OLD SAYBROOK — Priscilla Allen doesn’t stay in one place for too long. The name of her new business, Wanderlust Nature Travel, says it all.
This world traveler has crisscrossed the U.S. in a vintage camper that she trails behind her car. And while her solo travel business is based in Old Saybrook, Allen is happy to admit she leads a nomadic lifestyle.
“I’m very transient, so I move around about every six weeks,” she said.
A self-professed free spirit, Allen looks the part. No towering heels for her, but comfortable walking shoes and loose-fitting clothes. She appears to wear very little makeup and wears her long blonde hair down. In her travel photos, she wears a wide-brimmed sun hat and a pair of binoculars as her only adornment.
It was two-and-a-half years ago that Allen realized she needed a change from her corporate travel job, when she traded her office for the open road. She purchased a 13-foot vintage 1983 Burro camper, which she completely restored and named Pearl. It is Allen’s home when she is not trekking to parts unknown.
“I always wanted to be minimalist and my whole life was not going at all in that direction, living simply, reducing my carbon footprint and minimalizing everything I had and everything I needed,” she recalls.
After a year of planning, Allen left Connecticut on April 15, 2018, and traveled to Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, California, Seattle, Washington state, Alberta, British Columbia, and Banff National Park in Canada, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, North and South Dakota, Lake Michigan, Montreal and back to Connecticut in September.
It was during this six-month, 20,000-mile adventure that Allen realized that she wanted to permanently leave her job, which she had held for 12 years, and start out on her own as Wanderlust Nature Travel.
“Kind of half-way through the trip I really loved being on the open road,” she recalls. “I loved being alone and that was a whole new concept for me because I typically don’t dig being by myself, but now I really crave it because I realize, it was a very introspective adventure and it gave so more back than I thought it would.”
The skills required for this trip are exactly what Allen needs to run her own travel organization.
“It was just being smart and being well organized and having a lot of travel experience and feeling comfortable I can handle situations that could have come up that were very difficult,” she says.
In addition to her trip across the country, Allen’s journeys have taken her to England, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Scotland and Spain. She designs itineraries, recruits local guides, makes travel and culinary reservations and schedules local activities.
“I really love doing that,” she says. “It’s something very exciting.”
Allen also delights in offering personalized travel experiences to make her customers’ trip memorable.
Newlyweds Joyce and John Johnson experienced Allen’s personal touch firsthand.
Immediately after eloping, the couple embarked on a 12-day journey to Tanzania, via Wanderlust. Making it remarkable was an extra-special trip to the airport and a surprise honeymoon suite in Arusha, Tanzania.
Allen also personally drove the couple to the airport: “I had a ‘Just Married’ sign, white Christmas lights and a bottle of champagne for them. They had just gotten married three hours earlier.”
That was just the beginning of the surprises. Upon arrival, the newlyweds settled in to a suite, complete with a veranda and a bottle of champagne.
The upgrade was compliments of Johnson’s friends who Allen knew wanted to be part of the couple’s nuptials.
“I had a card made out and everybody signed it, so when I presented the honeymoon suite and when I presented the champagne — the card from their friends back home went along with it,” says Allen. “It was just a little extra touch that I did.”
These touches are what make Allen’s new, solo venture as a travel agent so appealing to travelers.
One of the most appealing features about her trips, believes Allen, is that the groups are small — ranging from four to eight individuals. They cost anywhere from $3,000-$6,000 all inclusive, excluding air fare.
Every trip abroad includes a local guide who assists Allen in navigating the foreign terrain. From driving the group to teaching the travelers local history, the guides are an integral part of the trip.
Allen’s trips are an immersion into local culture.
“My major focus is being outside, exploring nature,” says Allen. “I add a cultural element to that, cuisine, history, art, the people of whatever country we’re in. … I’m trying to make it a little more of a consciousness-raising effort.”
This includes traveling with school supplies for a local educational institution or delivering needed supplies to an orphanage.
“They’re grateful to see us come and bring in tourism dollars, which keeps their country going, but let’s go a little bit deeper into who lives there and what they need, how can we help in whatever it is that (they’re) looking for,” says Allen.
This was just the case when Joyce Johnson, a paraprofessional at Colchester Elementary School, traveled to Tanzania. She, along with Allen and the other vacationers, visited an elementary school and delivered school supplies.
While the children only knew how to communicate in Swahili, they sang songs that were videotaped and sent back to Connecticut.
“It was just very moving, there was a bit of teary eyes going on,” recalls Allen.
“She wanted to make this a sister visit, so that that school and the school in Colchester can become sister schools and Skype each other and learn from each other,” Allen recalls.
For Joyce Johnson this was a highlight of the trip.
“That was really special,” she says. “She went over and above setting that up and that was just a really unique and special experience for me.”
And this personal attention seems all in a day’s work for Allen.
For Mary Patricia and Richard Stone, prior to embarking on a 10-day trip with Allen, they were asked what they most wanted to do while in Ireland.
Mary Patricia Stone’s request was to visit her grandmother’s half-sister’s grave. Even though there were two other individuals traveling with them, their trip was catered specifically to those wishes.
While the Stones had done online research about the gravesite, they were unable to locate it. The local guide was, however, and they were able to visit it.
“He took us right to it,” she recalls. “It was amazing. It just was amazing. I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, I don’t believe it.’”
Mary Patricia Stone says she felt connected to her familial roots while on the trip.
“I got a good look at what the countryside was like where she grew up, too,” she says. “So, that was interesting to me. I saw every place that I wanted to see and the guide was wonderful.”
Allen enjoys travelling with others who share her joy of travel.
“Adventure in its own self is enticing,” says Allen. “I think most people have a sense of adventure inside themselves. There are places they want to go. They have their bucket lists and their dream vacations and being outdoors.”
She will be hosting a a travel talk at the Griswold Inn wine bar at 6 p.m. Jan. 22. To RSVP, contact Priscilla Allen, Wanderlust Nature Travel, P.O. Box 245. Phone: 860-510-3683, email firstname.lastname@example.org.