Women’s Travel Group Founder Phyllis Stoller, Specialist in Women’s Travel, Named NABBW’s New Group Travel Associate

by Anne Holmes on June 20, 2014

phyllis stoller2Bienvenue, Con Gusto, Willkommen, Kangei, — and even स्वागत है

In other words, a big NABBW Welcome to Phyllis Stoller, who has just agreed to become NABBW’s new Group Travel Associate.

(This new Group Travel section is not to be confused with our other new travel-focused section, Independent Travel, helmed by Carolee Duckworth, who is our new Independent Travel Associate.)

Phyllis loves to travel and has organized women’s tours for over 20 years. She specializes in unusual and trend setting destinations, and was recently named One of the Most Influential Women in Group Travel.

Among her honors, Phyllis has received is the designation “Top in Women’s Travel” from Travel & Leisure Magazine.  Her company, The Women’s Travel Group, is based in New York while its strategic partner, SITA World Tours, is in Encino, California.

Phyllis is proud that the WTG is on every list of quality tour operators for women and is certified by IATAN.   SITA World Tours is a USTOA industry leader and award winner for luxury exotic destinations.

She’s recently returned from a recent trip to Crimea and the Black Sea, and will personally be guiding two more trips for The Womens Travel Group yet this year. But we managed to snag a little bit of her time recently, to ask Phyllis our favorite blog questions, and her answers are below.  In addition to learning more about Phyllis, we hope you will be sure to check out her new NABBW columns.

Using one paragraph, tell us a bit about yourself?

I grew up in Manhattan and fell in love with travel at the  Amsterdam Avenue Public Library on the Upper West Side of New York, where I first read books by Rumer Godden, who grew up in India. After that I always wanted to live overseas, travel to unusual places and speak other languages.

My dream came true when my sedentary parents (for some still unknown reason) allowed me to go to a French speaking school in Switzerland and later to the Université de Poitiers in Tours, France.

I graduated from Tufts University in History and French, and NYU Graduate School in Politics. Met my husband during college when he was at Harvard.

We chose to live and work in England, where we made our home for ten years and had our two ‘Anglo-American’ boys.

After that, we moved to Miami, and Spanish became our next language.   I  was employed by an international bank for ten years until getting the idea for a women’s travel club and deciding to begin a life in travel for women.

I started The Women’s Travel Club in 1992 for women who loved to travel, like myself.  The Club became a forerunner in women’s travel opportunities.  It was acquired by a large tour company.Stoller_ Phylllis in stans

My husband and I left the South and moved to New York City when our children grew up. These days we split our time between Manhattan and in a 200 year old farmhouse in Upstate New York. When we’re not working, we enjoy spending time with an international group of pals.

I am a parent of two grown men, (one a political strategist and one a movie director), mother in law of one great daughter in law, and a grandmother of two fabulous little girls.

Today, I float internationally due to The Women’s Travel Group tours, the company that evolved from the original Club. Still love traveling. Still willing to sit in the back of the bus to get there. Shortly we’ll be leaving for India and parts beyond.

 What is your favorite childhood memory that is reminiscent of growing up in the 50s, 60s or 70s?

We went to Summer Camp to get out of large cities, which had polio epidemics.

That meant weeks away from parents where we could play sports, get dirty and learn to love the outdoors.

In the 50’s polio was a great fear in New York and parents found ways to remove their children during the hottest months.

Our first grade class was one of those in the Salk vaccine trials; however sadly some of our classmates did suffer from polio.

For me, the memory is of going away, living in the woods in a log cabin and loving the lake and all that the forest offered. I would go back to camp if there was one for oldies, but one with a better bathroom.

What qualities do you have that speak of our generation of women? 

I was born just  after WWII, making me a Boomer Woman. Have worked with women for over 25 years, and have only women as travelers, clients and employees.

Being on group tours with women has opened my eyes to many lifestyles, both fulfilling and disappointing. And conversations over the years have instilled a true respect for women and what we can do when unfettered and/or encouraged by female friends.

What inspires you?

Friendships and Family. Am lucky to have both in hand.

What brings you the most pleasure in midlife?

Spending time with my family especially the two little girls who are now part of it.  Loved and still adore my sons, but talking to a little girl is much more electric and fun. Their little eyes and quick mouths are just so darling.  I also adore sports and golf is now IT.

Do you have any interesting hobbies?

I play golf and the way I play it is more like a mountain hike, due to where the course is.  I like the outdoors, gardening, hiking and love to cook.

My reading list is always serious history, much  of it about unusual places and adventures in past times.

I have my own tools and really enjoy fixing things — Home Depot is a favorite store.

Do you have a favorite book or movie? If so, tell us why it’s your favorite.

This is a compromising question as I have to go with family first. Nicholas Stoller, my older son, is a well known movie director, so his movies are my favorites. And I totally enjoyed seeing my other son, Matthew Stoller, on Russell Brand’s TV political show. But, I also admit to being a Netflix addict.

A favorite book is Black Lamb Grey Falcon by  Dame Rebecca West, considered the greatest travel book written in our times.

I also like history books and just finished Stephen Kinzer’s The Brothers about John Foster and Allen Dulles. Am catching up on history we did not have time for in college.

Do you travel and if so, who are your favorite travel partners and where do you like to go?

I travel constantly and lived happily overseas for ten years.

I travel with my own company for the most part, but for some unusual destinations, we have used specialists or river trips.

We took a Harvard Alumni trip to the Black Sea recently, despite not being sure how much of the planned itinerary we’d see, due to the Crimean Crisis. Turns out the trip was a true college-learning experience with fine lecturers and a group who really wanted to delve into “Nation Building” themes at meals.black sea trip-photo1

This, despite the fact that the countries visited were not so grand, all former Soviet except for Turkey which is undergoing its own changes right now also.

Do you practice preventive medicine? Please elaborate

Fitness, diet and eating very few prepared foods, plus good genes are the medicine. While living in Europe we got used to not buying prepared food or using canned or other long lasting items. And we learned that cooking is fun, creative and terrific to share.

What do you stress about?

Always worry about my kids — who are just fine but still my kids. And I worry about the future of our country, in which we see schisms, fear and increasingly divisive issues.

Is it important for you to retain your youthful looks, and if so, to what degree are you willing to go?

It is important to retain a healthy vibrant look and a fit body.

Posture and skin are important to me and I do patronize a budget spa in Mexico where skin and body are well taken care of.  (I do the marketing for the resort, so I go for business a few times a year. Ixtapan Spa specializes in treatments for Boomer women, by the way.)

I do dye my hair, but eschew surgery- at least so far.

Have you re-invented yourself, and if so, how?

Not really, am just more of the same with some wrinkles.

Do you plan to retire?

Not yet. Love what I do and the women I meet.

Are you doing anything to GO Green?

Yes. We recycle, use an economic car, minimize A/C, but alas, do fly a lot, which is very dirty.

Living in Europe creates a habit of turning every light off, finishing each crumb of food or tossing it into another dish, and fixing rather than replacing things.

Can you pinpoint major turning points in your life that led to your life’s work/play at midlife?

Yes, I worked for an international bank where there were few women at the executive level and  the bank discriminated against the few who were. It was there that I got the idea of starting a company that had only women in it, and for it. The women I met during the many years of travel have in many ways been personal turning points- all with something to say.

Do you still have unfulfilled dreams, and are you doing anything to accomplish them?

Moving back to Europe and spending varying 6 months in several cities: Paris, London, Madrid etc. Would love to have months near my little granddaughters to be a really involved granny.

How do you make a difference in the lives of others, your community, your world?

Besides the influence that travel has on women, I advocate for increased safety for women on the road and for increased attention to our needs in regards to hotels, and other. Have been active in both my college, and various women’s groups in Miami before moving to NY.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

My aunt who was a world traveler and a post WWI (1920’s era) lawyer; she encouraged me to reach high and get what I wanted by hard work, study and relentless efforts.

My parents were also very hard working and had high moral standards plus love of family.

My husband is a straight arrow, never-retiring guy, also with high goals and strong sense of the right things.

If you were to have a personal mission statement, what would it be? Feel free to be as serious or fun as you choose but do something for this world.

My mission is to share some of the adventure, which is part of my life with those who are scared or unable to move from their armchairs.

Women will live a long time and I hope to encourage at least a few to leave their chairs and explore with other friendly women. Seeing the world is the first step in wanting to change it.



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