Featured Travelers: Stephen and Aaron, from Rocklin, CA

Featured Travelers: Stephen and Aaron, from Rocklin, CA

Stephen and Aaron left their busy lives in Rocklin, including parenting their twin three-year-olds for a much-needed vacation to Israel with Zoom Vacations. These two were always open for anything, and truly immersed themselves in the local culture. Stephen made some time to talk with us a bit about their experience on Zoom Israel.

Featured Traveler: Alexis, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

We always say that the more mixed our trips are, the better. So, when Alexis joined our China trip, we were excited for the additional diversity, and even more thrilled because she is such a wonderful person to travel with. Alexis spoke with us about her recent trip with Zoom Vacations to China!

Zoom: How did you learn about Zoom Vacations?

Alexis: It was between Christmas and New Years break and I was thinking about how as of January 1st my vacation gets replenished.  I wanted to start thinking about where I wanted to go in 2019.  I wanted to do something a little more outside of my comfort zone.  In the beginning of  2018, I had travelled to multiple countries in Europe and then in the fall did an Iceland trip so I really wanted to  do something in Asia next.  I did an internet search for gay friendly tour companies since I didn't want to do my first Asian trip on my own.  Zoom was one of the first companies that popped up in my search.  I loved the trips that Zoom had on their list.  So many of the countries that were listed on the website I was interested in but they were more exotic so harder to necessarily plan yourself.  I am totally comfortable planning my own stuff for places like Europe, Canada, etc but I wanted more help with something like China.

I sent Zoom an email and Joel actually called me the next day which was unexpected.  He seemed really nice and welcoming on the phone and encouraged me to come even though I would likely be the only lesbian on the trip.  I was pretty much sold after that conversation.

Zoom: You booked the trip solo.  Do you like traveling alone?

Alexis: This was my first really big trip alone.  I have done smaller trips where I was going somewhere in the United States to visit a friend and maybe I would take a couple days to do something myself.  I admit I didn't really feel alone since we had a small tour group.  

Zoom: You were also the only woman with a group of gay men.  Did you feel included and comfortable?

Alexis: I felt very comfortable.  I am in the technology industry so I am used to being the only woman in a group of men.  I was really just looking to be around people that I felt like I could be myself with and not feel like I was being judged or had to watch what I say.  I also wanted to feel safe.  With that being said, I found that with Zoom.  All the men on the trip were super friendly and welcoming.  I feel like I met some people I hope to hang out with again and even hope to travel with again.  It actually exceeded my expectations because I wasn't sure how it was going to be.  Everyone always included me and I feel like at times even went out of their way to make me feel wanted on the trip and comfortable. 

Zoom: Did you feel a benefit to traveling alone with a group tour?

Alexis: Yes definitely.  It allowed me to have people to do things with.  I went to some shows with a person on the tour that was interested in seeing Opera and Chinese acrobatics.  I went out to a bar with another person on the trip in Shanghai.  It was fun doing happy hours, lunches, and dinners.  When I came down for breakfast, many times I ate with some of the other people on the trip.  I never had to think about what we were going to do because Zoom did that hard work for me!

Zoom: What did you enjoy about traveling with a group?

Alexis: I enjoyed all the activities we did.  I always had someone to go to if I had questions.  I met a lot of great people on the trip.  Everything about traveling with the group exceeded my expectations.

Zoom: What was your initial interest in Zoom China?

Alexis: I have been interested in China for a while.  I am very interested in technology which is also something I do as a career.  I have been following China's economy and their government mandate for being a country that will lead the way in Artificial Intelligence.  They are also trying to educate a mass amount of computer science graduates.  I also knew they blocked a lot of American tech companies and created their own replicas like Alibaba and Baidu which I have been following closely for awhile.  I find that stuff fascinating and wanted to understand more.  I also was interested in some of their historical aspects like the Great Wall of China (its been on my bucket list) and the Terracotta Warriors.

Zoom: What did you think about Zoom China and was there a way in which traveling with Zoom accentuated your China experience?

Alexis: We had amazing local tour guides in every city we visited.  With such a small amount of people on the trip, you could ask so many questions and really learn about China.  Zoom also figures everything out and they had special little touches along the way that makes the trip special.  I also was impressed that Zoom gave us a gift in every city that we could take home as a memory.

Zoom: What did you think of the hotels and sites and sights in China?

Alexis: I was most excited to see the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Warriors.  These two things blew me away.  I can't even explain the feeling I had on top of the Great Wall of China.  It was super amazing and anyone that has the opportunity to go should do it.  I also really enjoyed the boat ride on the Li River which was an unexpected highlight on the trip.

Zoom: What was your favorite city in China? What did you like about it?

Alexis: Shanghai without a doubt.  It was a bustling international city.  I loved the Bund.  The lights were super awesome.  I really enjoyed going to the hidden farmers market as well.  I got some of my most favorite art there.

Zoom: What was your favorite activity in China that Zoom Vacations organized?

Alexis: I have 2 favorites!  One was drinking champagne on top of the Great Wall of China.  I don't know how Zoom pulled that off but it put the whole experience over the top.  That was just a great day!

My other favorite activity was the boat down the Li River.  The scenery was amazing.  I think that was my most fun day on the trip.  We did so many things that day and got a lot more time outside in nature which was beautiful.

Zoom: Would you travel with Zoom Vacations again?  And if so where?

Alexis: Yes! I really want to go on the India trip.  I have looked at the list and there are quite a few trips I would take but India is on the top of my list.

Zoom: Was traveling through China comfortable?

Alexis: It was very comfortable.  The hotels we stayed at were all great.  I always had someone to ask questions to or help get tickets to something.   It made for a very comfortable trip.

Zoom: Do you feel that Zoom China covered all the bases for a first time traveler to China?

Alexis: Yes I saw all the things that I wanted to see in China.  I felt like I saw all the main sites.  It was a whirlwind trip that I will always cherish.  I can't believe all the stuff I did on the trip.  I have talked to a few people back home about it extensively and as I go through the things I learned and did, it seems like I did an endless amount of stuff.  It was definitely an incredible experience that I will never forget.

Featured Traveler: Tom, from San Francisco

Featured Traveler: Tom, from San Francisco

We met Tom years ago, and he and Zoom have long been looking for the perfect trip for him to join. The timing of our Vietnam and Cambodia tour aligned perfectly for him and his husband Sal, and we finally got to show them what makes a Zoom Vacations tour so special. Tom shared his thoughts on group travel and Vietnam and Cambodia in a recent interview.

Featured Traveler: Marianne from Chicago

Featured Traveler: Marianne from Chicago

Marianne is the perfect example of someone who is most happy when she is connecting with those around her, and encouraging others to live their best life. She recently spoke to us about her experience in Egypt with Zoom Vacations.

Featured Traveler: Daniel, from Portland, Oregon

If Daniel looks familiar to you, it may be because this is neither his first Zoom Vacation, nor his first time being our featured traveler. One of the most friendly, charming travelers you'll ever meet, Daniel, along with his sweetheart of a husband, Bryan are always so much fun to have on our tours. Daniel graciously took just a few moments from his trip to reflect on his experience with Zoom Vacations in India.

Zoom: What made you want to go to India? 

Daniel: Bryan and I are fans of traveling to places outside of our comfort zone. We enjoy immersing ourselves in cultures that are completely different than what we know. What better place to experience this, than in India? It has been on our list to do for a while now.

Zoom: How is India different than you expected?

Daniel: I don't think we had any certain expectations coming into this trip. I only assumed that India would be an overload of the senses, and it certainly did not disappoint!!

Zoom: Why did you decide to come with Zoom?

Daniel: We have been on several trips with Zoom now, and are 100% trusting in the type of itinerary they create. Zoom has a way of surprising its guests with special unique moments, a tourist coming on their own might not get to experience. 

Zoom: How is the group getting along?

Daniel: The group has been great! Meeting and making new friends from around the world is one of the highlights we enjoy in traveling with Zoom. 

Zoom: How would you describe the hotels to friends back home? 

Daniel: Neither words, nor photos can do justice to the Palaces we had the pleasure of staying in. The hotels in India are some of the best in the world!!

Zoom: How about the food?

Daniel: The food has been nothing short of amazing. The local delicacies are rich in color, and full of flavor. The traditional Thali presentation made each meal a memorable one. We just wanted to keep eating the Dal!!

Zoom: What has been your highlight? 

Daniel: So well known in photographs, we assumed the Taj Mahal to be another check off for tourists. We couldn't have been more wrong. It was more amazing than we thought it would be, and clearly see why it truly is, a Wonder of the world. 

Zoom: Have you had many encounters with local people?  How have those been?

Daniel: As we moved through India,  keeping up with its fast pace, we found time to playfully interact with children. They loved hearing us talk, and repeated back our words in a cute sing song manner. 

Zoom: How would you describe the experience at Varanasi, India to someone who hasn't been?

Daniel: Varanasi certainly was a sight to see. The gathering of people to worship, and the dedication to the religion displayed by them was very moving. It is certainly unlike anything we've ever experienced. Walking amongst them at sunrise, as they went about their morning bathing rituals in the Holy Ganges River, is certainly something we will never forget. 

Zoom: Thank you, Daniel!

Featured Traveler: Jim, from Chicago

Jim just returned from a trip to Mongolia for the Naddam festival of wrestling, horse racing, and archery, that Zoom created just for him. He has been on a number of Zoom Vacations tours, and we have featured him a few times, but Mongolia is a place few tourists have been, and we are sure that our travelers would be interested in hearing about Jim's experience there!

Zoom: Why did you want to go to Mongolia?

Jim: After visiting 105 countries it’s getting hard to find unique, remote and unspoiled place. Mongolia is all of those and has a very interesting culture. Plus the Naddam festival is such a great photographic opportunity that I had to see it.

Zoom: Why did you hire Zoom to create this experience for you?

Jim: Zoom does all my special vacation planning. The service is very personal and the trips are always well thought-out, with special touches.

Zoom: What is Mongolia like?

Jim: It’s a very old culture with incredible history. The Mongols are nomadic and so that drives much of the culture.

Zoom: What were your highlights?

Jim: I loved watching the sunset from the top of the dunes in the Gobi dessert, Riding horses along Asia’s second largest lake and seeing the Naddam festival, which is an amazing centuries old tournament.

Zoom: What were your challenges?

Jim: Mongolia is still pretty remote once you get outside Ulan Baater. The roads may be only tire tracks and there may be nothing for miles except Gers (Nomadic tents)

Zoom: What would you say to people who want to go to Mongolia?

Jim: Do it and do it soon, before it gets overrun.

Zoom: How is it different from other places you have visited?

Jim: It’s very sparsely populated and the vast landscapes are really unique. It’s the most remote place I have been.

Zoom: Of all the other places you have been, which seems the closest in culture to Mongolia?

Jim: Well China and Russia were both conquered by and conquerors of, so the cultures have many of the elements of both countries.

Zoom: How were you treated by local people?

Jim: The people are very hospitable and you can go up to a Nomadic home and they will invite you in for tea! They are as a culture very introverted so they don’t just chat with you as in some places.

Zoom: What was the food like?  Are there special dishes and/or beverages?

Jim: So in Ulan Baater there are the usual international dishes but outside the city you will be eating at camps and most of what you eat will be kind of boring. Lots of boiled meats, thin soups, vegetables and local breads or cheeses. Hearty and filling but not gourmet in most cases. If you attend during Naddam you can try fermented mare’s milk and other local holiday treats. Dumplings (Buzz) and meat filled, turnover-like pastries (Huushur) are popular.

Zoom:  We are looking forward to your next great adventure, Jim!

Featured Traveler: Jonathan, from Memphis

We just spent almost Two weeks with Jonathan in Morocco, and it is safe to say that he is simply always in a good mood.  Always smiling, immersed in Morocco, full of mirth and laughter-- this is Johnathan.

Zoom: What was your highlight from the trip?

Jonathan: The night we spent in the Sahara Desert was really unforgettable and just incredible.  That night and the days before and after were the most unique part of the trip, and they were the most memorable.  Everything from the camel rides to the dinner, and even the accommodations, came together to create a really special experience.  

Zoom: How were the hotels?

Jonathan: The hotels made a big difference, especially the ones in Casablanca, Fes and Marrakech.  The Four Seasons, Palais Faraj and La Mamounia were all spectacular, and we particularly enjoyed the three nights at La Mamounia.  The riads in Chefchaouen were not the luxury accommodations we enjoyed in some of the other cities, but they were great choices that fit the city perfectly and we really enjoyed the intimacy and local color they provided.  In Tangier the unforeseen circumstances were unfortunate {last minute hotel change due to a power outage}, but we nonetheless enjoyed the hotel and the change did nothing to diminish the experience.  And I cannot mention hotels without including another very sincere note about how much we loved the desert camp - it was really a fantastic experience!     

Zoom: Did you feel comfortable to be traveling as part of a gay group through Morocco?

Jonathan: Yes, without any exceptions.  And that was a great surprise given some of the things I incorrectly assumed about Morocco.  There was not a single incident where I felt like being identified as a gay tour made a difference. 

Zoom: What were the benefits of traveling as part of a group?

Jonathan: The access - we never waited in lines, we never waited on tables, and we never encountered the "red tape" that is usually an unavoidable part of traveling on your own.  The group instead moved from place to place like a well-oiled machine, and that allowed us to see so much more without the time loss that accompanies waiting in lines and figuring things out as you experience them.  I also liked meeting the rest of the group and enjoyed the development of those relationships. 

Zoom: We traveled some long distances through Morocco. How were these journeys for you?

Jonathan: I sort of dreaded those trips after seeing them on the agenda, and I filled my IPad and backpack with things I thought would be needed to pass the time.  The bus trips ended up being relaxing, and because the bus was comfortable and had wireless access these trips also offered a chance to unwind, communicate with the outside world some, and even spend a little time quizzing Nabil (Morocco's best guide ever).  Plus we traveled through some incredibly beautiful landscapes, so these trips even ended up being something far closer to a positive part of the journey.       

Zoom: How do you think things would have been different had you organized this on your own?

Jonathan: We would have seen half as much, at best, and we would have learned a lot less about the culture and history.  Plus, we would have waited in lines, made mistakes about restaurants, been without a clue which merchants should be visited or avoided, and generally experienced the trials and errors that are part of traveling on your own.  Sometimes those things can be a fun part of the adventure, but with Morocco we really enjoyed being able to focus on the country and the culture without the homework and planning we would have been saddled with had we attempted this without Zoom.     

Zoom: You mentioned that you usually are a planner and organizer of your vacations. What was it like to allow us to handle things?

Jonathan: It was interesting.  We initially had to resist the urge to overthink details like timing, meals, and even things like the impacts from changes in the weather.  But we very quickly realized that the beauty of being part of a tour with a group like Zoom is that you can focus on enjoying the experience without worrying about all the planning - and that made the trip really become stress free and far more relaxing.  Knowing that someone else was taking care of these things made a big difference - and because these things are handled so well it really added a whole new element to the trip as the hassle of traveling is converted to excitement over what comes next!

Zoom: What do you think your friends would appreciate from the Zoom Vacations experience?

Jonathan: Lots, but most of all the level of preparedness.  We managed to spend eleven easy nights in Morocco, and while our group did hit a snag or two with hotels, weather and other unavoidable circumstances, none of these lessened the experience because Bryan and Nabil were able to figure out an alternative plan before we ever knew there was even a need.  The fact that this much effort goes into the planning was obvious to those on the trip, and I think our friends and others joining Zoom's tours would all appreciate these efforts, too.   

Zoom: Did this trip give you the opportunity to expand your comfort zone?

Jonathan: Yes and no.  We have a pretty broad comfort zone when it comes to traveling, and while Morocco was definitely a country where the experiences were all new and immersive, the realities that we did not have to worry about safety, logistics, or even finding food all kept us in a pretty comfortable mindset the whole trip.

Zoom: During the trip, you took a lot of photos. Are you the type who always takes a lot of pictures, or was there something special about the scenery or lighting?

Jonathan: Morocco is really a photographers dream, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of editing and enjoying those images now that we are back.  That always kind of extends the trip, and like everything else with Morocco, it has been a great experience.  I definitely take a lot of pictures on trips, but there is no question about it - Morocco was special in every way and the colors, lights, sights and other elements made it all memorably unique.     

Zoom: How do you think our group was received by local people we met?

Jonathan: Very well, and that seemed to be both because we had our guide, Nabil, with us - and he is the most liked person in the country - and because the Moroccans are so accommodating with tourists.  I cannot think of an example where we were not received with open arms.   

 Zoom: Did you feel you had things in common with your fellow travelers? Did you make any new friendships?

Jonathan: This was our first organized multi-day tour, and one thing we took away from it is the acknowledgment that these tours generally attract others who enjoy getting off the beaten path and exploring the world.  We made several friends on the trip that I am confident will remain part of our lives for years, and maybe even more trips, to come.        

Zoom: How was the SHOPPING?

Jonathan: I admittedly had no idea what to expect from the Moroccan marketplaces, and they are one aspect of the country we could have added days and days exploring.  Rather than popping in and out of an assortment of shops, Bryan and Nabil guided us to several more established and legitimate places, which meant that we often got to not only see and purchase high quality stuff, but we also were often able to see the goods being made and hear about the process.  Morocco offers endless opportunities to shop for really unique items, and I cannot imagine a more fun and exciting place to buy just about any handmade item you can imagine.

Zoom: What is on your next Zoom bucket list?

Jonathan: Laos, Sri Lanka, or Vietnam & Cambodia.  It's tough to pick!

Featured Traveler: Kent, from Emmitsburg, MD

This was Kent and Will's first Zoom Vacation, and they were so much fun to have on the trip, we certainly hope it will not be their last.  Kent shared with us his thoughts on gay travel and Peru.

Zoom:  Why did you decide to take this trip with Zoom Vacations?

Kent:  It was a kind of last minute decision to go to Peru after our trip to Puerto Rico was cancelled because of the hurricane. Peru is someplace we had wanted to visit and we liked the idea of a pre-planned trip.

Zoom:  Was this your first time in Peru?

Kent:  Yes it was - we have a good friend who had fallen in love with the country years ago and he had really piqued our interest in a visit.

Zoom:  Was coming during American Thanksgiving a good choice?  Why?

Kent:  For us, we were not loving the idea of spending Thanksgiving in the U.S. - we typically host a big event so the idea of NOT doing that and letting someone else worry about it was an appealing change from our routine.

Zoom:  Did having a Zoom Concierge (Bryan) make a difference in your trip?

Kent:  Bryan was really fun to travel with and he was a great resource during the trip if any problems came up and we needed help with something. Having made the trip before, he was a great source of information and in addition, he was charming and funny too.

Zoom:  Did the hotels live up to your expectations?

Kent:  We found all the hotels to be really nice and definitely the kind of places we would look for when we travel. They were all a little different but definitely comfortable and luxurious. 

Zoom:  How about Machu Picchu?

Kent:  We found it to be a wondrous place and really enjoyed the trip, although I have to say I enjoyed some of the other sites we visited just as much. I feel like we would have missed a lot of out-of-the-way spots if it wasn’t for our Zoom guides. Everything was really effortless and I didn’t really find it to be too much - there were plenty of opportunities to skip excursions or stops if the mood struck you.

Zoom:  What were your favorite parts of the trip?

Kent:  We enjoyed Cusco very much and definitely the food - I had heard that Peruvian food was good and I was not disappointed. Very good quality and lots of opportunities to try things that featured local ingredients and traditions. The coco and muna tea was really refreshing and kind of nice change from coffee drinking.

Zoom:  What were some of your biggest “wow” moments?

Kent:  We found the whole sacred valley was pretty amazing with lots of incredible vistas of cities built on the tops and hanging off the sides of mountains, and so on. Personally, being a little afraid of heights, it was a little dizzying at times but that could have been the altitude.

Zoom:  How were the other people on the trip?

Kent:  We met some very interesting and charming people in our group and I really enjoyed the size - we only had 12 on our tour and it was a good number. I definitely met some interesting people that I wouldn’t have an opportunity to meet at home.

Zoom:  Will you be taking another trip with Zoom Vacations?  To where?

Kent:  For us, I think Zoom is the perfect trip to make to places where the logistics of travel might be a little daunting. We both have busy jobs and getting time off is always a challenge, so having everything pre-arranged with so much attention to detail is a real luxury and well worth the money. 

I like the fact that the company is a 'pop&pop’ operation and we like supporting gay businesses.  I also felt confident that Bryan would keep us out of trouble.  We’d like to try a trip to Africa and India in the future.