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.

Our Favorites List, by Zoom Owners, Bryan Herb and Joel Cabrera

Our Favorites List, by Zoom Owners, Bryan Herb and Joel Cabrera

With 30 years of combined international travel experience, Joel Cabrera and Bryan Herb, Zoom Vacations’ co-founders and Tour Leaders, have traveled to the ends of the Earth gaining invaluable travel information that they happily share with others.  Here are a few of their favorite things