Rob Rankin, the managing director of Ireland’s Vagabond Small-Group Tours has been named the new incoming president of the Incoming Tour Operators Association—Ireland, which he has served on since 2014. This group is made up of 32 of Ireland’s leading tour operators who collectively deliver 750,000 travelers from around the globe to Ireland. Vagabond Adventure Tours offers travelers the opportunity to explore Ireland by walking, biking, horseback riding, and kayaking, while intertwining history and culture along the way.

Rob Rankin
Rob (center) as the new president of ITOA.

Now, it’s time to get to know Rob Rankin on this installment of Coffee Time with Industry Vets, as he’s no novice to travel or out-of-the-box experiences. Rankin notes the advice he received from his brother during his gap year, as some of the best travel advice he’s ever received, and one he still adheres to, to this day. He is full of unique travel experiences, such as living through a tsunami while on his honeymoon, and admits to having an affection for purchasing hats on his trips (and maybe magnets, too). But, we’ll let him tell you more (and have you laughing) on this installment of Coffee Time with Industry Vets Q&A.

Where did you go on your first trip and how old were you?
My first really big trip was during my gap year between school and university when I was 18. I went to Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. My brother gave me some invaluable travel advice on the way to Oz, encouraging me to make sure to only do things there that I couldn’t do at home. And so I managed to wangle a great job as a yacht skipper in the Whitsunday Islands in Northern Queensland for six months. It was an amazing experience- and definitely not something I could have done at home. It’s actually the best travel advice I have ever had, and I still try and adhere to it.

What is your most vivid travel memory?
Memories of camping in unfenced camps on the banks of the Zambezi are pretty hard to beat. One moment we were chasing monkeys out of our vehicle or later finding ourselves being watched by a curious elephant as we sat by the camp fire—she was only meters away and had approached as silently as a ghost. At one point we heard a noise outside our tent and Amy, my wife, suggested that I should go out and scare off the lion, but ‘make sure to leave the car keys here,’ she said.

What was the “Aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?
My wife and I were travelling around Southern Africa in a Land Rover leant to us by her uncle. We had quit our jobs in London and we both knew we wanted a change. While travelling we saw the Overland truck tours on their long distance adventure tours and I thought—maybe a format like this might work closer to home.

Where did you go on your honeymoon?
We went to Thailand and Laos for about six weeks. We planned our honeymoon before the wedding itself, it’s all about priorities. It was amazing but it didn’t start off too well because we were having lunch in our resort’s beachside restaurant when the Indian Ocean Tsunami swept through it—it was Dec. 26, 2004. I was the idiot who stayed behind to watch, and was only saved because there was a handy hill to run up.

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Rob and his family on vacation in Vietnam.

What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
We took the family on a 3-week trip to Vietnam and Dubai, it was an amazing trip through a spectacular country. The Vietnamese people are incredible, they have suffered so much in the past but still welcome foreigners with open arms. It was a humbling experience and one that the kids will remember forever.

Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
Antarctica. I was hoping to go in a few years time for my 50th birthday but the family wasn’t too keen (I don’t know why!) and so we are hoping to go to Ecuador and the Galapagos. And if that doesn’t work out, I’m going to Disneyland.

Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
Yes, always. I have hats from lots of countries. Woolly hats from Scandinavia, Surf hats, Akubra from Australia, and a Vietnamese army helmet. All fancy dress occasions are covered at this point.

You can tell us – do you collect magnets from the destinations you’ve visited?
No, why? Who told you that? That’s a viscous rumor. They are for my dog. Just in case I get a dog.

What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
I like to read, watch a movie or get stuck into a ‘Killer Soduko’. It changes anyway when you are travelling with small kids, as 50 percent of the time is spent occupying them. I always try and make the meal drag out as long as possible too, it’s something to do…

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Rob and his family enjoying some time together while on vacation.

Who is your favorite travel companion?
My wife, Amy. Apart from the fact we are married and I have to say that—we do travel well together. Although I like to be at the airport early, and she is happy to leave it to the last minute. But then again she likes to be first on the plane, and I prefer to be last…At this stage we have so many great shared travel memories and experiences, and a few scary moments…

If there were one hotel room in the world you could call home the rest of your life, which would it be?
It would be our room in Tao Lodge, Madikwe Game reserve in South Africa. The room itself was great, the view from the verandah over the waterhole was amazing and the hospitality we received from the team who worked there was outstanding (plus the food was delicious). I could happily live there for many years, with early morning and sunset game drives every day…heaven.

What is the best food you’ve had on a trip? The strangest?
I ate earthworm omelettes on a Bear Grylls Survival week in Scotland, they were quite nice but needed a bit of rosemary. And at a conference in Namibia we were welcomed with a wide selection of disgusting bugs to try—one exploded in your mouth, it was hard to keep smiling and say thank you at that point.

The best? The food in Thailand and Vietnam was amazing but I also think the food in Ireland is hard to beat. An open crab sandwich and a pint of Murphy’s in O’Sullivan’s bar, Crookhaven, West Cork is a special experience.

What can’t you travel without?
I always take a Leatherman, and have never failed to use it. Sometimes it’s just cutting the price tags off my new hat, or it could be cutting kindling for a camp fire.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met while traveling?
I have re-written this answer a few times, and then I suddenly remembered Lionel Davis. He was a tour guide and, more importantly, a former prisoner on Robben Island in South Africa. He was imprisoned there at the same time as Nelson Mandela. What was so impactful was the positivity he brought, his story was one of forgiveness (to his captors), hope and comeraderie (with his fellow prisoners and actually, to some degree, with the prison guards). It was truly an honor to meet Lionel and hear his story.

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Rob and his son in Ireland.

Tropical beach or Snowy Mountain?
Somewhere in the middle I think. I love being by the coast and on the sea, but love hiking too. I would get bored just sitting on the beach. But, I also love being in or on the water, surfing or messing about on boats.

City or countryside?
Countryside. Every time. Actually, there could be a few exception—a winter city break, a big event like a sporting event, a few days in New York—but then straight back to the countryside…

For more information on ITOA, visit itoa-ireland.com and for more on Vagabond, visit vagabondtoursofireland.com.