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Discovering the World is a Family Affair

by Kelsy Chauvin
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Feb 27, 2015

Gay and lesbian travelers have a world of choices available. No longer is venturing to faraway lands commonly hindered by safety concerns, or feeling misunderstood at the hotel check-in desk.

LGBT families, likewise, can skip the stress of politically charged trip planning, and instead just endure the same ordinary travel challenges faced by any family. They want to visit interesting places that will keep their kids occupied. They want to balance activities and leisure. Most importantly, they want to maintain comfort, budget and authenticity.

For many of those families, the answer to a well-rounded trip is finding a travel agency like Journeys International. Founded in 1978 by Peace Corps veterans Will and Joan Weber, the Michigan-based company is a leader in both ecotourism and family travel. The pair set out from their own youthful adventures to lead international tours for "curious, hearty souls," and now guide eager travelers through an array of global adventures.

It was in those early years that the Webers embarked on their first group trip to Nepal and the Himalayas, and began to make lifelong clients and friends who continue to travel with Journeys International today. Some clients started as solo travelers, and eventually became couples and then globetrotting families.

The company itself is a family affair, having launched early trips with their kids in tow. Their daughter Robin Weber-Pollak is now part of the team; with her husband Joe helping as a consultant. Today the entire Journeys band of travel specialists aim to build fulfilling family and individual experiences on each trip, to any of the 60 countries they travel to.

"Before we begin traveling to a new country, we visit the area to personally meet with potential on-the-ground guides," says Sally Grimes-Chesak, Journeys director of marketing and family programs. "We find people we trust, people who mesh with our values. When our travelers meet them, they are welcomed as friends of friends. We don't need to worry about how our LGBT travelers will be received because we already know that our guides are as welcoming to all of our travelers as we are."

The fair-minded approach applies to people as well as the earth, with trips to ecologically sensitive sites crafted to teach about local culture, natural environments and conservation. The roster of 2015 family and "trips for teens" includes the Costa Rican rainforest, an African tribal-cultural tour of Tanzania, the animals of "wild Indonesia," and a Galapagos Islands wildlife and ecology cruise, with a volunteer project coordinated with a local high school.

Though trip prices vary, they can start as low as $1,300 per person (excluding airfare), and usually include hotel, transportation, tours, and most meals. Having each trip's costs and other details spelled out on Journeys' website is a simple way to help families take the first step toward the perfect vacation.

"We feel that it's important to be honest and straightforward with all of our travelers so they can have the best possible trip," says Grimes-Chesak. "We also stay abreast of politics in other countries. We want our travelers to feel welcome and safe, and the sad fact is that in some destinations, that is not possible."

Discovering Far-Flung Corners of the World

Whether traveling in a group or on a private trip, clients rave about the customer service and personal attention the company delivers. Many have toured with Journeys for years, some bringing along their children from young ages through adulthood. Newer clients, like Patti Hague and her wife Barbara Merrill, still rave about their first Journeys trip in 2012 to a more daring place for women and queer travelers: Egypt (the year after the "Arab spring.")

"Like others on the Egypt trip, we still say that was the best trip we have ever been on - and we have traveled to most continents," says Hague. "Journeys' attention to detail and ability to handle things that come up on a trip is truly exceptional."

Of course, traveling to far-flung corners of the globe leads to great stories. On Priscilla Hoffnung's trip to Panama with wife Lynn, one amusing experience made for a great memory.

"We traveled up the Chagres River to the indigenous village of Embera Drua," says Hoffnung. "The 'chief' described Embera customs. One of our members asked if he had any questions, and he asked, 'Where are the husbands?' Several of the women explained that their husbands chose to do other activities. But I said that Lynn and I lived together - thinking that was as much as he could handle - after which Lynn said that I was her wife.

"I doubt that the chief fully understood what we were saying. While we never made any attempt to hide our relationship, we did not make an issue of it. Now that I think of it, I would have liked to go to a Panamanian lesbian bar or restaurant or bookstore and speak with other women about their lives."

And like any good adventure, LGBT travelers can find inspiration to dive deeper into local queer life just about anywhere.

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBT interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.


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