For the past 30 years, Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel, has worked to make the travel experience available to more people, more often. Her travel bug came in 1981. After Peggy had been laid off from a teaching position, the newly single mom of two boys started working for a local travel agency. There she discovered she enjoyed the research and noticed she had the attention to detail needed to become a successful travel agent. While working for the agency, she had the opportunity to escort a group of travelers to Israel. As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, whose first trip was when she escaped a refugee camp in Germany at the age of 4, she seized the opportunity to visit Israel, and from there her travel bug took off.
Peggy’s travels have also led her to give back to communities around the world. She’s contributed to funding for the digging of wells for rural families without clean water in Cambodia, and has sponsored a Kiva micro-lending team. She has also launched the Friendly Planet Travel Foundation, in honor of her deceased son Daniel; and currently she is helping rebuild a school in Nepal after the devastating earthquake. This former teacher found a passion for travel and made it her livelihood. We’ll let her explain more in this installment of our Coffee Time With Industry Vets Q&A series.
Where did you go on your first trip and how old were you?
My very first trip in my life happened when I was 4 years old. My parents and I sailed from a refugee camp in Germany to the USA aboard a Navy ship, and seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor is one of my earliest memories. The ship was full of Holocaust survivors, including my parents, and I can still remember my mother, leaning on the railing of one of the decks, clutching a picture of President Roosevelt to her chest, tears streaming down her cheeks, as we sailed into New York harbor.
Later, after I graduated from college, I went to live in Venezuela where I taught English. I learned Spanish and still speak it to this day.
What is your most vivid travel memory?
In 1981, I traveled to Israel with my parents and my children to attend the first-ever World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem. This was my very first group tour, which I was able to do as the official representative of the Philadelphia delegation. I didn’t even know how to write a voucher at that time, but somehow it all went smoothly. This was my first-ever experience with purposeful travel. I stood with 10,000 survivors in front of the Western Wall, and with our presence, demonstrated to the world that Hitler lost, because we had survived. That was probably the most meaningful moment in travel that I’ve ever had.
What was the “Aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?
When I realized how impactful travel could be on people, not solely for rest and relaxation, but for other purposes, I knew I wanted to be a part of the industry. I believed (and still believe to this day) that travel had the ability to change people for the better. That moment was more like a few months, because immediately after that gathering in Jerusalem I was lucky enough to find my way into the world of Pilgrimage Travel, which is another expression of impactful travel.
Where did you go on your honeymoon?
My husband and I are partners in our business, so we’re always traveling. The most romantic trip we have taken together, though, was for my 70th birthday, when my husband surprised me with a trip to Bora Bora, a dream of mine for many years. Had we gone on a honeymoon, it couldn’t have been better than that.
What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
My husband and I love to visit France, and we have very good friends who own a boutique winery in Bordeaux. Last summer, we traveled there and spent a week enjoying the clean air, gorgeous scenery and amazing food and wine in the company of wonderful friends. My second favorite trip last year was to one of my absolute favorite destinations, Cuba. I’ve fallen in love with that destination, which is one of our best sellers and probably among the most unique places I’ve ever gone.
Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
I’m hoping to visit Australia, New Zealand and Japan in the coming two years. At the moment, I’m preparing for a trip, my first, to South Africa, and I can’t wait.
Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
Yes, I do. And the second time and the third time, too. I love to collect art from the places I’ve visited, which I bring home and display in my house and office. My walls and surfaces are covered with loving memories of the amazing places I’ve been.
You can tell us – do you collect magnets from the destinations you’ve visited?
I have a few magnets, but I only buy them if they’re unique in some way.
What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
I read. I lead a busy life, and reading time is precious. When I take a trip to a faraway destination, I savor the time I can devote to reading. I almost never watch movies unless there’s an amazing film being shown. I also try to sleep on long flights, but reading is always my first choice.
Who is your favorite travel companion?
My husband is my favorite travel companion. He is willing to humor me as I wander and roam, and he’s willing to sit down and wait while I read every single sign on every single exhibit in every single museum or site that we visit. That kind of patience is priceless.
If there were one hotel room in the world you could call home the rest of your life, which would it be?
This is a tossup. I stayed at the Trianon Palace in Versailles in a magnificent room worthy of the name, “palace.” The Peninsula in Bangkok was a pampering paradise—the room was one that would make me happy forever.
What is the best food you’ve had on a trip? The strangest?
The best food I’ve ever had on a trip was in Vietnam. It appears that everything grows better in Vietnam, including pineapple which can actually be a passion, it’s that delicious. So is the fish and just about everything else I had there. The food is always incredibly fresh, and the Vietnamese have a cuisine that is light, fragrant and with a French delicacy that makes you not want your meal to end.
The strangest food I’ve ever encountered was in South Korea. I was invited to a special banquet where live baby octopus was served. I politely declined, having read that the tentacles can actually get caught on your esophagus, making you choke and die.
What can’t you travel without?
I need a book. If I don’t have anything to read, I’m not a happy camper. Also, I need my iPad and my personal toiletries. Too much a creature of habit to give up the personal items that make me feel comfortable. Fortunately, I have travel-sized everything, so my stuff doesn’t take up much room.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met while traveling?
That’s a tough question. I’ve met many, many interesting people while traveling. I met Ehud Ohlmert, the ex-Prime Minister of Israel, who spent an entire 11-hour flight once discussing politics with me. I met a woman in Nepal who has spent her life saving trafficked women and girls and caring for them at her facility in Kathmandu.
Tropical beach or Snowy Mountain?
Beach always wins. I don’t like the cold.
City or countryside?
Both. I love the rolling hillsides of Tuscany and Provence and other beautiful pastoral places I’ve been, and I also love the excitement of the city.