you can join Abercrombie & Kent and the New York Times on a private-jet journey around the world that touches down in places like Marrakesh, Morocco and Yangon, Myanmar and taps current and former Times staffers to help tell the stories of the places you visit. One such writer is Nicholas Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer-winning op-ed columnist who has reported on human rights, war and poverty across the globe. He’ll join the trip in Easter Island, Samoa and Sydney, Australia to talk about climate change where its effects are already reverberating.