Meet Shelby Donley of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council

Talking travel with one of our well-connected specialists.

Meet Shelby Donley of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council

Wine tasting in Switzerland.

Shelby went from being a client of Arizona-based Camelback Odyssey Travel to owning it in 2008. Six continents and hundreds of hotel visits later, she has developed a talent for matching a traveler with the itinerary that’s right for them. She especially enjoys identifying off-the-tourist-path activities, incorporating wellness and active pursuits, and saving the best for last to end a trip on a high note. Read on to learn more about Shelby’s travel style, the most memorable experiences she’s arranged, and the value of booking through an advisor.

Describe your travel personality in three words.
Savory, sophisticated, spontaneous.

What’s an early influential travel memory?
When I was a child, my father took me on his business trips—perhaps that is why I don’t mind jumping on and off planes for a three-day trip to the other side of the world. He taught me that getting there is part of the experience and can be quite fun even in an airport on a delayed flight. It’s still an adventure and offers time spent with people you care about that you might not have otherwise had.

Let’s play spin the globe—name the one place you’ve always wanted to go.
I’m reading a book right now that’s making me wish for Moscow in the winter. Hmmm… might need to rethink that.

What’s a custom from another culture that you’d love to implement in your life back home?
I love the double-cheek European kiss. Much preferred to shaking hands!

What types of trips have become your specialties?
Fine hotels, wellness, and non-touristy experiences. I literally visit hundreds of hotels each year and spend time reviewing the room types, nooks, crannies, and secrets. Because health and wellness interest me personally, I am always looking for the type of experience where I can be active, such as biking rather than being in a car. If I can double-dip on a workout and tour at the same time, even better.

Visiting with the elephant orphans at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya.

Visiting with the elephant orphans at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya.

What are some of the most unique experiences you’ve arranged?
We like to plan the last night of a client’s trip to be the grand finale. So whether that’s chartering a boat down the Seine at sunset just as the Eiffel Tower lights come on, or visiting a slum in Nairobi to meet the local families who live there to have a deeper understanding of the country, we want the client to leave with the most incredible, indelible impression that they will remember the rest of their life. What are the benefits of booking through a travel advisor like yourself?
I like to call the Internet and, in particular, consumer rating sites a ghetto of unverified, not vetted information. One of the best values we bring—in addition to the unadvertised rates and added values—is the firsthand knowledge of the properties and destinations we sell. We know which rooms to book and not to book and why one hotel might be preferred over another as it pertains to the specific traveler. We are truly matchmakers with our clients in selecting the right properties, guides, and experiences uniquely for them, rather than selling a homogenized product we repackage for each client.

How have you come through if a client’s travel has gone wrong?
We are like the marines: We leave no man behind. When a client’s trip goes awry, we stay with them no matter the hour until we know they are OK. We had a situation this very weekend that started at 4PM because of a flight diversion and we worked with them until 11PM until we knew all was well and they were happily in their destination.

What are the biggest concerns or misconceptions you hear from travelers?
It makes me crazy when I hear things like, “aren’t the French rude to Americans” or “is the food safe to eat in China?” And yes, I hear things like this from sophisticated clients, only because they have not yet had the opportunity to experience these destinations. Once they do, they will find the exact opposite to be true. Then perhaps they’ll look at our own customs and food and long for the delicious Peking duck in Beijing or the kind smile of a French store keeper or, in both cases, heartfelt great people.

Shelby with her travel inspiration: her father! Las Vegas and Venice, Italy, are two of their recent trips.

Shelby with her travel inspiration: her father! Las Vegas and Venice, Italy, are two of their recent trips.

What trends are shaping how (and where) we’ll be traveling next?
The biggest variable for our travel is simply airlift. When new routes open, become cheaper, or see increased competition, we experience a dramatic increase in demand. No airline invests in a new route without a lot of destination marketing to go with it. There are many up-and-coming destinations that have yet to hit popularity because they are a struggle to get to. Americans today want minimal stops and ease of travel. When that happens they say ‘yes’ to destinations, even some they previously had little interest in.

Contact Shelby here to inquire about an itinerary tailored to your travel interests and budget.

From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR