Savvy Navigator attended and sponsored the July 2009 Travel Blog Exchange meet-up in Chicago. Here I was able to hang, play and learn with some of the best travel bloggers in the world. One of these bloggers was Dr. Jessie Voigts, who is the publisher of the Wandering Educators
-- an eclectic group of global and traveling educators, bent on sharing their passion for travel with like-minded individuals. Think of them as cool teachers on the go!
Dr. Jessie recently interviewed me and here’s her blog entry on our discussion. It really does give a great overview of what we’re about here at Savvy Navigator:
WE: Please tell us about your site, Savvy Navigator...
JW: SavvyNavigator.com is the portal for my company, Savvy Navigator Tours LLC, a Washington, DC-based provider of luxury, experiential tours to the upscale, gay, male traveler market segment. For the past several years, we’ve offered amazing trips and safaris to South Africa. In 2010, we’re broadening our offerings to include Costa Rica, Argentina, and Botswana, as well as South Africa.
On our site, we have pictures from recent trips, overviews of our upcoming tours, and the Savvy Navigator blog, which is my pride and joy, and the soapbox for this bossy gay travel diva! It’s in that forum that I get to share my opinion about interesting things I see and experience in the world of travel.
WE: What was the genesis of Savvy Navigator?
JW: Basically, I’ve been the Savvy Navigator my entire life. When I was about 12 years old, I took it upon myself to plan our family vacation to see both sets of grandparents, located in Montgomery, AL and St. Petersburg, FL. I figured out the optimal flight schedules using printed Delta and Eastern timetables (remember those?), and then I called Delta reservations to make the bookings.
At the end of the call the Delta reservations agent asked my named and I said “Jeffrey Ward,” and she was astonished to learn that she had been talking to a 12-year-old boy, instead of his mother (OK, my voice had not yet changed).
In 2007, my husband was celebrating his 40th birthday and I planned an amazing party for him and 24 of our closest and dearest friends in the Stellenbosch Valley, outside of Cape Town. I had hired a terrific tour operator and Destination Management Company down there, Southern Destinations, to do all of our planning and logistics. They did a terrific job - I hired them again to plan our next vacation in 2008 to Botswana. During this second planning process, I got to know the owners really well and they told me they were looking to increase their North American revenue. I distinctly remember one partner saying to me, “You know Jeff, we can offer an Abercrombie and Kent package for about ½ the cost, and we think you should develop product with us to market to the gay market in the USA and Canada.” As soon as I got off the phone that day, the Savvy Navigator company was born!
WE: What can readers expect from a Savvy Navigator Tour?
JW: First of all the price for our tours includes many items that other gay and lesbian tour operators omit – a minimum of two meals each day, all sightseeing, guide fees, transfers, and internal airfare while on the trip. Our guests are not expected to cough up a lot more money once the trip begins.
As for the trip itself, what we offer is an experiential journey that goes deeper into the local culture than most other offerings. For example, we use hotels and lodges that are my husband’s and my personal favorites, where we have a personal relationship with the owners/managers. We dine in restaurants that are favorites of locals that no other tour operator will take you to. Similarly, we seek out local experts to join us for our excursions and meals to help “fill in the gaps” so that the Savvy Navigator traveler comes away from the experience truly an expert on the country he has just visited.
WE: What intercultural issues do gay travelers have to be aware of, when traveling?
JW: First of all, the gay traveler needs to ensure that his destination does indeed welcome the GLBT traveler. Savvy Navigator specifically chooses destinations that welcome us with open arms. As a matter of fact, when the new South African constitution was written in 1994, it’s one of the first in the world to formally grant equal protection to its gay and lesbian citizens.
The other countries where we bring out tours are also very, very welcoming and there’s no formal discrimination present, unlike some destinations like certain Caribbean Islands.
Also, all of our hotels, lodges and suppliers are vetted to ensure they are comfortable handling a group of gay travelers. Even though some are not necessarily gay or lesbian, they are all extremely gay-friendly.
WE: Do you have any great travel tips for gay travelers?
JW: The most important tip that I reinforce over and over again is that no one in any destination you are traveling to can read your mind. Therefore, it’s important to be very clear, in a friendly way of course, what your expectations might be. For example, my husband and I took a cruise a few years ago with his family. It was important to us that our cabin be configured with one bed, as opposed to two singles. I specifically told the cruise line that we wanted one bed, and when we entered our stateroom for the first time, we were pleased with the configuration. Had we not said anything, the steward would have seen two men’s names on the incoming manifest and assumed we were single travelers wanting single beds.
WE: How do you advise travelers give back, while they are abroad?
JW: One thing we’re building into all of our trips, especially those in Africa, is the opportunity to spend an afternoon doing some volunteer work. It’s still in the planning stages, but we hope to announce something very soon.
One simple program I love is the airline industry’s Change for Good in-flight coin collection scheme. This is the program where cabin crew on international flights collect loose change, in any currency, for UNICEF. Just last week I was coming out of Costa Rica on American Airlines and the flight purser made an announcement and then walked up and down the aisle to collect loose change. I had a bunch of Costa Rican Colon coins in my pocket that I happily donated.
WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
JW: If any of your readers have any ideas for new destinations or products, we’d love to hear about them. We’re always open to new ideas and concepts!
WE: Thanks so much, Jeff. We are so impressed with your site and tours! And we LOVE your Savvy Navigator Luggage Tag, from TBEX '09.