Michelle Fee, who started her career nearly 40 years ago running a traditional travel agency, is a true travel agent advocate and visionary. She established herself as the influential CEO of Cruise Planners with a compelling rise-to-power story championing the home-based model. As the founder of the nation’s largest home-based travel franchise, she has given others the gift of business ownership—where they can work from anywhere because she pushes her team to constantly innovate using technology—one of the many reasons the travel industry takes note. And she also stands out at travel industry events—as a stylish globetrotter known for her bling, CP Green and spreading positive “Cruisitude.”
Where did you go on your first trip and how old were you?
My first trip as a kid was to New York visiting family. What I would consider my first REAL trip was at the age of 28 when I went to Europe on a wine tour and visited France. We stayed in Paris for a few nights then in a luxurious chateau in Bordeaux. The only drawback of staying in a historic manor house during summer time was there was no air-conditioning but opening up the windows to the gorgeous view of the vineyard made up for being a bit hot.
What is your most vivid travel memory?
I’ve been to a lot of amazing places around the world and bring home vivid memories from each. Some of my favorites are the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh City with thousands of locals on motorbikes—sometimes four people on one bike—and the Inca city of Machu Picchu built on top of a mountain with spectacular views.
What was the “Aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?
I have been in travel my whole life, so I’m not sure if I’ve had an “Aha” moment, but I know today that I wouldn’t want to be in any other industry. I’ve traveled the world and have been to six out of seven continents, and multiple cities frequently. I’ve seen and experienced things I would’ve never had the opportunity to if I didn’t work in travel.
Where did you go on your honeymoon?
I married my high school sweetheart right after graduation and believe it or not, we had our honeymoon at Disney World. We’ve made up for it and have gone on countless “second honeymoons” around the world. We just celebrated our 40th anniversary!
What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
I traveled to Africa and it wasn’t just my favorite trip last year, but also the coolest experience of my life. First, we flew to South Africa where we explored the stunning city of Cape Town. From there we went on a safari, and if you’ve never gone, it’s a bucket-list must. It was extraordinary to see the most magnificent animals up-close and personal. The highlight of trip was gorilla trekking in Rwanda. You are so close you could almost pet them, and as they walk and wander through the forest, you’re right there alongside them. It was honestly a life-changing experience watching the gorillas in their natural habitat and something that I’ve always wanted to do. It was surreal but freaking awesome!
Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
I’ve checked off a lot of places on my bucket list! So, as an ultimate traveler, I’ve added a few more. Iceland, Antarctica and Japan are three places that peak my interest—I just have to figure out how to make it happen in the next couple of years.
Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
I am what you call a “SHOPAHOLIC,” so yes, I love to bring home something to relive the travel memory, as well as bringing back a taste of the destination. Buying souvenirs is good for the economy no matter what destination you visit. For example, when in Italy, you have to bring back olive oils and pasta, while in Greece, you bring back olives, and the Netherlands are known for its world-famous cheeses, so that’s always a yummy item to carry home.
You can tell us—do you collect magnets from the destinations you’ve visited?
No, I don’t bring back magnets because I don’t collect small trinkets other than the occasional Christmas ornament to remind me of an unusual place. I’d much rather bring back something practical that will evoke memories of that destination every time I use it. When I traveled to New Zealand, I found a beautifully crafted soft wool blanket that I use whenever I watch TV. In Napa, California, while on a wine tasting, I picked up a wine decanter, and in Italy, I brought back a pasta-making machine.
What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
I consider myself a professional traveler at this point and I’m always ready and have things to pass the time, especially when the flight is more than 10 hours long. My iPad is my best friend. I load it up with movies, as well as a few TV series. It’s hard when you are in a foreign country and you can’t understand a word of any of the TV shows. I also like a few apps: Sudoku is a favorite, as well as an anti-stress coloring app. Lastly, I add a few books, just in case.
Who is your favorite travel companion?
My favorite is my business partner and BFF Vicky Garcia, as she is typically the one person, I travel the most with. We are like yin and yang, so we know what each other’s needs are and when “not” to talk. HA! We like to chill out and relax. It’s always a bummer when you sit by someone on a plane that wants to have a long conversation and there is no polite way out.
If there were one hotel room in the world you could call home the rest of your life, which would it be?
I’ve stayed in some of the best hotels around the world and as much as I love an incredible view, plush towels, high count sheets and room service, I always look forward to getting home. Travel is great, but there is truly no place like home.
What is the best food you’ve had on a trip? The strangest?
Oh boy, there are LOTS of strange foods in other countries that you can experience. For example, when in Peru, they served us ‘cuy’ which is… guinea pig. It’s cooked whole with teeth and all. I also had a chance to drink fresh cows’ blood in Africa on a special occasion with the Maasai people. It’s considered a source of protein and both sacred and ordinary to consume cattle blood. In Cambodia, they sell deep-fried and seasoned crickets in the open market. This delicacy supposedly tastes like potato chips. The best food in the world, HANDS DOWN is in Italy! Who doesn’t love authentic Italian food? I usually gain a few pounds when I’m there because I have no willpower. Italian cuisine is diverse within each region but always light, fresh, seasonal and so delicious.
What can’t you travel without?
iPad loaded with movies, TV shows, games and books; travel-sized antibacterial wipes for the airplane to disinfect my seat, seatbelt, entertainment screen, tray table and seatback pocket before takeoff. It’s also handy for wiping down hotel doorknobs and TV remote. In addition, I carry hand sanitizer or gel in my purse to use if water and soap isn’t readily available and will use it before every meal.… It’s a must to ward away those pesky germs.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met while traveling?
It’s not one person, but all the local people you meet when traveling. Many countries are forward-thinking and much like the United States, however there are numerous other places in the world that live in extreme poverty—they live in conditions that would make you cry. I enjoy hearing from the people in villages or rural towns about how they live and survive. It’s extremely humbling to see and experience. Most of them are happy people and very proud. I always buy local, handmade souvenirs they sell and don’t barter, even if I think I’m over paying because I respect their work and the souvenir becomes more meaningful when I hear the story behind it. As a responsible traveler, it’s up to us to infuse tourism dollars into the local economy and directly in the pockets of the entrepreneurs in the community who can feed and support their family.
Tropical Beach or Snowy Mountain?
Being the professional traveler that I am, I really love both. I hope there never comes a day that I can only experience one trip a year and would have to pick. I want to enjoy all that travel has to offer and not just in one continent, country, state, city or town. Seeing the world opens your eyes to the beauty of unique possibilities.
City or countryside?
Although I’ve seen plenty of idyllic countrysides, I would say I’m more of a city girl. I love the hustle and bustle of a big city, chances to experience different restaurants, and, of course, a true shopper’s dream where I can pick up a trendy souvenir or two.
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