As an expedition leader for TCS World Travel, Richard Butler has the enviable role of escorting clients on exclusive adventures by private jet. Here at the Inspiring Travel Company we asked him to share his travel expertise…
Tell us what the role of Expedition Leader involves…
Essentially we look after the welfare and care of guests from start to finish; making sure they have a wonderful experience, and don’t need to worry about a thing. We liaise with the Captain of the jet, with the hotels, the guides… ensuring every detail is executed to perfection. We also lead a group of TCS staff who accompany every trip; including a top US physician who travels with the group the entire time, lecturers and photographers who come on board to offer unique insight, and assistant leaders who are always one step ahead of the group to ensure everything is in place for our arrival at each destination and guest luggage is waiting in their room for them.
What is the ‘private jet’ experience like?
Our fleet is extremely safe to travel on, using the best aircraft in the business which are flown by hugely experienced pilots who usually come from a mixture of top military and commercial air travel backgrounds. The jets are extremely spacious, and the staff onboard deliver exceptional, personalised service.
What do you think surprises guests most about TCS World Travel?
Firstly I think many come with concerns about being in a “group”, but the individual way in which every guest is treated, and the fact we can personalise aspects of the trip, really surprises them and contributes hugely to our high repeat business. I think the jet also, which is often described as a ‘home from home’, and the amount we do in such a short space of time because of the meticulously planned itineraries. The fact you have your own seats and storage all the way through means you can set up a base, and the onboard crew remember the finer details (like how you have your tea) so you can really relax during the flights. Also, the high level of care is hugely important to our guests; from their luggage waiting in their room on arrival, to the top doctor who travels with the group the entire trip for peace of mind.
Where do you travel to personally?
My wife works for TCS World Travel too and between us we spend a huge amount of the year travelling. So when it comes to our own holidays, it’s more important to us to keep our two young children happy; which usually means skiing, Florida, travelling with another family, or our annual multi-generational trip to Scotland for a week’s fishing. One place I can’t wait to go back to that I love is Iran – which is on our Kingdoms and Cultures of Eurasia tour this year.
How important is responsible travel?
So important. I think it’s vital to keep the destinations we visit special, reaching out to places off the tourist trail so support goes to where it is needed most.
What’s the greatest thing travel has taught you?
Patience and respect for others. I have to be very timely in my role, but I’ve learnt when to just let the process happen. I think travel has also taught me to never stop learning, particularly from new people, including our guests.
What’s been your most life changing travel experience?
I have two really but they’re completely different. It’s a cliché but seeing gorillas in the wild in Rwanda was incredibly moving, and I came back from the encounter feeling that it had refocussed me somehow. Another was when I was travelling with friends in New York. As we exited the subway we realised we’d accidently left our folder with all our travel documents and money on the train. We made a not-so-hopeful visit to lost property and the folder was there, intact and as we had left it. It really restored my faith in the kindness of strangers.
What’s your favourite souvenir from your travel?
I’ve got a wooden hand-carved mask from Rwanda that I love, and a solar-powered prayer wheel from Bhutan which says a little prayer every time it turns.
What do you miss most when you’re travelling?
My family, I wish I could sneak my kids into my suitcase! FaceTime has been a real game changer for us in terms of keeping in touch when away.
What’s your best piece of packing advice?
Invest in packing cubes. These have revolutionised the way I pack…and I pack a lot. After eight years of using them, I’m not quite sure how I ever packed without them! They’re particularly useful if your itinerary ventures into differing climates.
What’s on your playlist for a long-haul flight?
The Rolling Stones get me ready for a flight! And then when we’re boarding and disembarking we play local music of the destination to get our guests in the cultural mindset of the country.
And your reading list?
Currently it’s Prisoners of Geography: 10 Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall. It’s superb.
Which ‘bucket list’ journey would you recommend?
Definitely the 24-day Around the World itinerary, which is perfect for a first time trip and so evocative of our exclusive style of travel. Highlights of this iconic journey include: a private train charter to Machu Picchu, expert archaeological insight on Easter Island, an aboriginal tour through the Daintree Rainforest, watching traditional dance at Angkor Wat, seeing the sunrise above the Taj Mahal, a game drive through the Serengeti, visiting the Lost City of Petra, and shopping in Marrakech’s medinas.
Where would you like to go back to?
I can’t wait to go back to Iran on our Kingdoms and Cultures of Eurasia Tour this year, and I miss being able to travel to Egypt. Borobudur in Indonesia is definitely somewhere I’d jump at the chance to go back to as well.
Which destination has surprised you most?
Botswana; it’s so different from any other kind of safari, and yet so evocative of the safari experience.
What’s the best dining experience you’ve ever had abroad?
A sunrise breakfast picnic under the statue of Christ the Redeemer, and a Russian 9-course banquet have definitely been highlights. But if I had to pick one it would be a sunrise balloon ride in the Serengeti, followed by breakfast in the bush. The air ride is magical, so silent, and offering amazing views of hippo, giraffe, wildebeest and zebra groups. Then you land for champagne and a fry-up with a safari view…epic.
Is there anywhere you would recommend travelling to now before it changes too much?
Bhutan for sure, they only offer a small amount of travel permits per year so that tourism is grown in a balanced way, but that could change. And Laos; the fact there are more direct flights heading to the country means it will only get busier.
Must see destinations…
…for beach: Maldives
Richard Butler started his career touring with orchestras for Music for Youth, but with travel in his blood, he joined TCS World Travel 18 years ago, working his way through the ranks to become one of just six Expedition Leaders who head up client care. Richard lives in Somerset with his wife (also a TCS World Travel Expedition Leader) and their children.
TCS World Travel offers a portfolio of incredible itineraries by private jet. Inspiring Travel Company’s expert team can tell you more about these unforgettable journeys on 01244 355 600. This article first appeared in Other Shores, ITC Travel Group magazine. Download or order your copy here.