We believe that expertise, experience and passion are key to creating a holiday that goes beyond the norm, and that Original Travel has all three in bucket loads.
Although we don't mind blowing our own trumpet (see above), it's also extremely nice to get recognition from the wider travel industry. One such mark of recognition is Conde Nast Traveler's Travel Specialists list. The list is the gold-standard for travel experts to be acknowledged as the authority on their destination or type of travel, and every year travel specialists around the world wait with baited breath to see if they've secured a spot.
We've always fared well on this list, and 2021 is no exception; between Original Travel and Original Diving, we have no fewer than five travel experts on this illustrious list - Louisa Fisher (Diving Specialist), Tom Barber (Family Specialist), Jacqui Brooks (Indonesia Specialist), Oliver Rodwell (Mexico Specialist), and Matt Shock (Safari Specialist). Frankly, Conde Nast Traveler were spoilt for choice with the talent across the Original Travel team, but the final list gives an excellent snapshot of our expertise.
We spoke to our five Conde Nast Traveler specialists for some insider insights on their destination or type of travel. Read on to find out more...
Louisa Fisher, Diving Specialist
When did you first go diving?
I've been obsessed with the ocean as long as I can remember. I learned to dive in the Maldives when I was 11 years old; completed the Advanced course and Nitrox the following year; studied marine biology at university and gained my Divemaster qualification before joining Original Diving in 2012. Diving and the marine world have always been at the centre of my life.
What's so special about diving?
When I am diving, it is a truly meditative experience. The whole world appears to slow down and your breathing is rhythmic while you fin through crystal-clear waters alongside kaleidoscope reefs. Noises of day-to-day life are silenced in an instant and it's just you and this underwater city, where the loudest sounds are parrot fish munching on the coral. Back on dry land, you have the chance to share and enthuse with your buddies about another incredible dive site, whether it was the colours of the reef, the abundance of reef fish or a particularly special marine encounter. Diving is the perfect balance of silence and connection.
Give us some insider intel on diving.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown us just how important the scuba diving industry is for the preservation of our marine ecosystems which are often overlooked. We have already seen evidence of communities needing to return to fishing practices in order to survive, so the sooner we get back to travelling the remote corners of our globe, the better!
What have you missed most about diving?
Being underwater and the total escape from day-to-day life. Every dive is completely different, and I never get bored of observing the marine life, whether it's something entirely new, or something I've seen 100 times before.
What's next on your diving bucket list?
Palau is firmly on the bucket list. I was meant to go in 2020 but didn't get the chance; hopefully it won't be too long before I get can get there! I would also love to see humpback whales underwater - I was very close to seeing them in French Polynesia but missed out due to bad weather.
Is there a diving trip you'd repeat?
I would dive Misool again, in south Raja Ampat.
Tom Barber, Family Specialist
When was the first time you took your children on a family holiday?
'I remember taking our twins on a plane to Scotland when they were nine months old and that hour-long flight felt like about a week because unfortunately despite all the proper prepping (nappy changes before take-off, dummies - which I'm not normally a fan of - to suck on during take-off and landing etc.) they both bawled pretty much non-stop. I've never apologised so much, but actually all the other passengers were very understanding. I got off that plane and as one of the Founders I vowed that Original Travel would become the world experts on all aspects of family travel. As a result, over the last 13 years my (now four) children have been fortunate enough to go on lots of adventures - from city breaks to safaris - to help research new Original Travel family holidays. Their honest (sometimes rather too much so!) feedback is why we now call them the "Guinea Kids", and has really helped us fine tune our family offering.
What's so special about family holidays?
'Any quality time as a family is golden, but when that time is spent exploring fascinating foreign destinations it is - in my humble opinion - unbeatable. That can be something as simple as a fly & flop beach holiday or a bit more of a cultural and curiosity-invoking trip such as a city break to Rome or Paris; as long as the holiday feeds children's innate thirst to know more about the world around them it will be a winner. At Original Travel that's our mission: to make sure that every family trip contains elements of intrigue and leaves the children with some context about their destination and a better understanding of the world around them.
Tell us a top tip about making family travel a success.
'So many to choose from! In fact, every age group requires subtly different things, and for the full run down we can send you a copy of our excellent and exhaustive Families brochure, but for now, I would say that wherever you choose to go, and whatever you choose to do there, make sure it is based around the requirements of the youngest child. There's nothing worse than dragging an exhausted young mite around a gallery, even if the older children are desperate to do it. There will be a time when they're all older and can do that.'
What have missed most about family travel?
'Seeing my children's eyes grow wide when learning something new. In a way, home-schooling has actually been a one-off (hopefully) opportunity to see one's children learning in front of you, but I will never forget seeing the fascination, awe and joy on their faces in situations like an expertly guided walking safari in South Africa or wandering around the Colosseum hearing about gory gladiator bouts.'
What family trip have you not done yet that you are most desperate to do?
'A mega-Mexico trip. We were due to go at Easter last year, then Christmas this year, and now we are going in 2022. None of us can wait because I think the trip will be the perfect combo - beach, snorkelling, swimming with manatees, exploring cave systems, visiting Mayan ruins, Mexican cooking classes, wandering around colonial cities, visits to flamingo colonies etc. etc. We were so sad not to go during lockdown last Easter that we made a whole series of Instagram stories recreating the trip using Lego, stop motion movies, our two dogs (as jaguars!). Not quite as fun as the real thing, but it kept the children happy during lockdown.'
If you could only have one family travel experience now, what would it be?
'Going snorkelling with the children on a beautiful coral reef somewhere. Snorkelling is the perfect family activity, with the children pointing out different types of brilliantly coloured reef fish and diving down for a closer look. My oldest two are now old enough to do their PADI Open Water tests, and I remember swimming around and diving down to film them with a GoPro when they did their PADI Bubblemaker try dive aged 10 in the Maldives. They absolutely adored it, and I can't wait to get back underwater with them.'
Jacqui, Indonesia Specialist
When did you first go to Indonesia?
My first trip to Indonesia was in 2010, as a backpacker. We travelled from Jakarta to Komodo and back by train, ferry and bemo (basic public minibus); saw the sunrise at Borobudur; dived the Liberty Shipwreck at Tulamben; and saw Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island. While I wouldn't wish to repeat some of those 24-hour ferry journeys, I was totally hooked on Indonesia and have returned many times since.
What's so special about Indonesia?
The sheer variety on offer in Indonesia is quite astonishing. Landscapes range from terraced rice paddies and volcanic plains to beautiful beaches, sometimes within an hour of each other. Wildlife aficionados can spot endangered orangutans, Thomas Leaf monkeys and the endemic Komodo Dragon on one trip. Then there are fascinating traditions, belief systems and celebrations still thriving on the islands, from the Animist communities in Toraja, Sulawesi, who hold huge and elaborate funeral ceremonies, to the Balinese Hindu New Year celebration of Nyepi - or 'the day of silence' - when the entire island shuts down. There are very few places in the world where an international airport can be closed for a religious celebration!
Give us some insider intel on Indonesia.
The town of Ubud in Bali is on the wish list for most travellers exploring Indonesia. At the heart of the artisan scene in Bali, the villages surrounding the town often specialise in a particular craft, from silversmithing to stone masonry. Ubud is certainly no secret, but don't strike it off the list just yet. Stay just outside of town to explore the countryside and villages of central Bali, before returning to Ubud in the evening once the hordes of day trippers have left to enjoy some wonderful meals. Indulge in the locally-sourced fine dining menu at Locavore, a dessert tasting menu at Room 4 Dessert, or some of the juiciest ribs and a cool beer from Naughty Nuri's roadside warung.
What have missed most about Indonesia?
The fiery sunsets from Southern Bali's beaches, the morning chorus of "pagi!" (good morning) from super friendly locals, and the food. And I've spent far too much time dreaming about Warung Ibu Oka's babi guling (spiced Balinese roast pork with all manner of fragrant spicy veg accompaniments) during lockdown.
What have you not done yet in Indonesia?
I'm going to have to cheat a little here and put two experiences at the top of my Indonesia wish list. First up is to travel out to Raja Ampat to snorkel and dive some of the world's most pristine coral reefs, and hike in search of bird of paradise back on land. Second is to visit Sumba Island for the Pasola Festival in February. Pasola is an animist celebration involving ritualised warfare on horseback (with blunt spears now, thankfully) to celebrate the start of the rice planting season. The date of Pasola is based upon the arrival of the Nyale seaworm on shore in western Sumba, signifying the end of the rainy season.
If you could only do one thing in Indonesia?
The one experience I would repeat time and time again, is spending time in the rainforest in search of orangutans. I've been lucky enough to see wild orangutans in both Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra, and Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan. Seeing these incredible, endangered, primates in their natural habitat is an absolute privilege.
Oliver Rodwell, Mexico Specialist
When did you first go to Mexico?
I first went to Mexico exactly 10 years ago (March 2011) for my now sister-in-law's wedding at a historic hacienda near Guadalajara, Jalisco.
What's so special about Mexico?
Mexico has so much to offer: a rich and varied history; vibrant cities; amazing food; beaches to suit every taste, from hidden gems on the Pacific coast, to the better-known stretches around Tulum and the Riviera Maya; and warm and friendly people. Natural wonders, world-class hotels... I could easily carry on for a while!
Give us some insider intel on Mexico.
The Pacific coast of Jalisco (apart from Puerto Vallarta) is largely under the radar at the moment but there are a few hotel openings coming in the next couple of years that will raise the status in the international market. The jungle-clad mountains of the Pacific coast make it feel wilder than the Caribbean coast and it is a mecca for surfing and whale-watching. Combine the coast with a stay at the historic Hacienda San Antonio in the neighbouring state of Colima. Sitting in the shadow of the Nevado de Colima volcano, it is surely one of the most picturesque and refined haciendas anywhere in the Americas.
What have missed most about Mexico?
Family and friends of course but the food most of all! My mother-in-law's tortas ahogadas (salsa-drenched sandwiches) and shrimp tacos from Baja California.
What have you not done yet in Mexico?
A boat trip to see the wonders of the Sea of Cortez. There is incredible marine wildlife to see - such as whale sharks and orcas - and deserted islands with powder white sand and turquoise waters to discover.
If you could only do one thing in Mexico?
Such a difficult question for Mexico! Mexico City, with its frenetic energy, is one of my favourite cities, but for somewhere entirely unique, the Yucatan Peninsula takes some beating. Mayan ruins hanging over the azure waters of the Caribbean; powder white beaches to suit every taste; colonial cities and towns; fantastic regional food; hippie hangouts; and wildlife havens to name a few. You could spend two weeks in the Yucatan and barely scratch the surface.
Matt Shock, Safari Expert
When was the first time you went on Safari?
I first went on safari in 2013, when I travelled to South Africa to do an introductory guiding course in Limpopo Province, and then went on to work on a conservation project in Phinda Game Reserve. Over the next few years, I completed my field guide training in South Africa and Botswana.
What's so special about Safari?
The word safari comes from the Arabic word "safar", which means "journey", and that is exactly what it is - a journey through some of the world's last and greatest wildernesses. You can experience untouched landscapes; indomitable wildlife and nature; and interact with local people in a way which isn't possible in many other parts of the world.
Give us some insider intel about going on a safari.
A lot of people don't realise the connection between safari tourism and conservation. Without tourism, there would be no Serengeti, no Kruger, no Masai Mara, and certainly very little wildlife left. Whenever you go on a safari, you are directly and positively impacting the natural places left in Africa, and helping to support their inhabitants - both animal and human. Sustainable tourism is so important as a type of travel, now so more than ever in the midsts of the Coronavirus pandemic, and it is crucial to realise the positive effect your trip is having.
What have missed most about going on a safari?
Sundowner beers! London sunsets aren't quite the same...
What have you not done yet on safari?
There are some of the more remote and difficult places to get to in Africa which I would love to visit; namely Parc National d'Odzala-Kokoua in the Republic of Congo; Zakouma National Park in Chad; and Katavi in Tanzania. There are also countless other wildlife destinations outside of Africa I am yet to visit - unfortunately being so obsessed with Africa has meant I have been quite a one-continent man in recent years!
If you could only go on a safari one more time?
I would probably go to the Tuli Block in southern Botswana. It is a hidden gem in Botswana's many-jewelled crown, and the place where I first became truly obsessed with Africa and its wildlife. I would climb up a large kopje I know about on the Motloutse River at sunset and watch hundreds of elephants digging for water in the dry river bed below.