Paul is the Conde Nast Traveler chosen Specialist for Central Asia and the Silk Route.
Being from a family with Army connections I can from an early age remember travelling. From camping in Europe and then later being sent to boarding school when we lived in Germany at the age of eight, complete with shorts, long socks, a cap and my suitcase. In appearance not too dissimilar to the children evacuated to the countryside during the blitz. Later, my father’s postings took us to Nepal where we had to transit Delhi and Kathmandu where we were sometimes stranded for days and Hong Kong from where I travelled in 1983 through China for two months.
A guidebook called Lonely Planet had just been published but I knew nothing of this and had never seen one until I reached the conclusion of my trip in China. So travelling alone, or with my younger brother, by train or car or aeroplane and sometimes on foot has always seemed very normal. You get to know how to pack a suitcase and fathom out what to do for yourself. I began working in travel with a similar company to that of Steppes Travel, a tour operator operating to very similar destinations; Nicaragua, Cuba, North Korea, Russia and Vietnam to name a few. These were almost completely off most people’s radar. Joining Steppes allowed me to further travel to these interesting and ever-changing destinations.
Visiting Vietnam in 1988 where tourism was just in infancy, or could you even call it tourism back then. All Caucasian travellers in the country were assumed to be Russian “advisers” or “specialists” since this was very much the era of the Cold War and Communist Russia was looking to support its strategic overseas allies. Being old enough to remember the Soviet Union has allowed me to appreciate the journey these former Soviet territories have had to endure to get where they are today.
I always say that most of my job is about problem-solving rather than selling holidays. Ask the same question five times and if three answers come back the same it is probably true. Never take one answer and believe it. Of course, listening to the client is paramount. Some destinations are just not for some people, but having been there, done that, I can talk from first-hand experience.