Mary-Margaret is a seven-time Classic Journeys traveler, having joined guided tours to destinations as diverse as France to Peru, and Grand Canyon to the Galapagos

When the early lockdowns of 2020 turned her daughter and niece’s college graduations into virtual events, Mary-Margaret sprang into action and reached out to Classic Journeys with the idea of a summer trip to Peru with her extended family, saying, “The girls may not be able to walk across the stage with their diplomas, but they can walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu to celebrate their graduations. And we can give that to them.”

This optimistic outlook resonated with Classic Journeys Travel Experience Manager, Amy Guasch, as well as the rest of the La Jolla-based team. As Amy recalls, “This was around April 2020, and everyone still thought that travel would resume by mid to late summer. So it seemed like an incredible plan to celebrate a huge milestone for the girls. We were just as excited about this trip as Mary-Margaret and her family.” Amy continues, “In such a rollercoaster time, the idea of the family’s Peru trip inspired me as such a wonderful way to make lemonade out of lemons. Everyone has had events altered or cancelled because of the pandemic. But when you think outside the box, there are some unforgettable ways to mark a special occasion, and enjoy the travel we’ve so missed.”

Peru Inca Trail Machu Picchu Alpacas

The graduation celebration in Peru became the first in a series of Classic Journeys tours that guests began to book for late 2020, and into 2021 and 2022. The shared goal with each: to mark important milestones that couldn’t be celebrated the usual way: birthdays, anniversaries, even weddings. 

With 2020 vision, we know that international travel did not bounce back as hoped by late summer. And in July, a month before the family was scheduled to depart, the continuing pandemic led to the airline cancelling their flights to Peru. 

Amy remembers: “We were all so disappointed for the family, but luckily that isn’t the end of the story! As travel and the pandemic situation evolved, our terms and conditions have too. Using our relaxed terms, the family rescheduled their trip to a future date, so the girls still have their graduation celebration in Peru to look forward to. But as the family looked at their calendars and saw what it would look like with the girls working, they realized that outside of the Peru trip, opportunities for them to all have time off from work together were going to be few and far between. So that put extra pressure to find a way to make sure that 2020 wasn’t totally void of travel memories for the family.” 

By this point in 2020, domestic travel had become the predominant trend. Except for a select few, most countries had closed their borders, or required a lengthy quarantine on arrival. Well-traveled Americans who craved vacation were reframing their goals from bucket list destinations around the world to bucket list experiences here on home turf. And with it, travelers discovered experiences that were as  immersive and engaging as any on other continents, including a Bordeaux-esque experience in California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys, wildlife tracking in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons in place of South Africa, and summer in the San Juan’s to substitute for Greece. Classic Journeys U.S. offerings expanded to include Yellowstone & Grand Tetons, Acadia National Park in Maine, a northern lights trip in Alaska, Hawaii Big Island and Palm Springs and Joshua Tree

“The socially distanced travel trend was something Classic Journeys was made for. Our tours were suited to social distancing before that was even an everyday phrase,” says Amy. “Small group tours and private departures have always been our specialty. With our contactless check-in to hotels, our focus on outdoor activities, exclusive access to National Park trails, wineries, and other attractions—where other travelers experience crowding, Classic Journeys guests do not. 

We apply the same level of exclusivity and cultural immersion to U.S. tours as we do Italy, France, and the rest of the world, so Americans can see destinations on their doorstep in a whole new light, and enjoy a trip of a lifetime even if they don’t use their passport.”

Joshua Tree California Night Stars
Knowing that she has Peru planned for 2021, and having enjoyed U.S. National Park tours with Classic Journeys previously, Mary-Margaret turned to Classic Journeys to plan a trip to Joshua Tree towards the end of 2020. Her thinking was that a U.S. based trip would provide more confidence that border closures and other restrictions would not impact it the way they might an international trip. 

Those plans and aspirations suddenly looked very tenuous when California Governor Gavin Newsom announced new restrictive shutdowns just before Thanksgiving. And in an only-in-2020 type of irony, Peru reopened to tourism just as California was becoming more restrictive. In a nod to just how flexible everyone needed to approach travel planning in 2020, Amy offered to Mary-Margaret to replace their Joshua Tree trip with Peru if that’s what the family really preferred. The family considered that option and decided the getaway to California was really what they needed to end the year. 

So, knowing that Mary-Margaret and family wanted to do everything possible within safety protocols to make their trip happen, Amy and her Classic Journeys colleagues in tour operations carried on to identify anything that would impact the on-the-ground experience in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree, and develop multiple plans of action to account for all kinds of eventualities. 

Amy explains, “Our tour operations team here in La Jolla and our local guides around the world are accustomed to creating Plans A, B, C, D and even E for regions like Iceland, Chile, Indochina, and other destinations where weather or logistics can change in an instant. So it was already very much in our approach to executing a tour to think about what could go wrong and game plan for how to overcome those hurdles. With Palm Springs and Joshua Tree, that meant being ready for gourmet picnics and barbeques to replace restaurants if necessary, building in all kinds of flexibility with our ballooning guides, readying backup hikes and even curating a custom e-bike tour of Palm Springs mid-century architecture when the tram to the top of the San Jacinto Mountains was suddenly closed temporarily.” 

Mary-Margaret shares, “After hearing “no” so frequently during 2020, it felt good to end the year with a “yes.”  We all needed to feel the “yes” and this trip delivered. These photos capture the essence of our joy.”

Group tour Palm Springs and Joshua Tree

We’ll let Mary-Margaret’s letter of gratitude do the rest of the talking–

Good Morning Edward,
Happy New Year!  I wanted to start this year by sending a note of heartfelt gratitude. As you may recall, our 2020 college graduations (my daughter and niece) included a family trip to celebrate their achievement.  Sadly, one thing after another was cancelled including graduation itself and, as you know, our Machu Picchu travel plans.  
While we certainly had personal challenges surrounding the girls’ graduations, I cannot begin to imagine how the pandemic impacted you, your travelers, your employees and everyone you work with round the world who we have gotten to know through Classic Journeys. In spite of all of that, throughout all of our conversations surrounding our trip planning for Machu Picchu and then the Joshua Tree planning, you and your team were helpful, supportive and went the extra mile again and again. I’m sure you had bigger things on your mind and here you were personally speaking with us and planning for us.  

I am so very grateful for the support of you and your team providing us the opportunity to celebrate this life milestone.  Our best moment on the Palm Springs/Joshua Tree trip was the hot air balloon landing.  I hadn’t really thought about it until now but it seems every hot air balloon landing is a type of “crash” landing. There are no wheels, no brakes, no landing strip. Our landing ended in a vacant field, lying on our sides after the basket toppled over, giggling until our stomachs hurt.  We have Classic Journeys to thank for that gleeful moment.
This isn’t the year any of us planned. Ours however, was better because of you and your team.  Thank you so very much.  

Joshua Tree Palm Springs Coachella Valley Group Hot Air Balloon

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