Meet the GeoEx Travel Experts: Laura Hoffacker
We recently sat down with Laura Hoffacker, GeoEx Director for Premier Access, to talk about her travel experiences and philosophy, and what she hopes to achieve for GeoEx travelers.
How did you first get interested in travel and what were your first significant travel experiences?
I grew up in a family of conservationists on a small island off the coast of Georgia. I thought I’d become an environmental lawyer. For the field studies portion of my degree, I traveled to Panama and studied the rain forests and coral reefs of the Guna Yala archipelago.
I ended the trip on Isla Cañas, where thousands of sea turtles lay their eggs every year. Hundreds of sea turtles lay their eggs where I’m from-but I couldn’t believe that thousands lay their eggs there. Another alarming difference was the number of poachers who depend on selling sea turtle eggs to provide for their families. I learned that working with local poachers to help them earn a living by guiding tourists to see the turtles could be an effective alternative to the dangerous sea turtle egg market. This is when I realized that tourism can be an opportunity for conservation, not a threat. I’ve been passionate about that ever since.
What countries have you visited?
I’ve had the privilege of traveling in Africa (South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Zambia), Asia (Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia), Europe (Iceland, Norway, France, Turkey) and in Latin America, I’ve explored Argentina and Chile, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Peru, and I am looking forward to a trip to Southern Patagonia this October!
What’s the meaning or excitement of travel for you?
Traveling makes me feel at home. I find it comforting to connect deeply with people who are in theory so “different” from me. I find the magic of even the most thrilling adventures to be hidden in the connections made with the strangers and soon-to-be-friends-along the way.
What about your job most excites you and/or gives you particular satisfaction?
I love connecting guests to impactful travel experiences that they wouldn’t otherwise have in their daily lives. Working with guides and experts around the world to provide these guests with tailormade experiences is very satisfying to me-particularly when the experience inspires the guests to deepen their interests in cultural and environmental conservation.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
A few years ago, my best friend and I were in Thailand when we spontaneously decided to change plans and cycle up the coast of Vietnam. We had to complete the 1,000-mile journey in just two weeks in order to catch our flight home.
Every morning we woke up before sunrise and got on our bicycles. We cycled past rice terraces and kids going to school, up foggy passes and through massive rainstorms. When we couldn’t go any longer in the midday heat, we’d stop and buy coconuts from farmers. At the end of the day, we’d stop at the first town we found with guesthouses and food.
I still have fond memories of our Vietnamese “mothers” who would adopt us for the evening-graciously feeding us three servings of pho, teaching us how they cook and go about their daily lives, and, understandably, laughing at how silly we looked in our bike outfits. I’ll never forget them. They inspire me each day.
What’s your most memorable experience on a GeoEx trip?
My first night in Africa was most memorable. I had just arrived at a charming camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. After having a sundowner and getting exhilaratingly close to bathing elephants and scoffing hippos, I sat down to dinner with the lodge manager. We quickly bonded. Later that night, I learned about the Southern Hemisphere sky from an astronomer, and two safari guides gave me an introduction on the nearby wildlife-particularly the monkeys, elephants, and hippos, which I soon heard ruffling around my tent.
What’s a special travel experience that you’ve been able to arrange for someone that has been especially meaningful for you?
Last summer we arranged a last-minute family safari in South Africa for a couple and their young child. It was already rewarding to be able to put a quality trip together without much lead time, but then it got better.
The father, who was an actor, realized shortly beforehand that his filming schedule would interfere with their trip and had to bow out. We worked hard to reconfigure the accommodations and activities to best suit the mother-son duo. Then, the second morning into their safari, we heard from the father that his filming had ended for the weekend and he wanted to join his family. We immediately got on the phone to make arrangements (not always simple with the time difference) and found him a seat on the last flight out of Johannesburg, convinced the pilots not to take off until he got on board (he was caught in rush-hour traffic), and lined up a car to meet his flight and take him to the safari camp. He made it just in time to surprise his family on their afternoon game drive.
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To learn more about the many far-flung destinations that GeoEx travels to, give Laura, or any of our experts, a call at 888-570-7108.