Carolina Ayerbe-Expert InterviewLearn more about the author
Carolina is an expert when it comes to traveling for the sake of cultural growth and truly experiencing a new place for what it is. She expands her perspective on the world by traveling to destinations with an open heart and an open mind, embracing the local culture and people to the fullest extent. With all her expertise at hand, she can’t help but share it with the world. Hence, she has begun her very own Cultural Travel Guide company, which supplies cultural travel itineraries for people to authentically visit places around the world.
“I believe that cultural travel moves you so much, has such an educational impact on you, that there is just no way you will treat people who are different from you, the same as before.”
You began your site in part because you were disappointed with travel agents, what is the biggest difference between the guides you provide and those provided by the typical travel agent?
I think above all the difference is in our philosophies. Of course, travel is the ultimate leisure activity, something you do to escape your routine and be somewhere else and do something else. But to me, travel is also an opportunity for knowledge, education, growth, and even spiritual awakening. So the travel experience I recommend goes beyond just a change of scenery. I specialize in cultural travel defined as travel experiences in destinations that have some relation to history, art, science, or entertainment, which is my personal take on travel. Because travel agents work on commissions, they are not always interested in what suits the interests of the traveler, rather, they strive to fit as many people as possible into a predefined mold. Of course, that’s a generalization, but unfortunately it has been my experience.
On the other hand, the itinerary guides I provide include all the information you as a traveler need to execute your cultural itinerary without having to figure out any planning details related to what you’ll do each day, on the go. I don’t want you spending your valuable personal time researching online for hours and hours, or worse, researching stealthily at work! Not only it will take forever, but you’ll be completely overwhelmed due to the endless amount of information available online. I will give you all you transportation instructions, maps, floorplans of attractions, strategies to make the most of the visit and above all, relevant historical information about the place; the kind of information that will help you make sense of it and its impact in the world we live in today. The itinerary also considers a comfortable pace and enough time to appreciate each attraction, considering opening and closing times, commute and meals.
In the personalized itinerary design service I get to know you better, I find out what your interests, passions and likes are, your personal pace, your particular requests, and I design a unique itinerary that is yours only. Of course, provided you are the kind of person who likes cultural travel and enjoys having a structured pre-designed itinerary to follow.
You began traveling later in life with your first big trip after you began your career. Is it ever too late to become a world traveler?
Absolutely not. Travel can be one of those unattainable things we dream about in a fantasy of the things we’d do if we were rich; and you know, that holds people back sometimes. There are many other fears (which I’ve covered in a past article) that can cause people to start late. But definitely, one of the purposes of my business and my website is to encourage people to go see the world for themselves. You will never come back home the same, your view of your own reality will change, and my hope is that such experiences will bring a new perspective and new levels of understanding and tolerance.
I believe that cultural travel moves you so much, has such an educational impact on you, that there is just no way you will treat people who are different from you, the same as before. When you know better, you do better.
What is the most important thing a traveler can do to prepare for an international trip?
Do the homework and thoroughly research the place they’re going to visit. Sites are not just tourist attractions, many of these places witnessed events that profoundly affected society in one way or another, and to me, not getting the point and surpassing the relevant information deadens the experience.
You attempt to design trips for individuals that are “a reflection of their interests, passions, their pace and their energy”. What do you think is the number one thing individuals should consider before choosing a destination?
The number one thing is what I call the “tummy factor”. There’s something that you feel in your tummy or sometimes in your chest when you’re thinking about that destination, that incredible feeling of excitement, like you can’t wait for the departure date to get here. The feeling that you have when you know your travel dreams are about to come true, that to me is the most important thing. Don’t just choose a destination because it’s popular and “everybody else is doing it”. As in most things in life, whatever place or site makes your heart sing, that feeling is the most important thing to consider before deciding on a destination.
I felt that way when I decided to go visit Machu Picchu in Perú, the incredible ancient city of the Incas up on a mountain in the Andes. And I tell you, it was an unforgettable experience, Machu Picchu can literally move you to tears as you see the city from above a nearby hill. That feeling of ecstasy, of being awed and inspired, that is the most important thing to me. If you don’t know anything about a destination, proper research will either prompt you to go or make it very clear that the place doesn’t move you.
What is one piece of advice you share with clients no matter where in the world they are going?
Above all, be respectful and honor the local culture. Remember that locals are not there just to serve us, it is our duty as traveler and as ambassadors of our own culture, to honor their customs and to respect their ways. It is us who are the intruders, it is us who are there to learn and be moved and changed. We’re not there to demand service, or speed, or special attention… at least not in my kind of travel. We need to be very aware of our actions and be very aware during our travel experiences.
What country have you found most intriguing to write a cultural guide for? What is the most interesting cultural characteristic of that country?
That’s a very hard question to answer, each country and culture has its own unique charm. I guess Mexico is a country with such vast and rich culture with a history that goes way back, and with all the influences they’ve had; it is fascinating how culture is everywhere, in everything that they do.
Italy is my personal favorite, I find it fascinating how Roman we all (in Western culture) are. If you think about it, we inherited our culture from the Romans and their take on the Greeks. In North America and Latin America we got it mainly from the Spanish, the English, and the French, and all of them were Roman. So to go to Italy and see the ruins of the temples and the palaces, and actually visit the places where all of these events in Antiquity happened is truly a joy for me. Plus I love the culture today, the zest for life and beauty.
What is one thing you always pack with you when traveling abroad?
Well, there are two things: One, my camera, I love taking pictures; and the second one is my iPad and/or my iPod touch, because all my travel information, guides, maps, etc are there, plus entertainment for the long flights.
You believe “cultural travel” is just one way to travel, although clearly it has been your favored avenue for exploring a new place. What do you see as the number one benefit of cultural travel as opposed to mass tourism?
“Getting it” or as Oprah calls it, the “a-ha moments”. Sure, you can go to a beach somewhere and lie down and tan, and that’s necessary sometimes too, I’ve done it! But to me, travel is about having an experience that can put things into perspective, change your view of the world, and create more compassion for others. See, I know it sounds like a soapbox, and some may think it’s even corny, but I have personally experienced this shift in thinking from being pampered inside my own little world to starting to get some events in human history that still affect us today. There’s no going back for me, personally, I am a different person because of cultural travel, more open, more compassionate, and you know, I enjoy life more!
It is exhilarating when you “get it”! And then you want to start sharing what you’ve learned with others and get them excited as well, it’s interesting, and fun! And I’m not alone in my pursuit of knowledge through travel; my clients and my readers, of course, share my vision. When you visit countries like Cambodia, for instance, you see true poverty, but you also see true happiness. There is just no way you’ll see your life as you did before.
From your own experience, what culture has been the most inviting and easy to adapt to? What made it a more fluid transition?
You know, I’d never thought about that. I don’t think I’d pick one. I’ve felt right at home nearly everywhere. Perhaps it’s my own state of mind or my attitude, or my silly smile when I try to do my best in a language I can’t speak, but people have always been very kind and inviting to me. I’ve felt at home in New York City, and I’ve felt at home in Mexico City and in Paris, and in Brazil and in Rome. I think approaching the place and its people with respect and humility will always get you a long way.
One thing I’ve learned through my travels is that people are still people everywhere; sure, there are differences, but in the end we all need to eat and we all want to strive for a better quality of life; we all want to love and be loved, and those things unite us.
Where in the world do you hope to travel next?
My husband and I have this idea of a road trip all across the UK for a couple of months to experience the rich English culture, and also a long six month stay in Italy as well. We really want to get deep in the culture and live as locals for a longer period of time!