Trips & Travel Tricks with Mike Schellhase

Jun 23, 2023 | Podcast

Travel is an important goal for just about everyone, but what trips will give you the best experiences? What are the most popular travel destinations? What is a “bucket list” trip you should consider taking? What are the best family vacation ideas? Get answers to these questions and more as we talk with travel expert Mike Schellhase of Travel Haus.

Aaron Kirsch: Thanks for joining us. I’m Aaron Kirsch, Chief Client Advocacy Officer at GreenUp Wealth Management, and this podcast is all about travel. Travel is an important goal for just about everyone. In fact, in more than the two decades that I’ve been doing financial planning, it’s been an important goal for every one of my clients when we’re doing financial plans.

And why is travel so important? Well, it gives us a sense of adventure, it exposes us to a diversity of environments and cultures, it offers an escape from our daily routines, it provides intellectual stimulation, and it creates lifelong memories. Since travel is so important to us, let’s talk with a genuine expert.

Our special guest on this podcast is Mike Schellhase. Over the past three decades, Mike has been the President of Travel House in St. Louis, one of the premier travel agencies in North America. Of the 100,000 plus agents in North America, Karisma Resorts and Spa voted him as their 13th Hall of Fame member. Mike serves on numerous boards in the industry and numerous boards for charitable organizations in the St. Louis area, including Ronald McDonald House, South County YMCA, Vianney High School, and Leukemia Society of St. Louis. Welcome Mike.

Mike Schellhase: Thanks, Aaron.

Aaron Kirsch: And my co-host on this podcast is Tony Schmitt, President and CEO of GreenUp Wealth Management. Hi Tony.

Tony Schmitt: Hey Aaron. Look forward to chatting with my good friend Michael here today.

Aaron Kirsch: Tony and Mike, you’ve known each other for a really long time.

Mike Schellhase: Probably longer than I want to admit but, yes, we’ve been friends for a good 30 years or so.

Tony Schmitt: We’ve had a great friendship and gone through a lot in life together.

And, you know, if there’s one thing that I know about Mike is that he takes a lot of pride in his business and it’s ultimately with the goal of helping people really enjoy key milestones in their life, and he wants to make sure people have a world-class experience across the board, very similar to what our mission is at GreenUp. So, I’ve learned a lot from Mike on that front and with that shared mission of making sure people have a great experience, I think we’re going to deliver a lot of value here today, Michael.

Mike Schellhase: I agree, Tony. I’m very happy to be here and share the little bit of knowledge that I have about travel.

Tony Schmitt: All right, Mike, so let’s dig in. Obviously, travel’s very, very broad, but when you’re looking at the best vacation spots in the world, what are the most popular spots that you see these days?

Mike Schellhase: Well, the growing segment of the business really has been in the river cruise business over in Europe and even now in the United States, Viking Cruise Line actually has a long ship here running the Mississippi. Out of our market and in many of the marketplaces, it’s where there is the most beaches, the most beds, the larger hotels, and so you’re going to find out that Mexico, the Yucatan region, has about 22 to 25 million visitors a year that come to that region. So that would probably be the number one destination in the world for sun and fun destinations.

Tony Schmitt: Mike, I know that you’ve been able to visit a lot of these spots, firsthand. I know that’s a horrible job hazard of yours is having to go out and have that experience yourself. From your experience, what is your best recommendation?

Mike Schellhase: Well, Tony, you know me pretty well, and you know I like the sun and fun myself. So, to sit here and work as hard as we do 60, 70, 80 hours a week, I enjoy putting a cocktail in my hand and sitting on the beach and relaxing with a good book, learning a little about the society that we’re in, the destination that we’re in, so maybe doing an excursion or two in those destinations. Out of our marketplace, St. Louis has nonstop flights to Cancun every single day. So, for me, an easy getaway is to fly into Cancun. It’s only a two-and-a-half-hour flight.

Aaron Kirsch: Mike, cruises are really popular. You mentioned the Viking Cruises in Europe. You’ve got onboard amenities, you’ve got entertainment. In your opinion, what are the best cruises people should consider taking?

Mike Schellhase: I don’t know, Aaron, if I can really say what the best are. There are plenty of cruise companies out there that do an excellent job of creating wonderful experiences for people all over the world. I’m actually going on a new cruise called Explora Journeys so I’ll get to experience this new first class cruise line that’s going to take me from Copenhagen down to Scotland and then across the Northern Sea over to Iceland for a few days. But, if you look at worldwide, Carnival Cruise Lines hits almost every market for everybody. So, it’s got the young families, it’s got the young kids, it’s got the seniors, offers European cruises, offers Alaska cruises, and throughout the Caribbean. Royal Caribbean, again- another large cruise line that pretty much replicates what Carnival does. And they all have meals on board. They all set up excursions for you when you pull into the ports. Plenty of entertainment, daytime, nighttime, with their Las Vegas style shows in the evening, gourmet Michelin chefs on board making absolutely wonderful scrumptious meals for you 24 hours a day. One of the great questions that we get is, “What time is the midnight snack?” That’s pretty much at midnight, I think. So all the cruise lines out there have something to offer for everybody.

Tony Schmitt: Mike, you mentioned before, we all work hard, 60, 70, 80 hours a week, to provide for our families and feel fulfilled in our careers. But there has to be that end destination that we’re searching for. If you’re looking at some of those bucket list trips that you say, hey, these are places that everyone needs to go and visit because they’re so incredible, What are those bucket list items you think that we all need to experience?

Mike Schellhase: Tony, I think probably the biggest bucket list that we hear from people is they want to experience an African safari, and we feel that that’s a great destination if it’s a retirement party, or if it’s a family. We have a family there right now. They have their children that are nine and eleven years of age, and they’re doing an African safari riding on the back of elephants and experiencing the jungle and all of the large five over there in Africa. So that’s probably the number one bucket list that we hear from the Midwest clientele.

Tony Schmitt: That sounds absolutely incredible, and that’s good to know. I didn’t realize that families and kids were over there enjoying some of those cool experiences, so I’m glad you shared that. And while we’re on the topic of family, you have young kids. My kids have gotten older, quicker than I’d like, but it’s nice to have them around. If you’re looking at the whole family setting, what are some great trips for families in your opinion?

Mike Schellhase: We love family vacations. It’s great seeing two, three, and four generations of families travel together, and I think that is probably the trip that I like putting together the most because you get to build experiences that the grandparents are not just going to leave a dollar bill for the kids- they’re going to pass on memories that those children will have for the rest of their life, and hopefully want to experience with their family.

So, the all-inclusive again, because now the grandparents that are typically paying for this whole vacation know exactly upfront what that cost is going to be, so they can budget quite easily before they even leave our office to know exactly what they’re going to spend. Aaron asked about the cruise lines. Cruise lines are very similar also. You’re going to have plenty to do for the 70 year-old grandparents, the 40, 50- year old son or daughter, and then their teenage and pre-teen children. So those two are probably the two biggest places that we send families that are doing multi-generational trips. We have done European trips. Mostly when we’re doing European trips for multi-generation, we’re going to do a cruise line, as we discussed earlier, if it’s going to be with Royal Caribbean or Carnival Cruise lines, that offers five or six different countries that they’re actually going to see. And the beautiful thing about this when we’re talking about family, it’s not just the experience, it’s the education. These kids are learning about these destinations. If it’s Rome- the Coliseum, if it’s the cathedrals. The kids are reading about this in school right now, and now they’re actually coming back after their summer break and can speak about the true experience firsthand being there.

Tony Schmitt: That’s great, and I couldn’t agree more because ultimately it’s about impact and creating those memories and experiences that stick with us forever and can get passed on generation to generation. Those are second to none and nothing is more important. Let me piggyback on that for just a second, Mike, because there’s going to be people, right, wrong, or indifferent, that aren’t comfortable traveling outside of the United States. So, looking at that family experience here domestically, what recommendations would you have in that space?

Mike Schellhase: Well, it really comes down to talking to the family and what they want to experience. Is it cultural? Is it beach? Is it gourmet food-wise that they’re looking for? So again, each family’s going to be different, but if you’re dealing with young children, it’s going to be a beach destination. During COVID we saw our biggest increase in sales came to the state of Florida. And the number one destination that people were going to in Florida was Key West. So, anything that offers a beach still has good food around and still cultural things for them to do (museums, zoos) that I think is important to any family vacation. It’s not always just about beach. It’s always great to get those kids educated even while they’re on vacation. They don’t even realize they’re being educated when they’re walking through a museum and seeing Picassos or different artists that, they’re again, viewing and have probably learned about in school. So United States has plenty of great things.

Here in the Midwest, one of the biggest growing areas is Branson, Missouri. Branson, Missouri offers all kinds of wonderful museums, wonderful parks, water parks, wonderful lakes down there. In each region, I think, even within your home state, with a short drive people can get to a lake, or they can get to a river. Water seems to be the number one attraction for most family vacations. So, hop in the car, take a 50-minute ride, or take a five-hour ride and experience something with the family. In our opinion, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the experience that you have with your family.

Tony Schmitt: Well, Mike, I can help you on the Key West conundrum. I’ve listened to enough Jimmy Buffett songs to completely understand why there was such an increase in Key West. So, let’s go!

Mike Schellhase: Hey, it’s five o’clock somewhere.

Tony Schmitt: Always. Mike, when you’re looking at society today, obviously inflation is running rampant and the cost of everything is considerably higher these days. If you’re a family that’s looking to keep things a little bit tight, or maybe just something that’s at a discount to what its normal premium would be, what is something that would hit home there?

Mike Schellhase: Well, we’re going to go back to Mexico. Mexico has the best value- the best value in food service, hotels, wonderful beaches. There’s beaches in Cancun, Maroma Beach, for example. Conde Nast states that they’re one of the top 10 beaches in the world. I don’t know that I would go that far, but I would definitely say that they’re one of the top 10 beaches in all of Mexico.

People are looking for value, and that is the best value, flying into the Yucatan region or even going to the West Coast If you’re on the West Coast as Aaron is, and flying down to Cabo or Puerto Vallarta. They have wonderful beaches with mountains there, which makes that experience a little bit different than what you’re going to get in the Yucatan. The regional foods are absolutely wonderful. The culture has a lot to offer, a lot of experiences- cenotes, the mountain ziplining, golf courses, dune buggy rides. There are just so many things that you can do in all of those regions within Mexico. It truly is the best value out of any city in the United States to get to.

Tony Schmitt: Mike, that’s great insight. Now, do you see people typically go for more all-inclusive situations in Mexico?

Mike Schellhase: The all-inclusive is definitely the best way to travel. There are wonderful, great Michelin five-star restaurants throughout Mexico, some of them inside the resorts even. You talked about Karisma Resorts earlier today and me being a hall of famer with them. They actually have restaurants at a few different of their resorts that AAA would give them four diamond awards if they did four diamond awards for all-inclusive restaurants. So, the all-inclusive is still the best valueyour drinks, your meals, tips, non-motorized water sports are all included upfront. You know exactly what you’re going to spend. You don’t necessarily have to spend any more money, so do the all-inclusive plan. If you want to go off-resort and get a wonderful meal, that’s fine. Experience a culture outside of the resort. Use numbers for safety.

You know, safety’s fine everywhere you go. There’s crime in every city, but all of the Yucatan region, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, plenty, plenty of security around and I have in my 30 years of experience, have never had a negative experience off the property. So again, the all-inclusive resorts- you can stay on resort- all your meals, all your drinks, everything’s going to be included and you don’t have to bring your wallet with you.

Tony Schmitt: It’s a little bit scary that you went down the safety route because that was going to be my follow up question because I know that is definitely a concern. And like you said whether it’s Mexico or downtown St. Louis. But with that being said, how do you navigate that? What resource do you go to if you’re in a country like Mexico and figure out the best way to stay safe off resort?

Mike Schellhase: Well, the best way is always to use a retail travel agency. We have experienced decades with different destination management companies within each and every one of the destinations. If it’s Europe, if it’s Asia, Africa, and then Mexico, as we’re talking quite heavily about, we have relationships there, so we’re going to tell you to utilize one of our destination management companies. They’re going to come pick you up in a private car, take you to a cenote, take you ziplining, whatever excursion you want to have, if it’s whale shark swimming, scuba diving- again there’s hundreds of different excursions, so we have the relationships already built down there, and that’s what we would suggest that you use. You don’t want to walk down the beach and look for the best deal from one of the beach vendors.

Tony Schmitt: Thanks Mike. That’s great insight and I think very similar to our business, right? That’s why you work with an expert that is going to help you navigate some of those shark-filled waters, per se. But I think that definitely it hit home, so thank you.

Okay, Mike, so transitioning just a bit, you talked about the value on the security side of using a travel agency versus a do-it-yourself situation, but I guess a little bit different angle on that- with the internet, we live in a society with an increasing do-it-yourself mentality. Just recently, the internet security company McAfee commissioned a research survey that found that 94% of travelers booked their travel online, but there’s a downside there. McAfee’s study also revealed that 35%, 35% of American consumers have fallen prey to online booking scams. 40% of those victims lost over a thousand dollars or more to fraudsters. What can people do to protect themselves from these types of online scams?

Mike Schellhase: Well, our number one suggestion would be to work with a retail travel agency. Come into that office, visit them, get to know them, find out if these are the people that you’re willing to invest your money with. Travel Haus has been a storefront office for over 30 years, so if you’re in Chicago, if you’re in Minneapolis, if you’re in California, go visit somebody that works in a retail office that’s been established in your community and get to know them, much like you guys do with your wealth management. People want to know and work with the people that are in their community.

Travel is the second largest fraudulent industry in the world next to insurance, and it’s easy for anybody to set up a website and say they’re selling travel, if it be an excursion, for whale shark diving, a trip to Africa, if it be a trip to Cancun. VRBO has seen their own scandalous situations where people actually rent a house on the beach and they show up at that address, and guess what? There’s no house there. So, get to know your agent. Let them get to know you. Get a personal relationship with them. The right agency is going to be able to handle all your travel needs. I don’t know every destination in the world, but having a dozen agents in my office allows me to go to other resources and get assistance should I need it.

Tony Schmitt: Mike, that’s great insight. And I think that information that you just provided us can not only save people from headaches, but some very costly mistakes that could absolutely ruin some really important, crucial moments in someone’s life. So, thanks for sharing that. At the end of the day, it’s about finding someone that you trust, someone that’s an expert, and someone that has excellent ethics and standards. And knowing you for goodness, about three decades, I would be comfortable recommending anyone around the country reach out to you, because there’s one thing I know, it’s that you’re going to take care of people, you’re going to be honest with folks, which I think are just crucial parts of any relationship in business.

And Mike, I think you make a great point of working with someone that you know, but let’s say an individual is going to walk into the local travel agency. What should they be looking for when they’re looking to hire someone in that travel agency space?

Mike Schellhase: Tony, that’s a great question, and we get asked that all the time. And I just say you start it with a conversation, right? We don’t start talking about travel. We start talking about them. Who are they? What do they believe in? What experiences have they had in the past? What experiences are they looking for? Once we get to know them, then I think it gives them a sense of comfort also. We’re looking to educate them from the information that they give us. So, they give us the information and then we give them back the research that we do and it allows them the opportunity to feel comfortable with us.

You’ve got to be comfortable with the people that you work with. You got to be comfortable with your doctor, your attorney, your wealth management person. You have to be comfortable with them and build a personal relationship in order to really feel that they care and they have yourself as their best interest.

Tony Schmitt: Mike, we touched on the benefits of using an expert to help you with these very key and important moments of your life. Talk to me a little bit about the benefits of using a guided tour for some of these excursions you’re going to do while traveling versus planning it on your own and doing it on your own.

Mike Schellhase: Tony, I think what you’re referring to is an escorted tour versus a non-escorted tour, and there are hundreds of different vendors that we utilize, especially going into the European market where you might be going to four or five different countries via a motor coach rather than you driving on the wrong side of the road with a stick shift that you’re uncomfortable with, and your significant other trying to navigate you through these small valleys and small alleys with your car. So, an escorted trip is a great way to see North America or Europe.

There are plenty of great escorted trips. Seeing the Four Corners here in the United States on a bus trip with say, Colette Vacations or Trafalgar Vacations. These trips are usually going to be the 50-plus crowd that are going to be on these buses. Some people say they don’t want to be with crowds. Well, the great thing that these tour operators understand is yes, some people don’t want to be on a crowded bus with 46 people, which, you know, isn’t a large number of people, but sometimes it can be like herding cats. So, they now have these personalized escorted tours that are going to have a minimum of sometimes six to a maximum of fourteen people on a tour with you. You have a tour guide talking the whole time, telling you about the different cities that you’re passing through and educating you on every museum and every coliseum that you’re going to see, or the nature of the outside, again, if you’re doing the Four Corners. So having somebody that lives in that city, lives in that country, and talks about that destination is going to give you the experience that you could never replicate on your own.

Tony Schmitt: Those are great points. That’s pretty impactful, so appreciate it. Mike, as we look forward here and we’re thinking of booking trips, I know one of the questions that’s going to be in people’s minds that has been in my mind in the past: is travel insurance a good thing? Is it important to have or is it a waste of money?

Mike Schellhase: I can tell you this is one of the best types of insurance that you can buy is travel insurance. It’s going to cover you for flight delays. It’s going to cover you for a personal injury. It’s going to cover you for AirVac if you had to get AirVac’d. So, here at Travel Haus, 97% of our clients will purchase the insurance. Some of the insurance have policies even have cancel for any reason. So, you wake up and you have a bad hair day, and you just don’t want to go on that trip, some of the tour companies have insurance that allow you to cancel for that reason, which is no reason whatsoever. You just don’t feel like traveling that day. So, we 100% believe that everybody should buy insurance for each and every trip that they go on. We’ve got plenty of horror stories where people did not have insurance- they didn’t feel it was important, they’re young, they’re not going to have any problems. Guess what? Well, they had a problem. Right? And then their medical insurance from the United States doesn’t work in Africa.

But dealing with a company like Allianz, who’s an international carrier, they actually get on the phone with you. You call them and they’re going to set up the visits to the hospital. They’re going to make sure that all your medical bills are paid before you even leave that hospital. So, yes, insurance is very important. We recommend it for each and every traveler- doesn’t matter the age, doesn’t matter the destination. You want to cover yourself. This is one of the largest investments that you’re going to have is travel. You’re not going to have a house and not have insurance. You’re not going to have a car and not have insurance. So, we are going to tell you 100% buy insurance for each and every one of your travel experiences.

Tony Schmitt: Those are some very important details. And I just heard from someone inside of our firm about a person that was involved in an AirVac situation. So, I certainly appreciate you sharing that. And just like when we’re building a portfolio or building a financial plan, risk management and risk mitigation is something that we’re looking at with every single individual. So, I think this is just another level of risk mitigation as well.

Aaron Kirsch: Well, thank you Tony, and thank you Mike for all that valuable information. If any of our listeners are interested in discussing their travel plans with you, Mike, what is the best way to reach you?

Mike Schellhase: The best way is, if you’re not in the St. Louis region and can’t come into our office, give us a call at (314) 842-6000. Any of the people that answer the phone are agents, so anybody can help you, but we’re going to qualify you pretty quickly and figure out what destination, what area of travel you’re going to and then get you into that right agent’s voice message or, many times that agent might be available and get you contacted with them right away.

Aaron Kirsch: Well, thanks again Mike. We really appreciate you being on this podcast with us. To all of our listeners, if you know anyone who loves to travel and would find value in hearing this podcast, and I’m sure you know someone who loves to travel, please share it with them, and if you have any questions, please reach out to Mike and his team because they’re experts at what they do. For Mike Schellhase of Travel House, Tony Schmitt, and the entire team at GreenUp Wealth Management, I’m Aaron Kirsch. Thanks for listening.


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