For Texans craving adventure, the Lone Star State is a great place to live. Luxury travel specialist Leah Thrapp offers one-of-a-kind guided tours through her company, Flipflops and Adventures. On a typical day out of DallasFort Worth International Airport, travelers can reach over 60 international destinations on a non-stop flight. Houstonians can reach over 70 new places directly. “You can get on a plane and go straight to Australia or Beijing or Dubai from a Texas airport,” Leah shared excitedly. “It’s one of my
favorite things about living in Texas!”
International travel can seem more daunting than staying within familiar borders, especially with an inundation of online information available. From sifting through travel vlogs, advice columns, and online reviews to obtaining a passport, it can be hard to know where to begin. While working with a travel agent may sound antiquated, there are many reasons to reach out and let an expert help with the details. Here, Leah shared the benefit of hiring an expert when seeking a luxurious and relaxing getaway.
Getting Into the Business of Luxury Travel
“Travel has always been important to me,” Leah said. “I have always chosen jobs that allowed me or provided the opportunity to travel.” Leah’s early career as a traveling make-up artist took her across the U.S. weekly, while her work as a nanny took her to Mallorca, Spain one summer. “From then on, I could never get enough of Europe, especially the Mediterranean. I crave the history and food and cultural experiences.”
With an entrepreneurial spirit, Leah eventually decided to turn her hobby into a business. “I began working as a travel agent so that I could put my knowledge and experience to good use helping other people plan their vacations,” she said. For over a decade, Leah helped Texans plan getaways through traditional agency services. Many of her bookings featured all-inclusive, luxury escapes to nearby Mexico and the Caribbean. However, she quickly began getting a different type of request.
Over the years, Leah was fortunately able to accompany her husband on work trips around the globe. This allowed for networking and becoming familiar with now-favorite destinations. She posted her personal adventures on social media. As her audience expanded, clients started asking how they could take vacations like hers. “I didn’t have a practical way to schedule trips like staying on an agriturismo, a working Italian farm, in the Tuscan countryside while doing day trips to nearby medieval villages,” Leah shared. “It was not easy to schedule an Irish road trip, hitting the highlights like staying in a luxury castle hotel and taking in all the remote scenic spots Ireland has to offer, when the clients were probably not comfortable driving on the other side of the road.” Her followers were requesting authentic trips “off the beaten path,” which was easier dreamed than done.
Luxury Group Travel
With so many requests and questions coming her way, Leah decided that the best way to help others enjoy elusive adventures like her own was to start her own luxury tour business. She began Flipflops and Adventures, organizing and guiding the trips for guests. Big bus tours often lack customization and feature tightly packed schedules. Leah is able to offer customization and expertise to her small groups. They are better able to explore the parts of countries less seen by tourists. “We allow plenty of time to explore on your own and try new experiences like a pasta making class or a walk through the castle grounds with a castle falconer,” she said.
Leah can customize trips for just about any type of group. Her open trips offer the chance for anyone to experience European countries in a new and distinct manner. She has taken a ladies-only trip on a Christmas market cruise down the Rhine, relaxed with new friends in the Tuscan countryside, and recently sold out a group trip around Ireland. “I specialize in bucket list and luxury trips,” she said. From a European river cruise to an over-water bungalow in Bora Bora, Leah loves helping clients plan special occasions. She loves anniversaries, celebrations, and dream vacations.
The Importance of Exploring the World
Leah believes that one of the biggest benefits of traveling is the ability to expand one’s own worldview. Going to new places, both near to home and across the globe, allows travelers to step out of their comfort zones and see what day-to-day life is like somewhere else. There are so many adventures in navigating busy downtowns, meeting native wildlife, or exploring a foreign pharmacy or grocery. “I cherish the moments that make me wonder at something I have never seen before,” Leah said, especially when it involves an imagined scene from a book coming to life before her eyes.
She encourages others to travel as a family. “So many people believe that once they have kids, their travel days have come to an end until retirement,” she said. “But traveling with your kids is precious!” She described seeing the world through her child’s eyes and noticing small details that may have otherwise been missed. “[My son] pays attention to ways that people have different cultural expectations, or speak in a different language, or celebrate things in different ways.”
Despite Leah’s wanderlust for discovering people and places across the globe, she is still a Texas gal at heart. She often finds adventures for her family in their own backyard. “I firmly believe that every day is an opportunity to have an adventure.” When home, she looks for everyday fun in her own city and state. “I love to take the family to visit the North Texas Irish Festival (spring) or the Parker County Peach Festival in Weatherford (summer),” she said. She also takes advantage of off-season promotions at Great Wolf Lodge for her son’s January birthday. One summer, they took a local staycation to Dallas’s Hilton Anatole, swimming in its Jade Waters Resort Pool and enjoying the thrill of Medieval Times!
Leah has taken plenty of favorite trips and has a long list of dream vacations for the future. The agriturismo in Tuscany, Italy feels like her home away from home, comfortable and relaxing. “My favorite adults-only vacation is to take a crewed and chartered catamaran like we have done in Croatia and the British Virgin Islands,” Leah said. She looks forward to a time her son is old enough to embark on an African safari.
Regardless of the destination, start with a bucket list of places to see, foods to try, and cultures to experience. Then get in contact with an expert to help budget, plan, and design a dream getaway!
Tips from a Texas Based Travel Agent
Leah offers plenty of advice to those with hesitations about spending on or planning for a big vacation. Personally, she tends to prioritize experiences over material possessions. She suggests asking for trips for her anniversary and organizing family getaways in lieu of pricy presents.
It is easy to see dollar signs when thinking of all the details of a trip or to bypass a travel agent and book online through the plethora of travel sites available. Leah still works as a travel agent with Vincent Vacations Dallas. She agreed to share some of her biggest tips for making luxury travel dreams come true from a business insider.
1. AGENT VERSUS WEBSITE
Travel agents typically do not charge fees, as they are paid for by the travel providers (hotels, airlines, etcetera). This is also true for online travel sites. With fees a nonissue, Leah explained this is ideal. There is rarely a time that personal customer service, referrals, and experience are not beneficial to travelers. Additionally, travel agents typically offer payment plans not usually available through online sites.
Working with a local travel agent also means that help is often just a quick text away. An actual person dedicates time and energy to the client’s travel happiness. Customer service is at the client’s fingertips by phone, and an in-person consultation is occasionally requested. In these instances, being able to physically discuss fears and concerns alongside dreams and excitement is a benefit of selecting a local agent.
2. TRIP FAMILIARITY
When selecting a travel agent, Leah “strongly recommend[ed] that you use a travel agent who is experienced with the type of travel that you are planning.” Booking a safari in South Africa, scuba-diving in Belize, or cruising to Antarctica out of South America are very different vacations, and it helps if the travel agent is an expert in the type of trip (cruise, bus tour, etcetera) as well as the location. “I would make sure the person you book with regularly takes trips to the destination,” since the agent would be familiar with hotels, food, and transportation there. Likewise, there are companies who specialize in local travel. Some local favorites are treks through Big Bend or a wine tour of the Hill Country. Choose the expert who is most familiar with the type of trip and location desired.
3. AMPLE PLANNING TIME
Everyone has a friend who touts the fun and spontaneity of a last-minute trip deal. However, a first-time or dream trip internationally requires more finesse. “Most of my clients start planning their summer travel around January,” Leah said. “But I recommend starting around November/December to get the best availability and options.” For those looking to book travel around the winter holidays, it is best to start looking at options and discussing logistics about ten months in advance.
4. FINDING THE BEST DEALS
“Anytime schools are out for major breaks, you will encounter higher prices, lower availability, and more crowds,” Leah said. This is true both locally and internationally. “If you can find a way to maximize a [long weekend] you will find better options than you would over Christmas or spring break.” For the best deals, be open to flexible travel dates or deals on an unexpected destination. Driving to a different airport can also result in some big savings depending on the destination and airline carrier.
5. NOW VERSUS LATER
Long flights and multiple stops can often be physically and mentally tiring. On the flip side, it can be unsafe to take crying babies or wandering children on an African safari. Some are able to visit less accessible or physically rigorous destinations. She cautions: do not put off the trip, as the journey may be too difficult later. Others have the ability to enjoy what Leah calls “slow travel.” They might prefer to spend a month abroad at a more relaxing pace.