Expertise, Careful Planning Open New Vacation Lands

Above: Traveling with other Iowans, Sue Brenton shares a personal moment with a group of Iranian women.

BY STEVE DINNEN

Having just unpacked from a vacation in Israel, John Schmidt and Deb Wiley weren’t planning to hit the road again anytime soon. And then the phone rang, with Buz Brenton on the line asking the Des Moines couple whether they wanted to join him on a trek to Iran.

“We had never considered that option,” says Schmidt. Nor had most Americans, as the U.S. and Iranian governments have had poor relations for decades and that has dampened travel aspirations.

In a prime example of offbeat vacations, though, Schmidt, Wiley and the Brentons took advantage of a diplomatic thaw and had a great time. Over a two-week period in 2016 they toured cities that touched on the Silk Road, saw the vast expanse of ancient Persia, ate great food and took endless selfies with friendly Iranians—many of whom spoke English and were eager to meet real Americans.

While current U.S.-Iran relations might lead you to look elsewhere, offbeat vacations are as accessible as ever. As more and more people whet their travel appetite on the Eiffel Tower of Paris or Ramblas of Barcelona, they’re likewise drifting toward not-so-common ports of call.

Like Bulgaria, perchance? Bosnia?

“Eastern Europe and the old communist nations are coming of age and developing an infrastructure” to handle Westerners and their tastes in hotels and transportation, says Dean Burtch. He owns Allied Travel (alliedtravel.com) in Johnston, and says new and slightly exotic experiences are becoming more commonplace.

Michaela Moore of Creative Vacations & Cruise Centers (creativevacations.com) in Ankeny says she just lined up a visit to Sri Lanka for a honeymooning Des Moines couple. The newlyweds, both in their 60s, are interested in yoga and also wanted to attend cooking classes.

Moore says she talks with clients about their interests, plus their fitness level, budget, time to travel, and other factors. She’s not a specialist in Sri Lanka, so when an offbeat destination pops up, she, or Burtch and his team, will reach out to a network of country-specific specialists who can assemble itineraries and activities for the traveler. Schmidt, Wiley and the Brentons, for instance, contacted a Seattle travel company that focuses on the Middle East.

For such locales, it might be best to hire a guide (it was mandatory in Iran). You won’t know local customs, the language or food and lodging choices. So it helps to employ someone who can explain the country in the detail that you’ll want, now that you’ve taken the time to travel there.

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