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But in Chaitman’s far-flung world of adventure, discovery and pleasure, the word “trip” is obsolete. Instead try the phrase “experiential travel,” a concept the award-winning travel consultant has introduced to clients from around the globe for more than two continent-hopping decades. Chaitman embraces the art of travel where the experience is paramount—the culture, the sights, the sounds, the cuisine, the history—and has shared her innate talent of matching clients’ dreams to itineraries that fulfill the desire to take more than a vacation.
In addition to hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles, the Overland Park travel consultant has earned a coveted title from the world’s premier travel digest, Condé Nast Traveler, since 2000. Regularly listed by the magazine’s consumer news director, Wendy Perrin, as one of the world’s top 128 travel advisors, Chaitman meets rigorous standards of offering clients unrivaled connections and destination savvy. And in the era where Internet deals can seem like the ending to a travel fairy tale, Chaitman delivers customized excellence to clients as a result of her on-the-ground experience and veteran traveler’s insider knowledge that is timely and priceless for those who want more than just a change of scenery.
For Chaitman, it’s all about the journey and the destination. And when it comes to a well-chosen travel accessory, Chaitman’s passion for new experiences is packed right along with her dog-eared passport.
435 South Magazine: How did you launch your travel career?
Judi Chaitman: I started with Braniff Airlines as a flight attendant in 1961 and moved to the Reservations Department. I helped start the Tour and Group Department for Braniff and developed that into a respected industry prototype. Once the airline closed in 1981, I worked for different travel companies, in addition to a multi-office, Dallas-based firm where I headed the Group Tour Department. I not only did proposals but also accompanied groups throughout the world.
435: You’ve spent almost half a century matching people to destinations. What are the three biggest changes you’ve seen in the leisure travel business?
JC: The Internet, security and baggage requirements. Many people do research online, but when it comes to booking a trip they turn to me for expert advice. I can help with things like current security issues and how much time is needed to connect, especially with international travel. Because I have worked with so many hotels, resorts and other travel professionals around the world I know what’s out there. I also assist people with the latest baggage updates—weight, cost of checked luggage, etc. We design itineraries that truly match the traveler. It’s not cookie-cutter.
435: You’ve sent literally thousands of people packing for “wow” experiences. Where are your clients located, and where on earth do you send them?
JC: Ninety-five percent of my clients are within the continental United States with nearly half in Johnson County and Kansas City. I also work with people in Europe, South America and Australia. I have young families, empty nesters, honeymooners and senior citizens in my Rolodex and they go everywhere. All of them start out as clients but they all end up as friends.
435: What’s your secret to success in a fiercely competitive industry?
JC: I build relationships with my clients. I always follow through, follow up and check in. Invariably when I’m doing site inspections or learn of a new shore excursion, for example, I’m thinking of specific clients who would be perfect for that hotel or tour. I never totally relax when I travel. I’m always on a discovery mission of some type and making connections with new vendors.
435: In addition to being one of Condé Nast Traveler’s top 128 travel advisors, you’re one of 15 generalists in the world. What does that mean?
JC: It’s a designation that Condé Nast Traveler gave to 15 of the 128 travel advisors—which means we’re a group that’s qualified to sell travel throughout the world, not to just one destination.
435: Tell us about your love affair with Hawaii.
JC: I know Hawaii like the back of my hand. Because of my listing in Condé Nast Traveler as a Hawaii specialist, people from all over call me about travel to the islands. It’s the perfect destination because there are world-class resorts if you don’t want to explore, there’s no language barrier or currency exchange and it’s beautifully exotic. I feel like I’ve gone home when I’m there.
435: Where are some of the most popular destinations you’re sending clients?
JC: Italy and France are perennial favorites and Spain is becoming trendier. India is a great experience and South America, what I like to call “the forgotten continent” has so much to offer for every type of traveler—plus it’s a terrific value. Antarctica is a hot spot—though it’s not for everyone.
435: Do you have any personal family travel traditions?
JC: When my grandsons become bar mitzvahs I take them on a trip. I have three down and one to go. I’ve travelled to London and Paris and gone on a cruise with my grandsons, plus Hawaii with the whole family several times.
435: You like intergenerational travel. Why?
JC: I think travel is—hands-down—one of the best educational learning experiences a child can have. And coupled with their family there’s nothing like it. The history, the sights, the culture—exposing a family to somewhere different is important. And it doesn’t have to be international travel—there are so many incredible destinations in the United States.
435: What’s your favorite city in the world?
JC: Paris. I’ve been there at least 12 times, and sometimes take small groups of women. I stay at a different hotel in a different arrondissement each trip. There’s so much to experience there.
435 South: What’s your next adventure?
JC: I’m planning a personal intergenerational trip where 13 of my family members and I will travel to Israel for my grandson’s bar mitzvah. It will be a memorable experience!
Featuring East Africa, Egypt, Cambodia and more, this Enriching Journeys issue of VIRTUOSO LIFE is packed with inspiration for trips that teach, enrich, cultivate and better the lives of those who take them.Enjoy this great read, and wherever you decide to go next, leave all of the details to us. Call today!
76:: Nile Style
86:: The Long Way to Angkor
98:: Enchanting East Africa
108:: Travel with Meaning
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