Friendly Planet’s Peggy Goldman talks with AFAR about the recipe for a successful travel experience.

For more than 38 years, Friendly Planet has been introducing travelers to unique experiences all over the globe. Their mission: Go beyond the monuments and bring authentic culture to life, in part by introducing travelers to locals—sometimes in their homes. This worldwide tour company began as the dream of one woman, Peggy Goldman, who pursued her vision and has been building upon her legacy ever since.

AFAR: What inspired you to inspire others through the power of travel?
PG: In 1981, I was a newly single mother of two and a laid-off teacher when I had the opportunity to visit Israel with my parents and my children for the first-ever gathering of Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem. This eye-opening experience made me realize that travel can be purposeful and life-changing, and it motivated me to start my own travel company.

AFAR: Why “Friendly Planet”?
PG: I wanted a name that expressed a sense of optimism about the world. I’ve discovered that there is no difference between people, regardless of where they live, what language they speak, how they pray, or how they look.

AFAR: What makes Friendly Planet’s tours unique?
PG: Every tour we offer connects people with experiences: sharing high tea with a local family in India; learning about traditional tile painting in Portugal; or supporting nonprofits in Vietnam that rescue young homeless kids from the streets and prepare them for careers in hospitality. We’re passionate about getting to know and appreciate other cultures, going beyond day-to-day boundaries, and making new friends in the places where they live, work, and play.

We also believe that travel should not be a once in a life time opportunity! Our itineraries are at price points that allow people to travel easily and—most importantly—often. The idea of providing the best possible value for the cost is central to Friendly Planet’s philosophy. 

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Fashion show, Mariela's Workshop, Varadero photo by Jacqueline Romano

AFAR: What are these “meet-the-locals” experiences really like?
PG: In Cuba, you may visit Mariela, a local artist who makes gorgeous, colorful fabric that she turns into stunning articles of clothing. You’ll tour her house, meet her husband—a wood-worker who creates magnificent marquetry humidors—and see her rooftop studio, where she designs truly unique patterns on cotton canvases that become her signature dresses, bathing suits, purses, and other items.

On our India trips, you may stop at the home of a local family to enjoy high tea with them. Our groups tend to be small enough that the experience is intimate. You can chat with the family about their lives, what they do for work, what kinds of things their kids like; it’s an amazing way to discover cross-cultural commonalities. By the time the visit is over, our guests and the Indian family have made friends with each other, and each comes away from the experience a little bit better as humans.

AFAR: Will travelers still see iconic sights on your trips?
PG: Absolutely—these are the foundation of every tour. And sometimes, we can see the sights and meet the locals all at once. In Peru, for example, you’ll see Machu Picchu; then, while in Cusco, you’ll visit a weaving village and chat with the women who walk around spinning, even as they do just about everything else. They’re fascinating and fun. I recall one woman who told me that an ingredient used in the natural dye for alpaca wool can also be used as a face cream to make you look younger. I asked her where I could buy some, and she laughed and said, “It’s too late for you.”

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AFAR: What are some of the destinations of growing interest for your guests?
PG: Egypt continues to astound visitors: Who hasn’t dreamed of seeing the pyramids and antiquities of this ancient land? Israel, as it’s a source of spiritual and religious grounding for the three major monotheistic religions, and a modern art and foodie-infused cultural mecca. Cuba, since everyone wants to experience what it’s like to go back in time. And the Galapagos, which offers a real opportunity to understand your place as a human being in the natural world.

AFAR: What else can travelers expect from a Friendly Planet trip?
PG: Guests can trust that we have their backs—no matter what happens, Friendly Planet will go above and beyond to help. A manager is always on duty, 24/7, to assist if a problem arises, whether it’s an emergency, an itinerary change, or a special guest need. Also, all of our packages include round-trip airfare, first-class accommodations, a full daily breakfast and other meals, arrival and departure transfers, and daily excursions led by local, English-speaking guides.

Check out all of the Friendly Planet trips for your next adventure!