Brian Smith has been an Explore customer for a long time! He first travelled with us back in 1982 – a year after we launched – and took his most recent tour just over a month ago. In that time he’s been on 26 adventures to many countries including Burma, Cuba, North Korea, South Korea and Azerbaijan. He recently visited the office and we had the chance to have a chat with him about his experiences with Explore.
What was the first tour you did with Explore? What were the highlights/most memorable moments of that tour?
It was Jordan in 1982. It stands out in my mind because of all the historic sites which are of great interest to me, Jerash being the most important I think. There’s also all the links to Lawrence of Arabia, plus Aqaba and the sites in the mountains and deserts. It’s definitely stayed in my memory since then!
How did your second tour compare to your first experience?
It was a few years later, in 1987, and was just as good! I went to India on what was the Great Indian Rail Tour. One of the things which sticks in my memory on that tour was how strict it all was on hygiene! The tour was just as fantastic as the first one I did with Explore.
What was the most recent tour you travelled on? What were your highlights?
I’ve just got back from Ancient Macedonia which visits Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria. There were so many stand-outs on that trip. Rila Monastery and Bigorski Monastery both come to mind, as do the ancient site of Philippi, the Greek island of Thassos and Lake Ohrid. We also got to take a day trip into Albania which was a nice chance to have a quick stop in a country I first visited long ago.
Which of the many tours you’ve travelled on has been your favourite?
The trips are all so different and individual it’s hard to compare them to each other and pick some favourites but I’ll try! Well I went to Burma first time round back in 1993 and that definitely stands out for me. Libya was wonderful as were the parks and mountains of western USA, and a couple of years ago I visited the Golden Triangle in Russia. I loved North Korea and also the tour I did which covered Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Then there’s Cuba and India – I’m naming all of them like I said I would!
Do you have any plans for your next adventure?
Yes! I’m planning to go to India again in February or March time. I had a tour booked earlier in 2013 but had to cancel it as I broke my wrist so I’m really looking forward to finally getting to go on it!
Where would you like us to offer as a destination that we don’t currently?
I’d love it if you added Tajikistan. Though I think the infrastructure in the country negates that at the moment. (Note: we had a quick check with the team responsible for creating all our new tours and they said that, sometime in 2014, we may just launch a tour to Tajikistan!)
With so many options how do you go about choosing your next tour?
There are still so many places I’d like to go to; some I’ve been to before and want to see more of, some there’s unfinished business – like the India tour I had to cancel - and sometimes it’s a whole new country I want to visit! I have a list of places I want to experience – sometimes it’s a country and sometimes certain places in a country – and I’m basically working my way down the list. I find a tour which goes where I want to go and sees what I want to see and just go for it! I’m making my way through the list at a good pace – it’s getting quite short now! I’d say Taiwan and Japan are at the top of the list right now.
How do you do your research?
As I said, I know where I want to go and what I want to see so I use the brochure to find a tour to match up to my interests – I’m not really wired for the internet! I love that having the brochure is like holding the world in my hands and I can relax and flick through it. When it arrives I get excited and I also love sharing it with friends – people are always asking to borrow my brochure and then inevitably ordering their own!
Have you noticed any differences in travelling with Explore over the years?
I think the expectations of other customers and therefore the standards of accommodation have gone up, but, essentially, an Explore tour now is the same as an Explore tour when I started travelling with you. The ethos hasn’t changed at all. I think that travellers now are more sophisticated and their demands have gone up. I also like that there seems to be more sites visited now than before and the use of local leaders is an excellent departure from the traditions of Explore of old!
Best thing about travelling with Explore? What is it that makes you keep coming back?
I like that I know what I’m getting and I know that it’s very good. The quality and quantity of holidays offered is incomparable – all the ingredients which make up Explore add up to a great holiday. I also like that Explore are very transparent – what you see in the brochure is what you get, there are no hidden charges and sometimes there are a few extras thrown in that you don’t expect! Aside from that I like the flexibility on tour – there’s usually time built in to do your own thing every now and then, plus of course the regular traveller discount doesn’t hurt!
We’re proud of our great Tour Leaders, are there any who stand out in your mind as particularly impressive?
Honestly, all of them have been very impressive. All of them without exception. Obviously I have clicked more personality wise with some than others but that’s life – they’re still all brilliant at what they do. I really don’t recall one bad leader. They’re all articulate, kind, understanding, intellectual and cultural – my kind of person! Explore Tour Leaders are great in every respect.
Any advice for people trying to decide whether an Explore holiday is for them?
I’d say that if you’re unsure, ring up and speak to someone in the office – they’re all very helpful. Someone in the office has probably done the tour you’re thinking of or the customer service team can make recommendations based on your interests. That is also key – know yourself, know your limits and pick something that relates to your interests – make sure it’s not too easy and not too difficult and just go for it!