Planning a trip to Southeast Asia? Meet an agent from Audley Travel who specializes in planning trips, Lauren Burzalow.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do at Audley travel?
I’m a senior Southeast Asia specialist at Audley, which basically means that I cover a handful of countries within Southeast Asia. I cover Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos and I’m about to pick up Indonesia. I leave next Sunday. We create really detailed tailor-made trips for people so I’ve done trips for people that have a really specific interest in textiles ora really detailed interest in ancient architecture and things like that, as well as standard honeymoons. So I do all of the planning, flights and then I do research trips about once a year just to kind of freshen up and check out the hotels and the experiences people are having.
So are these trips always for pleasure?
Mostly for pleasure, we’ve done retreats, a colleague of mine did a retreat for a big company where 40 execs went out and did this awesome trip. We’ve done some work with schools and have done some research trips, but for the most part, it’s pleasure.
Which country is your favorite to work with?
It’s so hard. I always tell my travelers that it’s sort of like picking my favorite child. Thailand was my first love. I went to Simmons College and the Queen Mother of Thailand went to Simmons College, and the king was born in Boston. So Boston has a cool connection to Thailand that made me really interested in it when I was younger. But since going back, Cambodia is amazing. They have this really fraught history and most of the people you talk to, and your guides and people who own businesses all went through the Khmer Rouge and will tell you about losing family or about having to leave their homes in the city, but they’re so incredible. And the country is really doing pretty well considering what it’s been through, so I have a special place in my heart for Cambodia too.
How did you get involved with the company?
I had another Simmons alumni who I wasn’t super close to, a friend of a friend, and she had all of these amazing photos of all the trips she was taking. She was in Morrocco and she was in England for a couple months, and we met at a group function. I asked her, “Why do you get to go places? I want to go places. What is this nonsense?” and the company had actually just moved over to the United States. We’ve been here in Boston for 3 1/2 years now, and this was about two months after it opened, and she said “Oh we really need someone who’s been to Thailand,”. I had studied abroad there as a student so I applied. I was working in the energy industry and it was kind of boring, and not super challenging. I applied and luckily, I got the job, and here we are.
What do you think is a common misconception people have about Southeast Asia in general?
In terms of just the area, I think people have this idea that the people there don’t like Americans, especially Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, they assume that everyone over there hates us or thinks we’re terrible and that just hasn’t been my experience. Most of my travel there has been on a solo basis, most of it I’ve been alone, I took my fiance and best friend with me last year, but other than that, I’ve been on my own, and I’ve never felt threatened, nobody has ever been rude to me, no one has ever seemed to dislike me because I’m an American, it’s much more that they’re curious and excited and even want me to know that they don’t hate me, it’s been lovely.
Are there any charities that you want to mention?
In my region, in particular, we work with the Goodwill Center in Cambodia, it’s in Sihanoukville which is in the south, on the beach. They run some orphanages and we work with them purely through donations. We no longer do orphanage visits or anything like that because it created this orphanage tourism industry, so we decided to step back from it. A lot of the kids as they have gotten older said that they felt like an attraction or a zoo animal. The Goodwill Center has been our charity of the year for the last couple of years.
Who would you say is your most memorable client?
I had a couple of really memorable ones, but if I had to pick one, I would say it was a woman who was just so lovely and excited about her trip. She almost had to cancel it because she had a health scare when her doctors found something suspicious, they thought she might have had cancer, and she was so worried and scared that she would have to cancel the trip. But she called me and said that everything was fine and there wasn’t anything to worry about, so she did get to travel to Thailand and Vietnam. Of course, I’ve gotten unsavory clients as well some who complain about the slightest things. Sometimes, they complain that they were expecting the trip to Vietnam or Thailand to be like when they travel to Europe, but Southeast Asia is really different from Europe, and they don’t seem to understand that. Thankfully though, most of my experiences have been positive.
Lauren’s recommended places to visit:
- Mai Chau – Vietnam
- Luang Prabang, Laos
- Kau Chanthaburi – Thailand
Lauren’s recommended places to eat:
- Cuisine Wat Damnak – Siem Reap
- Nahm – Bangkok
Lauren’s recommended charities
- The Good Will Foundation
- Me2We – Free the Children
Interested in more? Contact Lauren and other agents at www.audleytravel.com