Magazine travel editors have a unique and coveted perspective on how to plan the perfect trip and get the most out of it. As trusted voices in travel, they roam the world as impartial journalists on behalf of their readers.
But what do these travel experts do with their well-honed knowledge once they leave their magazine careers behind?
For four former top travel editors—Melissa Biggs Bradley from Town & Country, Wendy Perrin from Condé Nast Traveler, Nancy Novogrod from Travel + Leisure, and Stacy Small from Elite Traveler—the answer is creating travel advisory businesses to help clients plan their ideal trips.
Most of the businesses below are geared to upscale travelers who can easily afford high-luxury, high-touch bespoke vacations. Still, all of these editors-turned-advisors are committed to crafting rich, meaningful travel experiences designed to enhance clients’ lives. Here’s how they do it.
Melissa Biggs Bradley, Indagare
Editorial background: Biggs Bradley served as Town & Country’s travel editor for 12 years before becoming the founding editor of the now-defunct spinoff publication Town & Country Travel.
Why she started her business: Indagare launched in 2007 as a digital magazine with a membership-based boutique travel agency to offer sophisticated travelers curated content and customized trip planning. Biggs Bradley’s mission is “to inspire and empower people to change their lives—and the world—through travel.”
Based on client demand, she created Indagare Journeys for small-group trips led by specialist hosts. Themes for those tours range from art and design to adventure and conservation. A regular feature is partnerships with groups such as the Metropolitan Opera, Architectural Digest, World Monuments Fund, and Vogue.
How it works: Indagare charges $2,850 per year for custom planners, who have access to a dedicated travel designer for unlimited trips, and $395 per year for self-planners to book hotels (with perks) via the online booking engine, read more than 300 destination guides, and use trip-planning software.
Indagare booked 9,000 individual trips last year, with sales of close to $100 million. Employing a worldwide staff of 120, Indagare also produces a print magazine, weekly newsletters, videos, and podcasts.
Why it’s unique: “Our agents and editors are full-time employees who pool resources and intelligence,” Biggs Bradley says. “That’s not how most travel agencies work, which mostly use independent contractors. All recommendations are vetted by our team and global member community. For groups, we use a passion point as a lens to understand a culture. People want to go to India or Morocco with me because they really want to see it with an expert. I typically accompany a dozen of our 40 to 50 hosted trips a year.”
Indagare is fully carbon neutral, too. “We love travel and want to protect this world,” Biggs Bradley says.
Why travel is enriched by custom planning and access: “You need a curator, an advocate, someone who’s been there, can tell you the truth … and can introduce you to the people and places that are going to resonate with your interests,” according to Biggs Bradley. “Our experts are deeply connected and knowledgeable and have you covered as you go out into the world.”
Wendy Perrin, The WOW List
Editorial background: After serving as director of consumer news at Condé Nast Traveler for almost 25 years, Perrin became TripAdvisor’s first-ever Travel Advocate, a post she held for 3 years.
Why she started her business: Perrin is on a mission “to save the world from mediocre trips.” Inspired by the list of top destination-specific travel specialists she developed at Condé Nast Traveler, she started The WOW List in 2014.
At the magazine, she found that people desperately wanted to know where to go and the smartest way to book a trip. So she selected specialists who could help travelers do just that. “I knew travel could be so much better than people think it can be,” says Perrin, who now employs a team of seven and monitors 86 destination specialists.
How it works: The WOW List is a collection of super-knowledgeable and well-connected trip planners around the world. They have been rigorously road-tested by Perrin, based on trip reviews from past customers using Perrin’s “WOW approach.”
Users can submit a trip request to the right specialist via The WOW List or can go to the “Ask Wendy” web page to get customized advice. An initial video conference with the specialist is required. The trip cost typically includes the specialist’s fee.
Why it’s unique: “We’re not a travel agency,” says Perrin. “We give free travel advice and match travelers to the right trips and the right trip-planning specialist for their needs. We get people who have bigger budgets but also those coming from Google. A lot of these travelers are very savvy and capable of booking their own trips. But when it comes to Sri Lanka or Brazil or the 50th anniversary trip with the whole family, that’s when they need that extra level of expertise.”
Why travel is enriched by custom planning and access: Says Perrin, “This is a higher caliber of travel, where there are no snafus, no pitfalls, and you get access to special people and experiences. It is more rewarding than if people had planned it themselves. [Our travelers] meet the locals: the winemaker, the cheese maker, the family that sheds insight on their way of life. [Our travelers] have more robust experiences of these places … and gain a new understanding of a different way of life and culture.”
Nancy Novogrod, Culturati Travel Design
Editorial background: Novogrod’s storied career includes a 21-year stint as editor in chief of Travel + Leisure. Previously she had the same role at House & Garden.
Why she started her business: Culturati Travel Design emerged from Novogrod’s desire to open up the world for others as it had been opened for her during her years at Travel + Leisure. Culturati draws on her extensive global knowledge and longtime passions for art, food, design, and cultural history to create highly customized trips for private clients and small groups.
Since joining the luxury travel consultancy Local Foreigner in 2019, Novogrod has extended her own long-established network to include her host agency’s peerless suppliers and travel industry partnerships. “After leaving T+L, I wanted to keep my world large, filled with extraordinary people and places and the opportunity for ever-expanding knowledge,” she says.
How it works: A planning fee retainer covers 10 hours of planning, plus an hourly rate for additional time. Novogrod oversees the trip designing and booking with the support of a travel coordinator, while tapping into Local Foreigner’s preferred partnerships and memberships.
Why it’s unique: “My clients are highly affluent individuals who travel a lot,” Novogrod explains. “I specialize in international trips that involve special access and unique experiences—and often rather complex planning. My point of distinction is the knowledge I gained in my previous professional life not only of travel, but also of highly customized personal service. I curate one-of-a-kind experiences and provide access to extraordinary people throughout the world. I like to work with the passions of my clients and help travelers nourish and expand their interests.”
Why travel is enriched by custom planning and access: “Travel planning on the highest level provides deeply memorable encounters with destinations, uncovering the very essence of a place or a culture, which can be far beneath the surface,” Novogrod says.
Stacy Small, Elite Travel Club
Editorial background: Small’s 15 years in travel journalism included jobs as assistant editor at Caribbean Travel & Life, senior airline editor at Travel Agent magazine, and founding editorial director of the private jet–focused Elite Traveler magazine.
Why she started her business: Born in 2005, Small’s upscale Elite Travel International eventually grew to a team of 30 independent contractors and, by 2019, annual sales of $20 million, thanks in part to a list of high-profile clients such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.
After Covid, Small pivoted to the Elite Travel Club, an exclusive, invite-only membership group for 15–20 VIPs, including C-suite execs and leaders in media, music, fashion, entertainment, and finance.
How it works: “I do all the research and booking myself and offer high-priority access to my 30+ years of contacts [and] my knowledge of travel,” Small says. She charges an annual fee of $15,000 for customizing trips for each client and up to 10 extended family members for a full year.
“I only work by referral these days,” Small says, “but I’m always open to new clients if I have the bandwidth. I look for a good fit; I see it as a partnership.”
Why it’s unique: “I try to be creative in the itinerary planning and make that part fun,” Small continues. “I also provide door-to-door support and pay attention to small details. For example, every hotel on one client’s itinerary had an anniversary gift waiting. There aren’t many places that I haven’t been and where I don’t know someone. Typical travel agents don’t have that. I call myself a hotel matchmaker with a global black book of contacts to call to clear space, upgrade, and prioritize my client’s stay. That’s my area of expertise … and sets me apart from the crowd.”
Why travel is enriched by custom planning and access: “I work with local suppliers with the level of service that my clients expect worldwide,” Small says. “I know what to do to make things happen for them. It’s about making their life easier and more enjoyable.”