Our guest this week is Ann Becker. Ann has been leading experiential group trips to Costa Rica for 11 years where she takes travelers off the beaten path and into the heart of the Central American nation. After unexpectedly “being bitten” by Costa Rica on a family vacation in 2005, she made a strategic decision to marry her professional planning expertise with her love of Costa Rica and experiential travel.
1. Where have you traveled?
I’ve traveled so much over the years that it would be hard to answer that, but your question really got me thinking about where I’ve traveled more deeply: on multiple occasions and connecting with local cultures and people who have become dear friends and colleagues.
I spent many family vacations and then my college years in Colorado. I remember train trips out to Aspen when it was still a sleepy little town. My siblings and I skied for $2 a day!
Much more recently, I’ve been spending time in Arizona every March, when I join my husband for a few days of the Chicago Cubs’ spring training season. We stay with our long-time friends in Tempe where I’ve also grown to love all the public art and wonderful jazz concerts.
Beyond our borders, I feel connected deeply to Switzerland and have been there more than 10 times. My first ever international trip was a Swiss summer homestay when I was 17. I still have friends I met that summer, and I can’t imagine exploring Switzerland without seeing it from their perspective.
Vietnam had an enormous influence on my husband’s life, and it is extraordinary traveling there with him today. On our 2013 trip, we visited with several of the ethnic minorities and hill tribes near the Chinese border, a cultural travel highlight that I will always cherish. We’ve become good friends with one of our first Vietnamese guides with whom my husband has traveled extensively on the occasions when I’ve not been with him. I’m already looking forward to visiting him and his family again in Saigon in 2018.
I’ve hiked in Italy on four separate occasions since 2011. With Andrea, our local guide and now dear friend, we wander through hills, valleys, and small towns; meet the innkeepers; the trattoria owners; and hike the Via Francigena.
Last, but certainly not least, is Costa Rica, a country that quite unexpectedly stole my heart 12 years ago. Every year since, I’ve spent my time bringing people there to discover it with me year on my Travel With Ann Experiential Tours. The country is the gift that keeps on giving, with something new to discover and someone new to meet every time, all coupled with comfort, familiarity and rich friendships that I cherish. Costa Rica is my home away from home.
2. What’s been your favorite trip so far?
Of all my travels, two trips have been truly life-changing, in the purest form of the expression.
My trip to Switzerland at 17 changed my life entirely. I lived with a family in a small village on Lake Constanz. I loved learning to adapt to their customs, eating local specialities, learning to speak a few words in Swiss-German, and celebrating Switzerland’s Independence Day on August 1. This taught me that no matter where people are from, no matter what language we speak, our commonalities are much greater than our differences.
The impact of this experience has had ripple effects throughout my entire life. I studied abroad in college, pursued graduate and post-graduate work in an international arena, and have been a lifelong traveler ever since. I learned to push myself outside of my comfort zone. And on my Travel WIth Ann trips to Costa Rica, it is imperative to include these same types of local experiences for others to engage in as well.
Years later, my family and I took a trip to Costa Rica in 2005, mostly because we knew that other families with teenagers had enjoyed their time there. I was completely blown away by the warmth and welcome of the Costa Ricans; the incredible biodiversity of a relatively small country and the “Pura Vida” mindset. I was driven to bring others here for them to experience this as well. 12 years in, I have lead more than 20 small group trips and visited more than 40 times. Costa Rica still calls me.
3. What are three things you always take with you when you travel?
I would describe them all as “attach and carry” items that help make my travel experience a little more efficient and easier.
1. A travel size bottle, inclusive of a clip, of hand sanitizer. It attaches easily to purse or backpack, and is always easy to access- at a restaurant or hiking in the woods.
2. An over the shoulder water bottle carrier for the same reason. The easier it is to see and access, the more I remember to regularly hydrate myself.
3. A compact/collapsible tote– perfect for when I need more space than a purse and less than a backpack- for buying groceries at a local market; carrying my papers to and from my Spanish immersion classes; transporting trail mix and other snacks to share with one of my groups on a long bus ride.
4. What’s your next destination?
Costa Rica, of course! Next month I’m going on my annual scouting trip to explore prospective locations and lodging, and to meet with locals in a few communities I’m considering as part of a future women’s trip itinerary. I work with an 18 month lead time, so the July 2017 scouting is for my February 2019 trip.
I’m especially excited about returning to Isla de Chira in the Gulf of Nicoya, an island of approximately 3000 people who are in the process of developing a sustainable rural tourism industry. A small group of extraordinary local women began this effort more than a decade ago. We stayed at the lodge the women had built on my 2007 women’s trip. This will be my first visit back since then, and I can’t wait to see and learn about all that’s happened in the past decade!
5. Give us one reason why you travel.
The people. I truly believe in the power of building bridges one person at a time, and as a U.S. citizen, traveling beyond our borders now is more important than ever. I love getting to meet, share and learn from and with local people. Travel is good for the brain, and even more importantly, it’s good for the soul.
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