Here’s a chance to hear from one of our Tour Directors in Europe, Vanessa de Smet, format borrowed from the UK’s Independent newspaper.
A little about yourself?
They call me Van and the EF students ask me why I am always so happy and full of energy. Simple, I love my life! I became an EF Tour Director after hearing all these great adventurous stories from an Australian Tour Director I fell in love with in China. Loving this job! It is wonderful to help young people make their first steps into the world, inspiring them to create their own life story … and on top I get to travel too and pump up my own knowledge.
First holiday memory?
Being put on planes with a ‘UM’ sign around my neck (unaccompanied member), mom dropping me off on one side and dad picking me up on the other. Main one got me to Thailand after which came China, Mongolia and Russia. I arrived back in Belgium, two months later than planned and smelled so bad from my first Trans Siberian Railway adventure that mom drove home with the car windows open!
From Trans Siberian trips across the seasons to cruising around Australia for 6 months in a campervan, to surfing in Galicia, to filming in the forests of Cambodia … maybe I should keep it simple and say: those where I was in love 😉
Favorite place in Europe?
Little cafes at old squares and riverside picnic spots. Country-wise though, I’d have to say that Bulgaria really surprised me last year, beautiful nature, friendly people and yummy food. I attended a water harvesting course at a farm in Shipka and loved it so much that I returned a few months later for an ecofestival in the Rodopi Mountains.
What have you learned from your travels?
I always say to my groups: forget the theory classes and learn here what you can’t Google back home. So, smell Paris, eat loads of Belgian chocolate, look up and down in Amsterdam etc and remember: smiles get you a long way!
Who would be your ideal travelling companion?
Anyone who is curious for life and experiencing new stuff, who can appreciate the little hidden corners, the old stories and the silence of a book and a coffee by the river … basically most of my friends!
Greatest travel luxury?
Making local friends. It is seriously THE way to get the ins and outs of a new place. Plus, next time you go, there is a couch for you to crash and someone to hug you a big welcome back.
Which EF tour would you choose to take?
I think we should create a new tour 😉 … Trans Siberian Railway, taking you from Russia via Mongolia into China…and I get to be your TD!
Better to travel or arrive?
To say it with the words of my beloved Khalil Gibran:
My house says to me, “Do not leave me, for here dwells your past.”
And the road says to me, “Come and follow me, for I am your future.”
And I say to both my house and the road, “I have no past, nor have I a future. If I stay here, there is a going in my staying; and if I go there is a staying in my going.
Only love and death will change all things.”
Most amusing travel experience?
Lady with a big smile in a ger outside of Mongolia comes to us and slightly sings:
Day 1: tooodaaayyyy, I give youuuu … chicken soup.
Day 2: tooodaaayyyy, I give youuuu … mushroom soup.
Day 3: tooodaaayyyy, I give youuuu … potato soup.
Every day we got the exact same soup, and it never tasted of either chicken, mushroom, nor potato!
Favorite Museum or Site?
I can’t be in Paris without a visit to the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore close to Notre Dame. It is the legacy of an American lady Sylvia Beach and the birthplace for James Joyce’s Ulysses. Upstairs you can read your book in a hide away corner or play the piano. Did you know you can even live there!
Best meal abroad?
Ooohhh you can’t ask a food lover to choose a favorite meal! Let’s say oddly delicious would be the horse’s anus I once ate. Home made by my (back then) mother in law’s home in Ulaanbaatar. It is a delicacy that is said to give a lot of heat to the body, very good to get through the cold Mongolian winters. My vegetarian friend who joined, has another opinion.
Patagonia. It looks amazing, sounds incredible and is way out of my budget. If I can bring my paraglider (starting classes soon) that would absolutely top it! But closer to home, better fit for my wallet and also sexy sounding is the Slovenian mountains and its lovely Ljubljana.
What do you never travel without?
A good book, I love how they fall apart by the end of a journey and yes, I admit it, my phone. It keeps me connected to loved ones, whom I like sending kisses to now and again.
Where are you going next?
First on EF tours to London, Paris & the Alps, very excited! And then in summer back to Mongolia! Twenty years ago my dad and I had the honor of staying with the Tsaatan tribe (reindeer people) who live in the Tuva region between Mongolia and Siberia. There are only about 40 families left today and with the help of our old photos and video we hope to find the same families again.