My father and his brother started one of the first African safari companies out of the U.S. back in 1968. They were sort of unlikely candidates for the work; two yeshiva boys from Williamsburg, Brooklyn do not fit the safari stereotype. My dad was a travel agent, and his brother was teaching English and wanted to find somewhere it was warm in winter. He ended up in Kenya, stayed there, and began talking to my dad about starting a tour business.
When it all came together, my dad was in charge of handling the sales portion of the company while my uncle ran operations. It worked out well for them, and it meant that I spent a great deal of my life in Africa. I started going to Africa at a very young age — probably at only about 2 years old. And when I ended up working in the business, I traveled there several times a year.
It’s strange, but even though Africa isn’t a big part of my life anymore, the impact it had is lasting — I haven’t been back there for 15 years. The extent to which the experience directed the events of my life, I don’t know. But I do know it definitely shaped how I see the world.
The power of international travel at a young age is no secret to those of us in the industry. Stepping outside the comfort zone of your hometown, looking at your surroundings from a new perspective, and seeing that people survive with much less than you is so important for forming empathy for others and appreciation for all you have. And in this globalized world where people are more connected than ever and increasingly impersonal at the same time, I think that travel is one of the most important gifts we can give the younger generation.
In addition to being a safari tour extraordinaire, my dad was also prolific writer. He always wrote about Africa, and one thing he always discussed was how, when you go to Africa, you come back seeing the world differently. I remember him writing about how a cheetah mother would wake up in the morning with her four cubs, and how she had to go kill breakfast. Her day is spent protecting her offspring from hyenas and going to extreme measures just to live another day. He talked about how in the wildlife park, you see firsthand the fight for survival, and you never look at your day-to-day life the same.
I think traveling at such a young age really helped shape an appreciation for home. Where supermarkets, electricity, and clean water were just part of my day, I found that that wasn’t always the case in the places I visited in Africa.
In the travel business, we have a unique opportunity, not only to sell amazing adventures, but to give people — young and old — a better understanding of the world we live in.