ANYTHING BUT BEIGE EPISODE 12: How to Travel When Youre Stuck at Home with Travel Advisor Melissa Wu

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What’s the first thing you’d like to do given the chance after COVID?

Most people would say, TRAVEL.

How do you satisfy your wanderlust if you’re stuck at home with Travel Advisor Melissa Wu

3:12  Melissa’s love for travel and how it started

12:46 How to travel in the time of COVID

26:46 favorite travel experience

More Melissa Wu: Woodlyn Travel –

My name is Melissa Wu and I love luxury family travel. 

Hey guys, Megan here. Thank you so much for joining me on anything with beige today. I’m talking with Melissa Wu, and I think this is going to be really fun. Melissa is a professional marketer, an event planner. She recently started using her love of travel to help others create their own adventures by founding her agency, Woodland Travel. She is always ready with a favorite restaurant recommendation or activity, and thanks to her two small children, she’s especially knowledgeable about traveling with kids. Melissa has long been committed to serving her community through active engagement in many civic organizations In her hometown of Pasadena, California. Melissa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern California with a graduate certificate and technology commercialization. In her spare time, she likes unboxing high tea and trying new restaurants, all while keeping up with her children. Melissa, thank you so much for joining me. That is a huge list of accomplishments. 

I am definitely a jack of all trades. 

Are you from Pennsylvania? 

I am not. I’m originally from California. I grew up here and decided I needed a four year adventure somewhere else, went back East and then immediately upon graduation, returned back to California. 

Got the hell out of someone from Pennsylvania. I understand. 

No, there’s a lot about the East Coast that I do miss and so many of my friends ended up in New York City and staying back East. So it’s always been fun to go back and visit 

Well, unfortunately, we’re not getting to go back and visit as much as we want to anymore right now with all of the cluster fuck that is covid,  I wanted to talk to you today one because I absolutely miss travel. I’m a huge travel nerd too, you know, woodland travel and running a business in this kind of world, I’d love to hear all about how your love of travel is sustaining yourself in a way, what I’m trying to say is like loving travel. So how I’m surviving right now, you know, like loving travel and loving the business of travel and how that all works. 

So I guess, let’s start at the beginning, right? What made you decide that travel was going to be the thing that drove you the most? 

You know, honestly, I sort of fell into it. I had a background in marketing and public relations and event planning and did that for a little bit. I then went to business school and ended up consulting in computer technology, which was sort of a very far very different arena than what I was previously in. And when I had my second child and was let go from that organization, I was looking to pick up the new projects. And one of the things that I picked up was helping companies with their hotel blocks when they went to conferences and other events. And I started my organization originally doing that. And then someone said, Well, you know, what are you doing for insurance and what are you doing for, you know, back and support and how are you getting paid? Well, you know, those were all fantastic questions that I really do need to think about. And I had a very dear friend who introduced me to Cruz and Resort. I had a meeting with them and they said, You know, if you want to book travel, whether it’s luxury travel or corporate travel, we’re more than happy to take you under our umbrella. And they were so kind to take me in and show me some of the ropes and introduced me to some of the inner workings of the travel industry, which you don’t necessarily just know from an outsider’s perspective. But combining that with my business knowledge has really, really been helpful in starting a travel agency. 

So what means you decide to travel with something that you loved so much that it was all encompassing enough to create a business out of it, too. Like what? What was it about? Travel that was just like, This is my jam. 

Part of it is that I love meeting new people, seeing new things and trying new foods and experiencing new cultures. So there are a couple ways you could do it. You could do it by backpacking through the world and doing it sort of on the less expensive side. You can do it by making gobs and gobs of money and pay for it and doing sort of a luxury way. Or you can kind of cheat a little bit and do it, as a profession, hopefully be able to take advantage of some of the opportunities that come with being in travel. I, you know, from my desk, I’m able to learn a lot about the world without actually going to different places in person. But of course that’s not the same as visiting a place, you know, in person and so being a travel advisor, I’ve been invited to participate by fans, which are opportunities to become familiar with the property or with the country. So I was invited to participate in Portugal and I learned all about the central regions of Portugal, and so that was an amazing opportunity to learn something about a country in a place and immerse myself in the culture without necessarily having thought to have done that on my own. The other beauty of it is that every time I do travel either with myself or my family, I always sort of say, Oh, well, we need to do this because it’s a business expense and I need to learn from my clients. So it’s not about me, and it’s not about my family. It’s really about my clients and what I could do for them. You know, it’s really combining an interest that one has with some talents that I do have. I mean, I’m very good at logistics. I’m very good at organizing on DSO. That’s very helpful in developing travel itineraries for others. But doing what I do is less about travel and more about customer service. It’s making sure that I’m meeting the needs of my clients that I’m offering them suggestions that they maybe didn’t anticipate and anticipating further what they might want or need when they don’t know it. And that’s also part of what I love, right. It’s like figuring out what gift to give somebody, not because they asked for it because you know, it’s the perfect match for them, and that’s what I really, really love about what I dio. It’s finding the perfect location, the perfect activity that matches the family or the individuals that are traveling and having them come back and say, I would never have thought to do it, that was so perfect. Thank you for suggesting that to me. 

I love that. And you know, I think that that is one of the things that people don’t think about when they’re going on. Expedia or you know, any of these travel sites just like, yeah, you’re kind of D.I.Y and hacking it, But you are missing so many opportunities with someone who is just like in this. You know, this isn’t a sales pitch, someone who’s in this industry of travel as a profession, you know what I mean? 

Well, and that’s what I’ve been finding in today’s day and age because typically, the questions I get or why should I work with you when I could just book on Expedia? Well, you know, you certainly can book on Expedia. But I’ll tell you what. Almost any deal you confined there I confined as well. But when you work with me, you get my customer service, my knowledge of whatever place or area that you’re booking and any inside tips or inside amenity that I’m able to get that you might not know about or that you might not have access to. So, you know, when you work with me, there’s sometimes the, you know, the surf. There is the service element. But what I tell people who are looking for that deal is that, can you get me the cheapest rate anywhere. You know, I wanna work with just the lowest price hotel or whatnot. You know, you don’t always want to, you sometimes pay for what you get for and you saw what we saw. That with the recent pandemic, when people book through some of these larger agencies and I won’t name any names, you know, but ah wholesalers or online places and then had to cancel. And they had to be on hold for four hours, five hours just to simply try and get their money back or try to change something and they could not get the customer service that they deserve. My clients did not have to do any of that because I did it for them. But I also had, you know, back office phone numbers. I had relationships with hotels, and so my ability to get the information and the money back they wanted was much quicker and more efficient than if they did it themselves. But back to those people looking for a deal. If you’re looking for a deal, I tell you, there’s three things that I could do, one I could match the price that you’re finding online. But guess what? You’re supporting me in my small business and my family because I get compensated by the hotel, the organization for that. It doesn’t cost you anything so I could get it for less than you’re finding it. And that’s just a bonus or three. It’s the same price, less or slightly more but you’re getting additional amenities. You’re getting breakfast upon breakfast for the entire day that you’re there. You’re getting a food and beverage credit. You’re getting upgraded, you’re getting early. Check in late. Check out, you’re getting potentially complimentary WiFi among a host of other things. When you work with me or with other travel advisors if there’s trouble. If good ones will call the hotel in advance, let them know you’re coming. Let them know that you’re celebrating a birthday or, if you have, you know, an allergy or something like that. That’s not something that some of the online companies will do for you, or even some of the premium organizations that do have amenities for their larger companies and they cannot hold your hand quite the same way that independent contractors in small agencies can do. 

It’s interesting and, you know, my husband and I went on our 10 year anniversary to Tokyo. 

I love Tokyo, it is one of my favorite cities.

 Can I tell you? So we went in February of this year, and we went so it was right at the beginning of the pandemic before anybody realized how crazy it was like everyone in Japan was wearing masks, but we weren’t because we’re stupid Americans. But it was just like that. It was definitely the calm before the storm, I guess, was a week before the Princess Cruise Line even docked in Japan. And so, my point is we went and we had this incredible experience, but we had done it through, like, credit card points and churning and stealing like the strings trying to figure out all of these. And now I wish it was cool that we had gotten this incredible experience like first class upgrades and everything but the amount of effort it took me like, it took me years to get all of these pieces together. And I wish I would have just used a travel agent, because it would have been so much less hassle. But this is my segue into we’re all stuck at home right now, and we’re all especially Americans, like we are super like nobody wants us to come and completely understand that. So how do we scratch this travel bug in a world where it is just almost impossible to get out and travel.

Travel in the time of covid is what we’ve been calling it. It’s so many. So many of us agents and travel partners and hotels have had to pivot, to figure out financial revenue streams in order to support themselves when people were not actually looking for travel and going places. We are seeing that there is an increase in travel now, and there are some people that are quite comfortable traveling and getting on a plane and they’re going thio. You know, many of the countries like Mexico that are open to Americans and they’re finding amazing deals. You know, Mexican hotels right now, our only booking to 30% capacity. So when you go, it’s very easy to social distance. It’s very easy. To. Enjoy the amenities and get some great deals that you might not normally get during the peak season. So for those that do feel comfortable traveling, you know there are opportunities out there. There’s also a segment of people that don’t quite feel comfortable traveling but are so tired of being in their house, and they just need to do something else. And for those were for those audiences, and we’re seeing an increase in that. We’re seeing the dry vacations and staycations. Where can you go that you can drive to? Where is, you know, someplace in your hometown that’s easy to get to, that you can still social distance that you still sort of feel comfortable. Do not expose yourself through travel and what not and what if they travel through airports and whatnot? But you know that sort of thing Many of the airlines, every airline and everywhere, or is doing everything they can to clean and disinfect and block off middle seats and everything to make it a very sort of safe environment. So I don’t want to say that that’s not happening because every effort is being made. But everybody’s risk tolerance is different, and it’s really what you feel comfortable with. So what I’m seeing is that there are a number of local promotions where people are in hotels that will be promoting. Oh, you know, if you live in the zip codes, we have these specials for you, or there’s some wonderful wonder promotions like in Las Vegas and some other ones. LAS Vegas Torrey Pines, Hawaii, is talking about doing this? This, you’re working from home, but why be at home? You could be here, our property or resort and enjoy the amenities that we have here. The pool, tennis courts or whatnot. And we’ll give you enhanced WiFi conference rooms to hold your meetings. The concierge will help you do printing and mailing and act as your executive systems to really support those that just need to get out of the house. And then with distance learning and so many families having their kids in front of computers at home, some properties now are offering school actions. So four seasons. Punta Mita. If you want to get on a plane from California and fly down there, is offering this amazing program where they’re giving kids a nary a tow work and do their distance learning they haven’t on property Tutor. That’ll help answer the questions so that your parents can go and keep doing their work or they want to get the massage. They could get the massage and then afterwards, after the distance learning sessions over offering sort of as summer camp or an after school program where they can get the kids outside and really get away from screens and and that sort of thing and have it be organized activities. 

End of every month. I’m planning to do a Q and A special answering all of your questions, either about what we just talked about or anything in between. I am happy to hear back from you and help you out if I can. If you could do me a favor and go to the beige house dot com slash ask Meghan, you can leave your comment or your question. I’ll be able to answer it on the next Q and a episode again, the address is the beige house dot com slash asked. Meghan asked. Meghan is all one word. Thank you so much. I look forward to hearing 

Now. I haven’t participated in it, so I don’t know how they’re doing social, social distancing and whatnot, but it’s been very, very sort of a popular idea. And so Torrey Pines is also looking into doing that. Hawaii is looking into doing that in Santa Barbara, which Carlton Bukhara has started implementing similar programming. So for us in California, you know, for two hours we could drive two hours. We drive an hour and easily have a change of scenery while still feeling safe and still feeling that we’re sort of social distancing. But for those for those individuals who feel less inclined to leave the house and still want to experience culture, a number of organizations have created,not tutorials, but your virtual tours. They’re different museums. So the British Museum has won something like that. Different aquariums. You can sort of watch the fish or watch the penguins take the nightly walk. And that is a great way to bring sort of outside culture into your house. Something that we did in our house was actually a country a week. So every week we themed a country on this all started because I had leftover lasagna one night and we were saying, Well, you know, what should we do? So we started Italian week. We had Italian foods. We watch some Italian YouTube’s, you know, tours of different cities so we could go visit different places. We visited aN Italian museum or to you we saw DaVinci. DaVinci is, uh, some of us saw Michelangelo’s David. We saw a couple of other different significant art pieces. And, you know, we even took it a little bit further. And have the kids, uh, color the Italian map, learn a couple of Italian words, And, that sort of thing. So every night we changed the menu to a different Italian menu and we went from there to the Mediterranean. My favorite was Japan. So we did in Japan. We did China and then a whole bunch of other places. So it forced our family to explore other areas and push a little bit outside of our comfort zone without really leaving the house. 

That’s absolutely brilliant. I love that. Are you continuing that or your kids are going back to school? So are you keeping that on hold? 

For now, we’re doing what we can. We sort of run out of most of the countries that we know how to cook. 

So fair. 

Okay on, then, even more than that. There are a number of companies, and I’m totally blanking on the name, which is very embarrassing. But they put together these kids where they will send Paris to you. They’ll send Italy to you, and there’s activities in them with recipe cards and little art craft kits with building the Eiffel Tower or whatnot. And part of one of the companies that I’m thinking of, they will add in a 30 minute zoom session with a chef in France or with an artist in Italy, so that you can sort of experience the culture virtually in addition to having it in your home. It’s not inexpensive, but it might. It’s a very nice street.

That is so cool. Oh, I love that, it makes me think of my aunt who is religious, and they live in Florida. But she has been going to church quote unquote in Dublin for the past since March. And it’s just like, Oh, that’d be so cool if I could find, like, a Dublin kit for hers. That’s so amazing. I love that,something so traditional thinking as like ah, hotel is now trying to learn how to be fluid in this kind of crazy world that, you know, is completely unprecedented. But what do you think? What are some considerations that people should have when they start to think about venturing outwards, and I know you’re not a medical doctor, but I mean, we’ll go ahead. 

Every family is different or every person is different. And so it’s really based on their comfort zone. I think they need to decide what they feel comfortable with and what they’re willing to sort of stretch a little bit on. And once they decide that, then they can start asking the questions of wherever they’re going to fight, to make sure that that meets their needs. Or, better yet, ask their travel advisor because their travel advisor will know. So I have a list of hotels that I know keep their rooms empty 24 to 48 hours before you check in between guests. And so if that is something that is important to you, I could advise us to which properties those are. I also know what the standards are for certain hotel chains, so I know what Hilton’s doing to stay safe. I know what Marriotts is doing to stay safe, and I can share that with you. The same with airlines, certain airlines, air blocking, middle seats, other airlines, are. Not if that’s important to you. I can certainly direct you into which one is, you know, going to be the best fit for you. But most importantly, you know, you want to make sure that if a hotel is in social distance, but that’s important to you, masks are required. The report of guests is that they’re part of employees or people wearing gloves and all sorts of those other sort of safety things that that might have concerned. The other thing that people have been asking about is circulated air and most properties have installed sort of oh, are implemented sort of. Sorry, most publishers HEPA filters, as well as there’s an interest in standalone properties, standalone buildings so that are not connected to central air. So the villa is the one bedroom, and you know, your travel advisor will have a list of those as well, along with some amazing deals that go with them. So knowing what your comfort level is and what your preferences for travel is definitely the way to go. There’s been a lot of interest in RVs and camping, but if you’re not a camper, that may not be the best option for you and RVs and renting RVs are not as inexpensive or as easy as everybody thinks that they could. 

Step terrifies me. Oh God. 

So there are a lot of considerations, but that’s actually exactly what a travel advisor could help you walk through. I actually have one client that is very, very concerned for her and her family when they travel and has a lot of questions and continues to have a lot of questions. They leave on Sunday and or they drive on Sunday down to San Diego, and they’re staying at the Hotel del Coronado, which has standalone villas. And the hotel has been lovely and answering all of my questions so that I can assure her that she won’t be walking through a crowded areas to get to the beach, that she will have a reserved area that she does not have circulated air, that she’ll have a kitchen in her in her three bedroom villa so that she can prepare her own meals if she would like, these were all concerns that she has, which may be very different from somebody else, but always happy to answer and always always know that I’m always we are always aware that this is an ongoing concern for some families. 

For some individuals, you just brought up a question about how are they handling breakfasts and things like that? And hotels now assume we’re not doing like the Continental breakfast anymore. 

So many of the club lounges are not open in the same traditional way because it’s a high traffic high touch point, they’re being cleaned on a regular basis, they if they are open there being cleaned on a regular basis, you’re not seeing buffets in the traditional Las Vegas buffet sense. Interestingly many, some of the buffets in Vegas are open, they actually right now is a great time to go to Vegas because I’m crap at it . But what they’re doing is, the wind has their buffet open, and they are serving you what you would like. So you simply let them know. You know, I would like this. You know, I would like this item number one. I don’t talk to you and I am free. And then they are serving it to you so as to reduce the number of people that are sort of moving through the food area. So There are ways that these continental breakfast is and whatnot are being taken care of. A lot of companies. A lot of hotels that do have Continental breakfast or food and beverage amenities where they’re offering a complimentary breakfast are simply letting you order from the regular menu, which is a nice variation to give you a little bit more selection. And a lot of them are doing Q R menus. So there’s not actually a physical menu, but something that you can pull up on your phone, something that you use on a regular basis and that you feel comfortable using. 

That’s brilliant, so meeting in the middle, I guess you know what I mean. So let’s talk about what you said you went to Portugal. But let’s talk about some of your favorite travel experiences. So tell me about you know, I just told you Tokyo for 10 year like what has been your, What’s the first one that comes to mind when you think of your favorite travel experience? 

You know, it’s interesting. I may be a pessimistic I may be a pessimist, but my favorite ones are not necessarily my favorite, but they’re my most memorable ones, right? And it doesn’t always involve a positive experience, but a memorable one . Oh, let me think of let me think of something. But, you know, my family and I, we rode camels in Morocco in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, which was a super unique experience. We rode all the camels for I don’t know a little bit and came to a Bedouin camp site and stayed the night there. It was freezing cold. We woke up at sunrise to climb up to the sand dunes to see the sunrise, which was amazing, but also very much exercise. First thing in the morning for me but something that I’ll never ever forget, you know? And so that’s something that you know when someone says I want to do, you know, I want to ride a camel. It’s fantastic, let me  tell you about my experiences or, you know, the secret chicken wing restaurant in Tokyo, which I cannot. I cannot tell you the name because I can never remember it. But I can tell you exactly how to get there, and it’s someplace that I always go. Every single time that I go to Tokyo, it’s a do not miss place. It’s a place that I think about even now when I think of Japanese food,I can also tell you a number of places that have electrical outlets in Bermuda, where you can plug in your breast pump if you’re breastfeeding and you don’t have your child with you. So you know, if you need to if you’re you know, still breastfeeding and you don’t have your baby with you and you need to pump, I could tell you where all the outlets are in Bermuda. In all the different world heritage sites and hotels that you can comfortably pump, pump your breast milk and and you know that that was memorable as well.

That is incredible. And I really want to go to the Chicken Wing place now.

For your 15th anniversary. 

Well, we went to this ramen place. It was hole in the wall. So it was the best ramen, of course, like the handmade, the udon noodles there, and my husband still has as his phone background the picture that we took. We’ll never find it ever again at Hansa. It was just like Tokyo has the best hole in the wall food. If you get to go, please go somewhere that just has pictures. Because they know I love Venice. Tokyo. So rather than getting back on Linda Stone’s drink.

You know, one of actually one fun memory is the ones where everybody is really happy and positive, right? So a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago we went to those combos and we got to stay at the Grand Villas, which is a lovely, lovely property. And we don’t typically stay in all of the use of properties that we wanted to try this one out and check it out for my clients, but to see the kids swim up to the swim up bar and just order Strawberry Dockery’s and be so mom, they have this I could get that one day made them so happy with such a fun memory. Of course, we switched hotels another night, and of course they swam into the swim up bar. And this one wasn’t all inclusive and they started ordering, You know, start when I say strawberry doctors. I mean, we’re just and they’re ordering, you know, Strawberry, Virgin Margarita. Uh, I’m sorry. They’re ordering strawberry smoothies left and right. And I’m like, No, no, no. What are you doing? It? It’s a month.

Oh, God!

Mom, we could just swim up and order whatever we want. Of course you can. Yes. And no one. No one has to think about paying for it. Except Mom and Dad have to think about paying for it. No. So, I know. People are gonna have millions of questions, and we can’t cover everything here. So how can I get people over to you who have questions? What’s the best way to get in touch with you? 

You know, part of being a customer service is always being available on creating, creating every opportunity in any opportunity for people to reach out to you. So my preferred method is via email. Because I can sort of keep track of conversations. And that’s However, I have an instagram site and you can always DM me there. I would prefer not. Yeah, you know, I could always offer on my cell phone. You can always call or text me. And you know, I’m also on Facebook. So people do you have me all the time there. Any of those methods reach me any day, respond to all of them in various time formats, but probably emails are the easiest for me. To respond to keep track. 

And is there anything else that we want? You want us to cover that we haven’t yet? 

You know, it’s a very strange and interesting time right now, and it’s been an interesting marketing travel to people because you don’t want to be sensitive to what their needs are and what their concerns are. But I believe that travel opens, opens your mind, opens people’s minds to different and new opportunities and new things. So many countries and cities depend on tourist dollars. So while you may not feel comfortable right now traveling, I would definitely encourage you to start thinking this is a great time to start thinking about where you want to go next, when you feel comfortable and when you’re ready. Travel advisers have time to help you plan, so I have a client that was thinking about going to Spain before all of this happened and we started putting a plan together for her. And when this happened, when when covid hits, she said, Okay, you know, I’m not when we’re not going So let’s put these on hold I said, Well, wait, let’s continue planning this so that we have something to look forward to that we can take the time to find the right things for you. And when you feel comfortable on ready, we’ll just hit, hit, you know, hit the button and we could start booking, booking, booking and then it’s all ready to go when you’re ready. The other thing is that so many organizations are so flexible under cancelling policies right now that as long as you are aware of what the cancelation policies are, it doesn’t really hurt to book things now in anticipation of the future, because you can get some great deals now, and your travel advisors in your hotel has time to spend on you and you in your in your needs. So don’t stop dreaming. And don’t stop planning just because you know we’re in the situation that we’re in. 

It’s a beautiful way to end this. Thank you so much for this. I appreciate it. 

Hey, guys, Megan here before you go, I would love to ask a favor of you. It’s so helpful to have reviews on new podcasts as it really helps iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify. All of those guys find out that you’re really enjoying it and that they should show it to new people. So if you wouldn’t mind just leaving a quick review about what you think about the podcast, I would really appreciate it. Thank you so much again. I’ll talk to you next week.

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