We caught up with travel consultant Samantha Boychuk, an in-house expert on all things Europe! When she’s not planning her next European adventure, you can find her at the Flight Centre Toronto Travel Centre. Samantha is as knowledgeable about Europe as she is passionate about sending clients to European destinations — especially ones they’ve never even considered.
Samantha, according to your Flight Centre agent profile, you’ve visited an impressive number of countries in Europe: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, England, Scotland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.
How did you come to know Europe so well?
After living in South Africa for six months, I wasn’t quite ready to go home so I joined a friend in Europe and we travelled through Greece and Italy. After that, I moved to Amsterdam for a year, which made the rest of Europe accessible to travel frequently.
Why do you think it’s important to visit Europe?
Canada is fairly homogenous– you can travel 12 hours and the culture remains pretty much the same. In Europe, vastly different countries are easily accessible within a short distance and time compared to Canada. Also, Europe truly has something for every travel taste. These are what make Europe really stand out as a travel destination.
Could you share a favourite travel memory?
6 amazing days of hiking, admiring breathtaking scenery and enjoying the best beer and pizza of my life in Gimmelwald, Switzerland. The gondola cable car through the mountains (there are no cars allowed in Gimmelwald!) was incredible, as were the people and food. I stayed in the town’s only hostel, owned by a lovely local couple, although I would recommend Gimmelwald’s charming hotels to my clients.
What surprised you the most about your European visits?
Witnessing history come to life. I was captivated by Prague, which has some of the best preserved Gothic architecture, thanks to its unique history during World War II. Hitler made a deal with the Czech government to store weapons in exchange for ceasing bombing Prague. It’s eerily fascinating to see the distinct divide between the city’s great Gothic buildings and the dreary, concrete post-war buildings that replaced the ones that were destroyed by bombs.
Based on your experience, what would you do differently?
My advice is to get out of the big cities and immerse yourself in the smaller towns. This is how you see the true beauty of Europe. Everyone wants to visit Paris, London, as they should, but I suggest visiting them for a few days and then venture outside the big cities to really enjoy and appreciate the local way of life. I loved going to the South of Italy where no one speaks English. Head to the places you don’t hear about as often.
How would you create a tailor-made Europe trip?
I ask about their day-to-day activities. A conversation helps me assess how I can translate a client’s preferences to travel. Chances are if they’re into walking in the mornings, they’ll want to do the same on vacation. Once I have a better understanding of my clients’ interests, I go from there.
How do you go about creating this style of holiday, and why do you recommend it to your clients?
I love designing custom Europe holidays, but I also love that Flight Centre encourages us to help individuals determine the best way to travel. After chatting with clients, it may turn out that a guided tour of Europe would be a better match. Then my focus shifts on finding the perfect tour operator for their interests and activity levels. It ultimately depends on what my clients feel most comfortable with.
What do you consider to be an advantage of a customized Europe holiday?
Flexibility is a major advantage, and I’m not just talking about being on your own schedule as opposed to a guided tour. Let’s say you love a particular place or hotel and want to stay a few days longer. Or, once you get there you want to add another activity to your itinerary. Flight Centre has so many industry contacts on-ground, that we can continue to customize a holiday while a client is in their destination.
Do you have an example of a European trip you booked that stands out to you?
I booked a trip for a family of 8 retirees. They shared Dutch heritage but none had ever been to the Netherlands. I recommended a river cruise but it wasn’t financially feasible for some of the group members, so I customized a 12-day trip to showcase the beauty of the country.ions. I sent the family to Scheveningen, a charming seaside town that exceeded their expectations but wouldn’t have thought to book on their own.
What do you love about custom Europe itineraries?
When clients put all their trust in me to create their dream trip. With all-inclusive vacations, although we can do some cool add-ons and excursions, you’re more limited, whereas, with Europe, the possibilities truly are endless. As I mentioned earlier, you can send three people to the same European city and they can all have three wonderfully different experiences based on their preferences.
I also love streamlining a trip so my client gets the most out of whatever time they have. Let’s take, for example, Italy, one of my favourite places to create custom itineraries. Florence, Rome, and the Amalfi Coast are the top Italian destinations I get enquiries about and people want to do all three. Rather than have my clients spend hours travelling from Florence and Rome to the Amalfi Coast, which would take up a chunk of their precious vacation, I send them to Cinque Terre, which is also coastal, with crystal blue water, great restaurants (just Northern Italian instead Southern Italian cuisine.) It is so much closer and they can still enjoy the postcard experience on a trip that is effortless instead of exhausting.
Now for one last fun question! What’s your favourite souvenir?
My tattoos. I am not a big souvenir person, so now I try to get a tattoo in the destination I visit. I also love my Dutch windmill charcuterie board.
Ready to experience Europe? Enlist the help of a friendly and knowledgeable Flight Centre Expert Traveller. Contact Samantha at 1 855-791- 3578, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her at 425 King Street West, Toronto.