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The adventures of a travel concierge

The adventures of a travel concierge

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Dear Friends,

I’m delighted to share the latest interview in my Creatively Speaking series where I’m sharing conversations with artists, creatives, dreamers, doers and those pursuing their passions with the aim of discovering their story and inspiration.  Today’s conversation is all about travel.  Travel has had me under her spell for many years – it happened during my first big overseas trip in my early twenties. I headed off to travel around Europe with six girlfriends for six months.  What an adventure we had and so many memories were created – we still talk about it today!

I was excited to catch up with Jean Wethmar from Glam Girls travels who also has a love for travel (is there anyone that doesn’t???); so much so she set up her own travel business taking small groups of women on travel adventures to India, Morocco, Africa and more.

I could listen to Jean’s travel stories for ages but all good things must draw to a close, so below is a wrap-up of our conversation.  This is sure to get you booking your next adventure.  So grab a cup of tea, put your feet up and let Jean take you on an adventure.

 

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Sunset in Serengeti, Tanzania. Image by Chen Hu

You’re based in Sydney but you’re from South Africa – tell us a little bit about why you came to Australia?

I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. My husband, Francois and I immigrated to Sydney in 2002.  Francois had business opportunities to travel and attend conferences here, think Double Bay, Gold Coast. So after some consideration, we decided to uproot, unplug, and sell our empty four bedroom home, plus a granny flat, and immigrate so that our yet-to-be-born grandchildren would have better opportunities in the distant future. That was in 2002.  Francois came over first to set up office. I assisted with the packing up of one normal standard 18’ foot container. Of course, we had excess stuff I had to deal with and that was the ‘starting’ of my Marie Kondo lifestyle! I had been with an interior decorating company for 10 years, and oh the clutter and blue bowls I had gathered!

Our beautiful Sydney, where even the bus drivers apologise if they run 4 minutes late, and Jo’burg were chalk and cheese. Life in Jo’burg had become insensitive and filled with ‘stories’; awful ones, ones we didn’t feel we like to could grow old with!

Tell us a bit about you, your story, your background, your favourite things.

After moving halfway across the world to live in Australia, we started our new life in Neutral Bay. I loved travelling to the city daily, using the ferry service. So different to life in South Africa.  After 8 years in Neutral Bay, we decided on a change and purchased a villa in a golf estate, and moved interstate.. but our daughter had two gorgeous daughters and I felt I was missing out by not living closer, so we moved back to Sydney, St Ives.  Love living on the Northern Beaches, not that I get down to the beaches often anymore…. I used to be an olive oil sun worshipper.

Back in Neutral Bay, I started working for a corporate travel company.  It was around this time, that I joined my first girls-only group to India, with complete strangers. That was in 2007. I left a big chunk of my heart in India. I return as often as I can.   I’ve been blessed to now visit India up to 3 times a year; some years, I have more visits.  I have gathered so much collateral, I could write a book about India, but wait I am digressing.  My passions have certainly made room for me!

My favourite things needless to say include travelling – when I get my suitcases out, the anticipation is there already.  As mentioned, before we immigrated I was in interior decorating working with a company well known for their “out of Africa’ Karen Blixen interior decorating style.  I still love interior decorating – I’m a Colonial at heart – think Panama Hats, palm trees, silver hip flasks, and cane furniture.  I also love good food and wine and entertaining – cooking for hungry and appreciative friends.

 

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Moroccan jewel, hidden deep in Ourika Valley. Image by Maria Orlova.

What would be your favourite place to travel to and why?  Which country has your heart?

Without a doubt, I don’t even have to think for a second –  India! It has over 22 million reasons why. Her people are the friendliest, most colourful, most vibrant of any nation I have met.  Her standards of trustworthiness and respect are high. I’ve never had a misfortune in any of my trips there.. oh wait.. in January of this year, I lost my mobile. Some may say it was nicked. I say it was my error! Opportunists are plentiful wherever one travels. India is my happy place.  Each of its very colourful states is so unique and different. From the Pink City – Jaipur, to the Blue City – Jodhpur, to the Golden City – Jaisalmer to the Backwaters of Kerala, to Goa, to Varanasi, the beginning and ending of life – all so alive. Eating a pistachio kulfi (Indian Ice cream) on the streets of Jaipur lives on in your heart!

 

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Scenes from India. Image on the left Jaipur India by Ibrahim Rifath and on the right by Aditya Chinchure.

What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had on your travels?

There have been many occasions when I have to pinch myself to make sure that all this travelling is happening to me! Often when we dream dreams, and they happen, we can’t believe it! So.. here’s one incredible ‘pinch me’ moment that I had while touring with a group of 14 women through Morocco. We had all just been presented with a beautiful cobalt Moroccan blue kaftan. We had arrived at the camel meeting point – our manic 4×4 drivers (boys will be show-offs no matter which country you live in!), had driven us through from the tiny rural Moroccan town way down south. We were about to start our Sahara Desert overnight experience.

The sun was casting long shadows.  We were each presented with a camel, decked out in all its finery, nose rings, hump covered in a rich royal carpet.  After all, these were GlamGirls they were going to transport to our exotic, overnight camp.

Getting 14 people organised to ride through the desert sounded like an easy task! Ha! The Sex in the City Girls had nothing on us Aussie chicks!

“I want that camel, its cloak goes with my scarf”.

“No, I like that camel handler’s eyes!”

“No I picked him first!

All we needed was a bottle of bubbles to sort out the differences! Note to self, for my next Moroccan trip! Finally, we were all seated on our new best friend’s and ready to ride off into the sunset! Oh, we had also been ‘turbanised’! So picture this, a group of women in cobalt blue Kaftans, each with a white turban wound around their head, just in case a dust storm blew up. And we were off!

Each camel knows to walk behind the one in front, one long line.. and the shadows of our camel train got longer. It was just magic! My camera went into overdrive!

I will never forget the colours the sands turned, as the sun slipped into the soft sands of the Sahara Desert. From light golden hues, tinged with yellow, to the sky flaming up with pink, and then coral, and then the odd white clouds turning grey. The shadows that the sun formed turning the huge dunes to the darker shades of gold, and best of all, the stillness of the entire group, each with our own thoughts, for the first time that day.

Yes, dreams do happen!

It was an incredible moment in time! Africa is in my veins, but that sunset will be etched as an unforgettable one in my heart! On getting to our overnight camp.. well.. that’s another story, for another time!

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Jean travelling in Morocco. Image courtesy of Jean.

 

What inspired you to establish Glam Girls Travels?

After I had that first trip to India in 2007, I came home filled with gratitude that I could have experienced that with a group of strangers, who became best of friends. Together, we shared, we laughed, we cried, we shared shopping secrets, and so much more. We let down those hedges that divide. My husband and I travelled to Vietnam in 2013 and I formed an association with a wholesale tour operator based in Hanoi. My first Vietnam tour was with a Pilates expert on board and GlamGirls Travels was born.

What’s the concept behind the concierge aspect of Glam Girls Travels?

Having a ‘concierge on board’ with you 24/7 means having access to her knowledge, contacts, guidance, advice, tips, and tricks  – when I escorted a mixed golfing group to Vietnam this was most advantageous. The golfers love that 19th hole to discuss the events of the day, and those dinner time slots invariably had to be reset! Having your concierge on tour with you brings comfort as well. She’s well connected!

 

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Jean and friends during one of her India tours. Image courtesy of Jean.

 

Do you have any travel tips you can share with us?

For sure – here’s some tips I stick to.  Take out the clothes you intend to take, and then put half back! Go with some space always, and don’t think your hair won’t cope with only your shampoo – the one you use at home. It’s good for your hair to change shampoos, occasionally. Keep your hands clean and dose up on probiotics before you travel. Whatever it is, always purchase it if you love it – you’ll never see it again! Relax, recover, refresh, and renew yourself while away. Keep hydrated – and that’s not only with Masala Chai or that Espresso or Beer  – I’m talking water here…

Any tips for recovering from jet lag?

Stay awake if the sun is shining – sleep if it’s dark – and get a good dose of Vitamin D that first day on the trip, or home. It resets the melatonin. Drink lots of water on the plane.

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at your hotel room?

Put away my passport and ‘spare’ money into the safe, even if it’s not bolted down. I don’t venture onto the streets with my passport. I then set up ‘home’… my toiletries go into the bathroom, I fill my ‘street’ purse with hand sanitiser, tissues, personal wipes, money and a local currency converter chart – I don’t take my credit card with me, unless I anticipate a bigger shopping trip is going to happen, like visiting an Indian Wholesaler!.  Then I add in lipstick – always the same coral color  (I buy them in different brands), always coral!  And off I go to explore.

 

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Humayun’s tomb, New Delhi, India. Image by Dewang Gupta.

 

Where did the concept for the Princess Diary Tour of Rajasthan come from?

A very treasured book “The Princess Remembers – The memories of the Maharani of Jaipur “– Gayatri Devi.

Gayatri was raised in a sumptuous palace staffed with 500 servants, shot her first panther when she was five. The book presents an intimate look at an extraordinary life of one of the world’s most fascinating. And going through the Royal State of Rajasthan, on feels like a Princess. Checking into the Historical Palaces, and seeing the forts, and walking through the City Palaces, gives us a glimmer of a regal lifestyle, we can only dream of. While on tour, we certainly are all Princesses.

 

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Image of Gayatri Devi. Photographer unknown.

 

What’s been your top 5 experiences of India?

  1. Buying my never to ‘fluff, or snag, or pull, or ball’ Pashmina where Richard Geer shopped for his 30 friends, at a huge 5 floors of exports, in Jodhpur.
  2. Eating just out of Tandoor oven, the freshest, crispiest, ‘garlickiest’ naan bread, serviced from the best Palak Paneer.
  3. Taing the first sip of Old Monk Rum.  I don’t drink Rum in Australia, at all.  It’s my Indian go to drink – very refreshing.
  4. A spa treatment at the very gorgeous property, Suryagah in Jaisalmer – the desert city. The Indian Head massage lives on every time I think about it!
  5. Seeing my frist live tiger at Ranthambore.  We saw four that day!  Some visit, and never see any.

 

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Image by Mohan Moolepetlu

Do you feel changed in any way by the travel you’ve done?

I’m eternally filled to the brim, with gratitude.  Gratitude makes a stranger a friend, a house a home, and safe travels, joyful. If I’m perfectly honest and truthful to myself, I can never be disappointed. I think of all the elements that come together for me to experience something – I focus on just that experience, good or bad, and its lessons, what it taught me.  All this brings me incredible joy.  Sure, sometimes we are disappointed but that’s the spoilt brat in me feeling disappointed! I try never to have those FOMO moments on travel either and instead focus on the experiences that I’m having.

Contentment and gratitude are where I focus my energy. These two elements fill me with great joy.

Do you have any favourite travel books?

I love the series by Fiona Caulfield – ‘Made in Kolkata, Made in Delhi, Made in Goa, Made in Jaipur, Made in Mumbai”.. very informative, and she updates all the time! I also adore Janelle McCullough’s London Secrets, New York in Style,  oh and her Parisian book. Actually, she’s written 24 in total. And then my ‘Black Book’ of tips, and tricks, from Vietnam to Myanmar, to Bhutan, to India and Morocco.. I should publish!

What’s next on your travel bucket list?

India – Bengaluru and Darjeeling, and Kolkata.

And finally, the question I ask everyone who takes part in my Creatively Speaking interviews – ‘What’s your favourite quote – one that guides your work or life’?

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. Oscar Wilde

 

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Image provided by Jean taken on her India travels

 

A big thank you to Jean for sharing her story and her love for travel.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this ‘Creatively Speaking‘ post – love to hear your comments below.

With love and light

Kris xx

 

PS:  Jean and I have launched our first collaboration together after Jean asked me to add a photography element to her Princess Diary Tour.  Can’t wait to photograph India! Registrations are open and if you book before 15 May, you’ll be given one of a selection of books on India.  Come and join us. Registrations close on 30 May.  Click here for more details.

First photo credit – Entering the Taj Mahal at the sunrise… photo by Julian Yu.

 

Kris
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