Travel has always been a passion of mine. Before I turned four, I had traveled across Europe and sailed across the Atlantic to freedom.
I was born in June of 1945 in Lodz, Poland. My parents had recently returned from their hiding place from the Nazis, only to find themselves trapped by the Soviets who had liberated Poland and then proceeded to occupy the liberated countries by force.
In September of that year, my parents managed to join a groups of Jewish survivors desperate to get away from the communists and find a way to get to Palestine, where they thought Jews would be able to live in peace. My mother carried me in her arms as the group, masquerading as Greek labor camp workers returning home, walked and rode oxcarts from Poland, through Czechoslovakia and finally to Austria, where they found a U.S. Army post and realized they were finally safe.
We then moved to a refugee camp in Germany, set up by the U.S. Army, where we lived for almost four years. Finally, very distant relatives sponsored our family to come to America.
Because of my experiences, I have always been aware of people from different places, who spoke languages other than English. When I needed a way to support myself and my family, travel was a perfect and natural fit.
I was recently separated and had to support my two young boys. Someone suggested I leverage my contacts in the Philadelphia Holocaust survivor community to develop a clientele as a travel agent. I sent out a letter to everyone on my wedding list announcing I was a travel agent, and people started calling.
Then I heard about the first ever gathering of Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem in June 1981. I wanted to attend with my parents and children, three generations of survivors. It was there that I understood the power of travel to transform lives. I was hooked and I knew this was what I wanted to do.
The problem was, I had no business experience and no money. I borrowed $4,000 from my father, but it wasn't nearly enough. I innocently believed the money would "appear" once my family and friends started booking. I didn't understand how cutthroat and difficult business could be but I was fiercely determined to take care of my kids and was absolutely certain that the epiphany I experienced through travel was something others would want.
A commitment to connections
My business, Friendly Planet, has changed a lot since we began in 1981. Technology has made everything easier and more people have discovered the joy of travel. Even the most exotic destinations are finding themselves chock a block full of visitors.
One thing we won't ever change is our total commitment to deserving the trust travelers place in us. The most important thing we can do for people is deliver exceptional service. We take care of our travelers. Of course, we create fascinating itineraries to really wonderful destinations, and pack enormous value into every package we create. But more than anything, we take care of our travelers. This means if there's a problem, we will do everything possible to help you fix it — no matter where you are in the world, what time it is, or what you paid for your trip.
The world is a big place, but it's also small. Travel helps you to put your own life in perspective, to see how others work, play and live. It makes you realize, poignantly, that human beings are all the same. Everyone wants the best for their children. Everyone wants electricity and an indoor toilet and access to the internet. I truly believe travel, contact with others who look different, speak a different language, have different customs, makes you a better, stronger, more loving and more generous person. If everyone could travel, it's possible we would enjoy a much more peaceful planet.
About the author: Peggy Goldman is the founder of Friendly Planet Travel, a travel agency focused on providing exceptional service and value.