Tag Archives: Essential History Expeditions

9 Sep 2015

EHE’s COO Sheryl Shafer Featured in Inspiring Stories

EHE Brian DeToy & Sheryl Rankin Shafer

http://voyagedenver.com/interview/meet-sheryl-shafer-essential-history-expeditions-boulder-foothills/

Essential History Expeditions’ COO Sheryl Shafer was recently featured in Voyage Denver magazine’s Inspiring Stories section! Click the link below to read the article!

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sheryl Shafer.

Sheryl, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Sometimes, life comes in stages. In my growing up years, my family moved frequently because my father was a pilot in the Air Force. The “middle stage” included raising two children; traveling with them extensively to expose them to life outside of Boulder, Colorado; and working in the education field and as a freelance editor and writer. The current stage began when my youngest child was successfully engaged in college and my husband, Dr. Brian DeToy, retired from the US Army where, in his final position at West Point, he had been a university history professor. The consistent thread through all of life’s stages is that I have always loved exploring new places. The time was right for a new adventure!

My husband and I share an enthusiasm for travel, history and cultures in different parts of the world, and as a professional historian, he had developed a skill set in leading groups on historical tours. A college friend of mine asked us if we would put together a trip for the 70th commemoration of the Normandy D-Day invasion. We had been thinking of this as a second career and the impetus put us on that path. We took our first group of 28 guests on this trip in June 2014 as a trial run to see if we enjoyed the process/experience and to see if we worked well together 24/7. It was a smashing success, Essential History Expeditions was born, and we have never looked back!

Our business has grown each year and we are as busy as we wish to be, taking hundreds of guests on amazing experiential learning expeditions worldwide. We now run life-changing trips to Vietnam, South Africa, Cuba and Greece-Turkey in addition to those in western Europe and all over the US. Our trips focusing on the Americans in World War I as well as the D-Day Normandy invasion from the preparation in England to the Normandy beaches to the liberation of Paris have been particularly in demand. Some of our groups are open to the general public, some are exclusive high-end private tours, and some are in conjunction with university students and alumni.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
As a small business without a local base since we run tours worldwide, building the clientele the first couple of years was a challenge. However, folks who joined our tours loved the experience and shared with their friends and family and many also joined us for additional trips themselves. We have continued to grow and are most pleased that our “return guest” dynamic is approximately 35 percent. We feel this is a great testament to the quality of our tours!

A second challenge continues to be marketing through technology. We have a great website, which I have learned to maintain, but internet searches favor large companies that can invest in advertising rather than small homegrown businesses. But I have learned a tremendous amount about running the marketing and technology side of our business!

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Essential History Expeditions – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Essential History Expeditions develop, coordinates and conduct vibrant and memorable historical tours and cultural expeditions to worldwide locations to educate and inspire guests. Our tours take guests to iconic and historic destinations worldwide where they experience not only the culture of the location but also gain an understanding of the history and events that have shaped it.

My husband and I lead each of these immersive, all-inclusive tours as an expert historian and travel planner team, ensuring a personalized, rewarding and enriching vacation. Our goal is not to run many tours per year but, instead, to focus on a few highly crafted tours with engaging guests. We truly value the friendships we develop with guests in seminal locations around the world!

Numerous tour companies focus on battlefield and historic city tours. Depending on the intent of the guest and what they hope to gain from the experience, many of these companies may prove eminently suitable and even cost less than an EHE expedition. In fact, the Essential History experience is not for everyone. It is an investment in time and energy, make no doubt. EHE guests are active participants as we subscribe fully to the Benjamin Franklin quote “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I learn. Involve me and I remember.” EHE promises a rewarding, enriching encounter that will resonate for a lifetime.

EHE is known for its high quality in the complete experience – education, immersion, lodgings and meals, and personal growth. We are most proud of the fact that approximately 35 percent of the people who have traveled with us once have traveled with us on multiple journeys with several having been on five different trips! For us, that is a testament that we are providing an experience that resonates.

Our tour offerings have included South Africa with a focus on Mandela and natural beauty; Vietnam culture and the war; Cuba in all its beauty and complexities; Scotland and the Highlands; Prague history and culture; Americans in WWI in the gorgeous champagne region of France; WWII with a focus on D-Day preparation in England, the Normandy beaches and the liberation of Paris; the Battle of the Bulge; Civil War with a focus on Antietam and Gettysburg, American Revolution with a focus on West Point and Saratoga, and Philadelphia, New York City and Boston; Pearl Harbor anniversary commemorations; and the rich centuries of history and culture of Greece and Turkey. Many of our trips also include cathedrals, castles, wine regions and tastings, cooking classes, theater and concert experiences, and gorgeous beaches – and South Africa includes an amazing safari.

Perhaps the best way to describe our tours is to quote a previous guest, who has since become a wonderful friend: “I would not, ever, take a history-focused trip with anyone else! Brian is a walking encyclopedia, and Sheryl the most competent and caring person I know. Having worked with them for several years now on several trips, I can say without reservation that they are THE BEST and we will be happily planning and taking more trips with them in years to come!”

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We continue to expand the locations in which we take our guests. For example, we are currently planning a WWII and Cold War-focused trip in Eastern Europe, including Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Munich and Berlin. Doing the preparatory work in reconnaissance of hotels, restaurants, etc is one of our favorite times to spend together as a couple, exploring and immersing ourselves in planning an amazing adventure for our guests. We are also excited to continue to expand our reach into the university travel sphere as this allows us to impact young people in a direct, emotional context. We are currently working with seven university programs and this is a rewarding aspect of our business.

We are not looking at any major changes in our model right now. We feel very fortunate at this point to see our business sustain and thrive in a competitive travel market. Again, we feel this is testament to the quality of what we offer the savvy traveler.

 

9 Sep 2015

George Washington Elected President 230 Years Ago

“As mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government.

I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.”

~ George Washington

On this date 230 years ago, the Electoral College elected Washington as President and John Adams as Vice President. Their inauguration occurred on April 30th.

9 Sep 2015

Opinion: The Embargo on Cuba Failed. Let’s Move On.

Interesting piece on Cuba from Nick Kristof this morning in the NYT. His take is pretty much the one we (Brian, Sheryl, EHE) have taken since our first visit nearly four years ago. We have found the people to be just about the most friendly and open we have met anywhere in our travels, and the country to be the safest and one of the most beautiful we have visited.

HAVANA — It has been 60 years since Fidel Castro marched into Havana, so it’s time for both Cuba and the United States to grow up. Let’s let Cuba be a normal country again.

Cuba is neither the demonic tyranny conjured by some conservatives nor the heroic worker paradise romanticized by some on the left. It’s simply a tired little country, no threat to anyone, with impressive health care and education but a repressive police state and a dysfunctional economy.

Driving in from the airport, I saw billboards denouncing the American economic embargo as the “longest genocide in history.” That’s ridiculous. But the embargo itself is also absurd and counterproductive, accomplishing nothing but hurting the Cuban people — whom we supposedly aim to help.

After six decades, can’t we move on? Let’s drop the embargo but continue to push Havana on improving human rights, and on dropping support for other oppressive regimes, like those in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Let’s make room for nuance: Cuba impoverishes its citizens and denies them political rights, but it does a good job providing basic education and keeping people healthy. As I noted in my last column, on Cuba’s health care system, Cuba’s official infant mortality rate is lower than America’s (its real rate may or may not be).

I’m not a Cuba expert, and I don’t know how this country will evolve. But Cuba has a new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, who is associated with experiments in opening up the economy. Fidel is gone and his brother Raúl is fading from the scene.

In the 1960s, we were scared of Cuba. We feared that neighboring countries would tumble like dominoes into the Communist bloc, and the Soviet Union attempted to place on Cuba nuclear missiles that could have threatened America. But today even as those fears have dissipated, our policy has ossified.

President Barack Obama took the necessary step of re-establishing diplomatic relations and easing the embargo, but President Trump reversed course and tightened things up again out of knee-jerk hostility to anything Cuban and anything Obaman.

Cuba is changing, albeit too slowly. About one-third of its labor force is now in the private sector, and this is just about the only part of the economy that is thriving. I stayed in one of the growing number of Airbnbs in Havana, and people were friendly, even if governments are not: When I said I was from the United States, I inevitably got a big grin and a reference to a cousin in Miami or New York or Cleveland.

Plus, extra credit goes to a country that so lovingly preserves old American cars. I rode in from the airport in a pink 1954 Cadillac.

In another sign of flexibility, Cuba recently hammered out a deal with Major League Baseball that will allow Cuban players to travel legally to the U.S. and play on American teams.

Yet, sadly, the Trump administration is threatening the deal.

Consider the persistence of North Korea and Cuba, and there’s an argument that sanctions and isolation preserve regimes rather than topple them. China teaches us not to be naïve about economic engagement toppling dictators, but on balance tourists and investors would be more of a force for change than a seventh decade of embargo.

Moreover, trade, tourism, travel and investment empower a business community and an independent middle class. These are tools to destabilize a police state and help ordinary Cubans, but we curtail them. America blames the Castros for impoverishing the Cuban people, but we’ve participated in that impoverishment as well.

Cuba’s government is not benign. It’s a dictatorship whose economic mismanagement has hurt its people, and Human Rights Watch says it “routinely relies on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics.” But it doesn’t normally execute them (or dismember them in consulates abroad like our pal Saudi Arabia), and it tolerates some criticism from brave bloggers like Yoani Sánchez.

It is revising its Constitution, and my hope is that over time — despite ideologues in both Havana and the United States — relations will continue to develop. Some American seniors who now winter in Florida could become snowbirds in Cuba instead, relying on its health care, low prices, great beaches and cheap labor. You can hire a home health care aide for a month in Havana for the cost of one for a day in Florida.

China’s economic boom began in the early 1980s partly with factories financed by Chinese overseas, and after the American embargo ends, Cuba will have similar opportunities to forge mutually beneficial business partnerships with Cubans overseas.

That would benefit both sides. For 60 years we’ve been feuding, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, in a conflict whose origins most Americans don’t even remember clearly.

So come on. We should all be bored by a lifetime of mutual recriminations and antagonisms. Let’s put aside the ideology, end the embargo, tone down the propaganda and raise a mojito together.

I propose a toast to a new beginning.

9 Sep 2015

“Paths to the Past” as Published in Global Traveler Magazine

An interview with Essential History Expeditions’ Dr. Brian DeToy was published in the May 2018 edition of Global Traveler magazine. Click here to read the full article on the trend in historical tourism. The final paragraph states: “Historical tourism,” says DeToy, “means examining in depth the people, events and cultures that created or impacted the stream of history in such ways that we are still touched by it today. It is the human story.”

 

9 Sep 2015

“Destination: History” as Published in Denver Life Magazine

Denver Life Magazine recently published an article on Essential History Expeditions. Read on here or click here for the piece in Denver Life

Sheryl Rankin Shafer and Dr. Brian DeToy are used to being in the classroom—but now those classrooms move around the world, from the beaches of Normandy to the jungles of Vietnam. The husband-and-wife educators founded the Denver company Essential History Expeditions in 2014 to provide clients with “you are there” trips that go straight to the places where history happened. “Instead of our classroom being four walls and a chalkboard or a PowerPoint, we’re on site,” DeToy says. “We’re looking at the Acropolis of Athens. We’re looking at Waterloo in Belgium. We’re walking the fields to the cliffs of Normandy in France. There is nothing to compare with learning like that. It’s in your head and heart forever.”

Why did you start the company?
“I spent 28 years in the military, 14 of them as a college professor, either at West Point or at the University of Kansas, where I ran the ROTC program,” DeToy says. “I was deployed in infantry battalions around the world throughout my career, and while doing that I developed a skillset of taking people on tours of specific battlefields, like Gettysburg, Antietam, the Little Big Horn, D-Day and sites of Israeli-Arab conflicts. After I retired and moved to Colorado, some friends asked us to put together a trip to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of the invasion, in 2014. Then some other friends asked us to lead another trip. Sheryl, whose background is also in education, and I realized that instead of teaching in a brick-and-mortar setting, we could teach in a more experiential way.”

What is a typical day like on one of your trips?
“We are a small company. Brian is our historian guide for every trip, and I provide support at a personalized level,” Shafer says. “We typically start our trip days around 9 a.m., and the days are full, going to 4 or 5 p.m., with downtime followed by a social hour and then dinner. On our public trips, most meals are included, but on private ones, we do whatever the group wants. We want people to feel like they are getting what they came for. If somebody is looking for a vacation where they sit on the beach, that is not what we do. We try to limit the number of people on trips to 15 to 20, and the cost varies, but an average multi-day trip would be $3,500 per person, plus airfare. That covers lodging, transportation during the trip—really everything, once we are at our location.”

prague-essential-history-expeditions

Prague, Czech Republic. Courtesy Essential History Expeditions

Describe your average customer.
“I’d say the typical guest is between 40 and 75; they are educated, often with advanced degrees, and they are interested in history and culture,” Shafer says. “We get quite a number of couples, but we also get families traveling with high school or college-age kids.” Adds DeToy: “In terms of knowledge, they can run the gamut, from people who have done all of the background reading we suggest, in books and articles, to some who do none of that. But by the end of any trip, everyone has learned and experienced and been changed.”

Do your trips tend to focus on military history?
“Not all of them,” DeToy says. “I have a Ph.D. in European history, and I have a deep and abiding interest across many levels of Western civilization. So even on a D-Day trip, we’ll go to London and talk about the city from Roman times to the present, and we’ll talk about Shakespeare, and in Normandy, we’ll visit the Bayeux Tapestry. We cover a lot.” Adds Shafer: “He truly has encyclopedic knowledge, from artwork to literature to the military.”

Why do your clients like your trips so much?
“No. 1, I think, is our detailed planning. We do numerous reconnaissance trips beforehand, so we’ve been to each location several times already, and the two of us lead every single trip,” Shafer says. “We know every single restaurant, hotel and route. Also, it’s a very hands-on, immersive experience, so everyone is engaged. People on the trips might portray historical figures—like on the D-Day trip, someone might portray Eisenhower. It’s not required, but the fact is, everyone is a participant in his or her own engaged learning. That sets us apart.”

What trips are coming up?
“We have a few standards that we do every year: Normandy, Cuba, Vietnam, a Civil War trip to Gettysburg,” De Toy says. “But we’re always looking for new places to explore, so next year we are taking a group to South Africa and to the Aegean, and in 2020 we are adding Greece and Turkey.”

ESSENTIAL HISTORY EXPEDITIONS
Denver-based guided historic and educational group tour company offering trips to Vietnam, France, Gettysburg, South Africa and more.