Tuesday, March 17, 2020

An Open Letter to Travel Industry Professionals during the Coronavirus Pandemic: True Stories & Gratitude

Travel Industry Professionals of San Diego PROST

An Open Letter to Travel Industry Professionals

Dear Travel Industry Family,

We know we are all in this together. Together, we are facing hardship unlike anything we’ve seen before. The future of travel, OUR future of manifesting “dreams come true” for others, is uncertain. But one thing is certain. We are a family, and we have each other’s backs. 

These are trying times. I know many of you are dealing with cancellations, angry travelers, and frightened, unhappy customers. I cannot extend enough gratitude and compassion for those airline reps, cruise staff, hotel clerks and other employees on the front lines being subject to an onslaught of blame and anger as you try to resolve what you can without losing it. I respect you for your professionalism, grace and composure. And I commend you for your brave faces and showing up to work each day knowing it could very well be your last. THANK YOU.

Travel agents and advisors, you have your hands full and are working hard to do everything possible in the best interest of your clients. They are lucky for you. You’ve got their backs. Perhaps there is a silver lining for you especially. This could very well be a turning point and great lesson to travelers currently spending hours trying to get through to online booking engines, where they are lost in long phone queues and unanswered e-mails. That’s not to under-appreciate those customer service agents either! But for those travelers who have an agent personally looking after them, whom they know they can call in a crisis, who will bend over backwards to serve them, well, you deserve a standing ovation. You put forward the best face of the travel industry in times like these. THANK YOU.

Smaller independent tour and cruise operators, I appreciate you for having my back, for allowing small business-owners/writers/photographers/independent contractors like me a place to thrive and stay afloat when times are good; and for keeping me on your radar to consult for creative solutions when times are tough. Please don’t hesitate to give me a call if you’re stuck on what words to say, what images to use, anything. I’m here for you. And THANK YOU for being there for me.

We are all humans, each and every one of us. This letter would go on endlessly if I took the time to thank and acknowledge all of you, but believe me, you do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Please know you have in me an ally, a friend, an experienced professional who's been around the world and through a few hoops and rodeos. And please know you have in the travel industry at large, a family. 

THANK YOU again for all you have done and continue to do to keep the world turning and travelers moving. If not moving, then planning…and dreaming. I don’t need to tell you, but now is not a time for hard sells or desperate pleas of selfish or corporate interest. Now is the time to think outside the box, diversify, put others before ourselves, and keep the dreams alive. After all, we are the industry of turning dreams into reality. We've got this.

Be safe, be well, look after yourselves, your families, and our beautiful planet.


Here's To YOU, Travel Advisors

 In no particular order, because you are ALL important and appreciated. 

Aline Coleman, All World Travel, Inc.

Nichole Marie Coudayre, World Travel Destination Specialist

Claudia Austin Travel, Luxury Travel Agent

Laura Allen Epstein, SMART FLYER Travel Agent

Bob Lindley, Flight Attendant, American Airlines

Amit Sankhala, Owner, Encounters Asia and Jamtara Wilderness Camp

Yvette Glass, Avoya Travel Travel Agent 

Lauren Hefferon, Tour Operator Ciclismo Classico 

Judy Garcia, Travel Leadership Consultant at Direct Travel 

Steve Avalos, Director of Sales, Western U.S., European Tours and Variety Cruises

Heather Hills, Flow Voyages, Travel Advisor

Colleen Falk, Director of Sales & Marketing Chicago Marriot Naperville

Gail Berkeley, Vice President, Destinations & Adventures International Travel

Justin Smith, President, The Evolved Traveler

Comment with you favorite travel advisor, even if it's you! Just getting started here....

WATCH THIS SPACE FOR UPDATES and SHOUTOUTS to my travel industry family and friends!

Now, True Story 

On the morning of Friday the 13th, 2020, as I was scanning headlines and updates, the phone rang. I saw who was calling and expected the worst. Instead…

“Hey Kymri! Steve here. Send me your invoice right away, I want to make sure you get paid while we still can”. Then, “I have another job for you, what’s your coming week look like? We need your way with words.”

Although his message was entirely unexpected, his gesture of reaching out to me was not the least bit surprising. After a lengthy, brainstorming, and thoughtful conversation, I hung up the phone and smiled, “and so it begins...again.” 

Thank you Steve Avalos, Director of Sales, Western U.S. for both European Tours and Variety Cruises

When the Going Gets Tough

The travel industry, from large entities such as airlines, to small independent contractors like myself, is obviously taking a HUGE hit due to Coronavirus. But for veterans who’ve been working in the travel industry for 18 years or more, this is not our first rodeo. We also took a big hit on September 11, 2001, with repercussions that lasted years. We lost so much in the blink of an eye - jobs, companies, clients, payments, travel liberties. It’s taken years of commitment and hard work to build back up and recover to this point. Now, once again, we have been shaken to our core and are facing a complete unknown and uncertain future.

As someone whose passion, work and livelihood was deeply entwined in travel, and STILL IS, I would like to share some insights gleaned from that experience almost 18 years ago when buildings collapsed and planes fell and travel halted on a day, month, year that we will NEVER FORGET.

It’s a Small World

While this is only just becoming apparent to some, anyone working in the travel industry will concur, it IS a small world. We have friends and colleagues and clients spanning across the globe. We’re just a phone call away from someone who can help almost anywhere in the world, and who can share the realities from afar. We know, firsthand, the interconnectedness of our global community.

The travel industry is a small world, too. Over the years, the same names and faces bounce around and re-appear in different positions, at different companies, bringing with them an arsenal of experience and a growing resource of contacts. It’s an industry where bridges are built, not burned. 

We Are a Big Family

From airlines to cruise lines to tour operators to hotel chains to travel agents to small independent contractors like me, we all understand the value of relationships. We are there for each other, working together as one family to stay afloat. Maintaining those valuable relationships ensures that someone will always have your back, and that you will have theirs should the tables be turned.

We Understand What Comes Around Goes Around

When one of us is in a position to help a former colleague who may have lost a job, we pick up the phone and call that person first. In times like these, we offer up our services to each other and to clients and help where we can. These small day-to-day gestures of faith and goodwill have a way of coming back grander, and often when least expected. 

Second True Story

As an emerging travel photographer, I had been introduced to the brother of a former colleague (more of a friend, really) I had worked with in travel. He was expanding his tour operations to include India, and I had recently been to India. When 9/11 hit, he was in the process of selecting images from two albums of slide transparencies I delivered to him (that’s how it worked back then, the honor system of handing over physical tangible assets). Building that relationship was an important lead, so when he called asking to use several, but being unable to pay at the time, I didn’t hesitate. His brochures were beautiful and I was honored to see my images in print. Sure enough, as the dust settled, and when I least expected it, a check arrived in the mail, along with a query for more. I never doubted his integrity, and in return I earned a loyal, paying client for years to come. 

Ever grateful to Jim Berkeley, Founder & CEO of Destinations & Adventures International Travel

As one of my guests on tour with me in Namibia said, “Good things come to good people.” The t-shirt one of my guests wore throughout a People to People tour in Cuba put it most simply, “what comes around goes around.”  

Saturday, March 14, 2020

An Open Letter to the American Highschool Graduating Class of 2020

Dear Seniors,

Right now, I know you are all just coming to terms with being robbed of your final months in highschool, one of the most memorable years of your life. Not only are schools closing and classes cancelled, but all of those special senior activities you’ve been planning for, training for, shopping for, and anticipating all year - from sporting events to school dances, spring break trips, Disneyland, Grad Night, and perhaps even a Graduation ceremony  itself - POOF, vanished, just like that.

I feel for you. I understand how important this all is at your age. Here are you ready to celebrate with your besties before you set out to brave adulthood, and just like that you’re halted, locked down, isolated, and “stuck” at home. YES, it sucks! It’s NOT fair! Of course you are upset. Of course you are angry. It’s all too easy to lose hope and feel like nothing is worth it anymore. The  world, YOUR world, seems to be falling apart before your very eyes. The future, YOUR future, at this moment, is now a complete unknown. 

For your parents, this feeling of doubt, uncertainty, hopelessness is not unfamiliar. In fact, we know it well. We have been there. Hear me out.

Many, if not all of you, were newborns or still in the womb when, one morning, everything was normal, skies were blue, kids were headed to school, adults were headed to work. Within hours, buildings were falling in New York, planes were falling from the sky, and it seemed the whole world was thrown into abysmal fear. It was absolutely surreal. A moment, a day, a week, a year we will NEVER FORGET.

Every one of your parents can tell you their story. Allow me to share with you mine.

It was September 11, 2001.  My husband and I had just bought our first home, in a new town, where he’d just started what was to be a life career position in the travel industry. I was also working in the travel industry, as a contractor, leading groups of alumni and museums and non-profits on international travel journeys, and photographing it all. We hadn’t really planned to have children - we loved our careers, we loved traveling, and we were quite content. But with the joys of nesting in our new home, painting walls, decorating, new furniture… the inevitable happened, and I became pregnant. 

I was still just counting weeks (12), and had signed on with a temp agency. That week, I was filling in as an assistant administrator at an elementary school. I didn’t watch or listen to the news that morning. No sooner had I arrived and sat down, when frantic parents began pouring into the office to pick up their kids, hug them tight, and scurry them home safe. So much of the following hours and days are a blur, but overnight, my husband’s job came to a screeching finish. We had a new mortgage and a second, no health insurance, no stable income, and now, a baby on the way.

I’m not going to lie. We had a choice. We are blessed to live in a country where we do have choices. With no health insurance, no job stability, a mortgage and a second, how on earth could we even afford to bring a child into this world? And was this really even the right time?! I researched my options. I went to Planned Parenthood and talked to a woman who answered my questions and presented me with many options, one of them being information on a social services community benefit in this town that would provide free/reduced-cost pre-natal care and all related expenses through childbirth for residents in need. Thanks to the availability of this social service benefit, money, or lack thereof, became one less factor to worry about. 

The much bigger question, pressing on my mind, was, “Do I really want to bring a child into this world? Am I being selfish wanting to have a baby in these times?” My parents had passed before I even turned 30. My child would never know her grandparents. I missed my mother enough already, pregnancy only amplified that, now who would be there to support me and answer all my mothering questions? Sadness and fear set in and tried to take hold of me in my delicate state. Once it became clear to me that I had a choice, and it was entirely my choice, the decision was easy. 

I could choose fear, or I could choose faith. 

As someone who was not brought up to live in fear, (raised as a Christian Scientist to be perfectly transparent), I chose faith. Faith it was, faith it is, and faith it ever shall be. When I use the word faith, I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about pure simple faith - “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

Fast-forward to April, 2002, and our healthy beautiful baby came in to this world, along with the rest of you, the American highschool graduating class of 2020.

You were born during very uncertain times for our country. You are now graduating highschool and becoming adults at very uncertain times for OUR PLANET. You are not just facing an immediate health crisis, you are also facing an environmental crisis, a humanitarian crisis, a climate of racism, hatred, bigotry, and so many other problems we have failed to address effectively to this day. Pretty dismal circumstances to be sure.

But look. YOU are here. YOU have made it this far for a reason. YOU are an amazing generation of young adults with a perspective unique to others who came before. YOU have already taught us so much, from evolving technology to your eating choices to your ambitions in science, the arts, gender equality, human rights, animal rights, environmental awareness, and on and on.

I have faith in YOU. Just knowing that your generation is about to break through and take hold of the future is the greatest hope we hold. Fear doesn't stand a chance in my mind.

“But what can we do?” you question. You might be thinking “my voice doesn’t matter, no one will listen, I have no control.” While you have no control over events such as we’re experiencing now, and the poor decisions others have made and continue to make, you can still control YOUR attitude, YOUR personal choices, and YOUR action.

For our country, YOU will all be of age to vote in the upcoming Presidential election, and every election here on out (assuming our democracy endures). YOUR decisions  matter. YOUR vote matters. VOTE.

For humanity, YOU are already making incredible contributions and many of you are pursuing ambitious studies in health and sciences.  We need YOU. The world needs YOU. Now more than ever. 

For this planet, YOU are taking steps in caring about our environment - beach clean ups, recycling, home gardening, composting, choosing public transport, etc. - and you have a good understanding of how your actions and choices impact the global environment. I’ve no doubt YOU will develop solutions that generations before you have missed. This is a big part of why you are here. Our planet needs you here. Now more than ever.

YOU make your parents proud. We love you, we support you, and for what it’s worth, we’ve got your back. 

Don’t surrender to fear. Don’t surrender to blind faith, either. Keep it real. From great challenges come great opportunity. You will get through this, and you will enter adulthood with already an arsenal of experience, mistakes and successes, which you have learned from. 

Maybe not right now, but soon, VERY SOON, the world stage is yours. Take all that creativity, love, compassion and intelligence and grace you’ve got and show humankind how to well and truly GO VIRAL in the best possible way.


With Love,

A proud parent who chose faith over fear

Thursday, December 13, 2018

48 Hours with a Mercedes Benz, and Why Car-Ed Made Me Do It!

2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post in partnership with A Girls Guide to Cars, and Car-Ed. I was tasked (okay, honored) to a full day of driving the 2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet from Palm Springs to Los Angeles, where I spent another night and morning scouting locations, shooting, and filming. There will be a full gallery and video coming soon - this post will be updated with more about my drive experience. For now, I want to introduce you to Car-Ed.

Meet the 2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet

Enjoying the view with the 2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet

YES, I drove a 2019 Mercedes and YES, she became my new best friend ever on 4 wheels. But who knew we'd hit it off so well? Car-Ed knew.

We even wore matching colors for a night on the town! Photo credit: Kymri Wilt

Full credit (or blame, if you ask my husband) goes to Car-Ed. Thanks to them, I've been inspired to test drive some dream cars, and to give some serious thought to brands I hadn't considered before. While I'm not in the market for a new car, I was glad to learn that when my family and I are ready, Car-Ed is a great starting point.

And so began our morning in Greater Palm Springs! Photo credit Kymri Wilt

What exactly is Car-Ed?

Car-Ed is an online resource to help consumers discover what cars might best match their everyday routines, behaviors, and needs. Searching online brand websites almost always demands that you enter your personal information - so your local dealer can pester you follow up. Walking on to a new car dealership lot, you meet a total stranger who tries to convince you why you might need a particular model. This is both intimidating and a waste of time. With Car-Ed, you can quickly and easily narrow down your search and save valuable time.

Can you answer 12 Questions?

If you say yes, that's one down. Now just 11 questions remain between you and your best matches for your next set of wheels. Go ahead, take the quiz. I'll wait.

Would my Family's Results Match?

I have a pretty good idea of what cars I would want to test drive. But my husband? His approach is to look for the deals, then think about test-driving the car. We do manage to meet somewhere in the middle about every 10 years. Now, we have a newly-licensed 16-year-old daughter. She will be ready for a new car within a couple of years, and has already eyed a few. I got to wondering if we might all find some middle ground before shopping for our next car. So I sent them both to Car-Ed to take the quiz, and asked them to screenshot and send me their top results. I did the same for myself. Here are our best matches according to Car-Ed.

My Results

What I drive: 2016 Prius 4 (Premium/Touring), sometimes 2002 VW Passat (Turbo) wagon.

I found my top choices to be pretty close. I wasn't at all surprised that luxury class vehicles made a strong showing, and popped up first. A few Mercedes Benz in the mix. I had to scroll down to find the more mainstream matches. No surprise, most were hybrid, electric, or highly fuel-efficient. I drive a Prius, but not a single Prius showed up in my top results, so they missed the mark on that.

First page (Luxury) matches
Mainstream matches

My Teenager's Results

What she drives: 2006 Prius, sometimes 2002 VW Passat (Turbo) wagon.

My daughter sent her results first, by text. Also, strong showing for luxury, with a few Mercedes Benz in the mix. Her text message read: "These were my top matches. The cars it gave me are really ugly. I only like the Audi." Oh such a picky teen! She drives an unpretentious older Prius, by choice, and no Prius showed up in her mainstream results either.

First Page (Luxury) matches
Mainstream matches

My Husband's Results

What he drives: a bike; sometimes the 2006 Prius.

Here came the real test, my husband's results. Let it be known, this is the guy who refuses to upgrade from the perfectly functional iphone 4 (thus the tiny screen shots). He commutes by bike to/from work, and isn't a big fan of freeway driving and traffic. Predictably, his first screens showed almost all hybrid and electric mainstream options. Then, below the fold, the luxury brands, including Mercedes Benz. So in his case, the environmentally-friendly options were spot on, but still, no Prius in the top matches.

First page top (Mainstream)
Luxury matches top

First page bottom (Mainstream)
Luxury matches bottom

So the most glaring common thread for all of us is that we need to look beyond our Prius-vision realm. And clearly, we need to consider more Mercedes Benz models!

Top down on a beautiful sunny Los Angeles day!

Loading the boards is easy with the top down.

Ready to hit the waves with my brother!

Watch for this post to be updated soon, with a video edit from the full 48 hours of driving and shooting the Mercedes Benz E53 Cabriolet!

2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet

To be honest, Car-Ed shares credit (or blame) with my parents, who taught me to drive in a Mercedes-Benz. I actually took and passed my first driver's test in a 1970 MB 280 SEL. Oh, but that's ancient history, and many years have passed since I've sat behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz. I'm well overdue, and thanks to Car-Ed, I'm looking....

Looking good in every light!