Humanitarian travel isn’t new for Angela Hughes, owner of travel agency Trips & Ships Luxury Travel and friend to Travel Market Report.
She and her husband have been leading humanitarian travel groups around the world under their nonprofit organization Color My World every summer for some 20 years, up until COVID-19 shut travel down. But this trip, one she decided and acted on in a matter of 72 hours while traveling in Italy, is something entirely different.
Hughes, who also regularly leads other travel advisors on trips to destinations around the world, left her group in Switzerland to station herself in Poland, where’s she currently using her global contacts and travel skills to rescue women and children from the Ukraine border and move them to Germany.
She's doing whatever is required, including transporting the refugees, getting them to hotels, making sure they receive the COVID tests they need, getting luggage for them and their families, and more. It’s something she told Travel Market Report feels almost fated to have happened.
“I feel like I was made for today,” she said, breaking into tears before she could continue on. “The volunteers here, they don’t know how to move people from A to B. They can get them to Krakow but they’re not versed in how to move people across Europe and get them on planes, trains, and automobiles.”
As a travel advisor, she’s uniquely positioned to have that exact skillset, she said.
The “today’ she’s referring to comes after several days of driving to the border – without security – in vans, picking up women and their children and bringing them back to Krakow to stay in a hotel for a day or two before trying to get them to cities around Germany.
“Today, I’m spending the whole day getting the families we brought back… to their final destination," she said. "Our initial thought was to put them on a train but it can be a 19-hour train ride with the connections,” she said, adding the communication gap – they only speak Russian – and the fact they’ve only had China-authorized COVID-19 vaccines make it extra hard to get them into Germany.
Compounding the difficulties is the fear the women and their children are feeling.
“You have traumatized women and children. They’ve been in a war. They’re scared to death,” she told TMR. “Any time you have refugees and people in movement, they are vulnerable.”
“The ones we brought back yesterday, she was cradling her 15-year-old son. They were sobbing. She didn’t want to get in the car. She would only come with us after we brought back another family and could show pictures of the hotel. It’s really vital to have a woman here; they feel safer.”
In conjunction with her efforts on the ground, Hughes is running a fundraising campaign to help with the mission.
The money raised goes directly to things like luggage for the families who often have none, gas for the vans to make multiple trips back and forth to the border every day, and needed medications. The money also goes to fund the families’ travels from Krakow to other European countries, including hotels rooms throughout the journey.
In less than a week, they’ve raised more than $20,000, exceeding her original goal. Hughes is asking travel advisors to reach out to any contacts they have in the region to see if they can help arrange hotel rooms, train rides, plane tickets, or more.
Monetary donations can be made at www.luxurytraveluniversity.com/colormyworld. Donations to Color My World, a 501c3 nonprofit are generally tax-deductible.
As travel advisors, Hughes said, helping people this way is really just an extension of what the industry does on a daily basis.
“At the end of the day, this is our end game, to be using our skills in travel and our knowledge to help change people’s lives… It’s not about building a bigger business, a more successful business, a higher-end business, it’s about helping people.”