Three years ago, Black Tomato’s co-founder Tom Marchant was named young entrepreneur of the year by the British Travel Industry Hall of Fame; this was followed by the company winning best online tour operator at the British Travel Awards in 2011. Whether it’s exploring a landscape of lakes and volcanoes in Nicaragua or the quieter side of Asia in Myanmar, Marchant is guided by a lifelong sense of wanderlust and a passion for what he does. However, for him, being a travel expert is not so much about pinpointing the next hotspot (which he does with uncanny radar), but understanding what a person wants to get out of a trip.
Expert Tip #1: Think About Why You’re Going, Not Just Where You’re Going
Taking a vacation isn’t just about getting from point A to point B. It’s about having an experience which is what has set Black Tomato apart from other tour operators. Explains Marchant, “Our approach is different; for us it’s as much about knowing how your customer wants to feel during their time off as it is putting destinations in front of them and asking them to pick. We start with the emotive side of their needs. We discuss their lifestyle needs, how they want to feel when they return, what experiences they’ve always wanted to have, and the stories they have hoped to share.” Once he has a sense of that, Marchant starts mapping places that will meet their needs.
Expert Tip #2: Gem Up Before You Go
Get a general sense of a destination’s logistics, but also be sure to research the culture of a place. Read stories, listen to music, and find out what locals are passionate about, like Lima’s restaurant scene. This color brings a place to life in a brilliant way. Too many people fly, land, and head to a hotel, missing so much in between. This cultural intel will help you discover the soul of a place. Explains Marchant, “We eschew the tourist traps and the obvious tick box experiences. We dig out the local experiences, the ones that get them under the skin of a place and make them feel local. This allows travelers to enjoy something that the mass tourism market doesn’t. We want our customers to feel like travelers, not tourists.”
Expert Tip #3: Talk to Your Taxi Driver
When it comes to exploring, take a hit-the-ground-running approach. Marchant encourages people to strike up a conversation with the first taxi driver they have. Why? They know the place from its main streets to its winding alleyways. Ask questions, like where do they go for authentic food? Where do residents hang out? Have they heard about any new bars? Or where there’s a great place for live music. They might be an unexpected resource, but they’re a wealth of local wisdom, since they’re the ones often shuttling people to new hotspots. Says Marchant, “So often in
my experiences, these guys have been the source of some of the best local knowledge and taken me to places that no guidebook will ever list. For good reason these people often hold the key to unlocking a city’s gems.”
Expert Tip #4: Don’t Overstretch Yourself
Remember why you are taking a break. Too often people try to cram in too many flights, too many transfers, one night here, one night there, just so that they can say they have been there, done that, and ticked the box. As a result, they come back exhausted, and have only scratched the surface of the multiple places they have passed through. If you only have a few days or a tight schedule, rein it back and really enjoy a couple of places. Says Marchant, “The sense of satisfaction you get having got to know a place is so much better.” Likewise, relying on genuine experts can also help you streamline your trips so that you can maximize your enjoyment, so that you’re hitting the latest bars and eating in authentic restaurants.
Expert Tip #5: Focus in on Experience
If you’re heading to Sri Lanka for a wildlife safaris or Ladakh, India, for the journey of a lifetime in the Himalayas, you’ll also want to employ some expert tips when taking photos. Says Marchant, “When you come to upload the photos from your camera after a long trip, you can very quickly forget what it is you actually shot, especially if you got a bit snap happy and took 2,000 photos.” To jog your memory, take photos of road signs and place names before shooting as reference markers. He also advises, “Shoot to crop, meaning compose a photo outside the scope of what you want the end result to look like and crop it later.” Most importantly? Carry a spare battery with you everywhere you go.