Entries by Bernadette Porter

Unexpected Crosses and Unsurpassed Graces

by John Hale


2020 started with the promise of becoming a record-breaking year in Corporate Travel’s (CTS) 55-year history.  The year launched with an inaugural sailing of the now highly acclaimed Good News Cruise® in January which set the pace. CTS, by every key metric, was poised for an exciting year in executing on our mission! Our team had invested three years of planning and incredibly hard work with the highest of hopes for 2020! 

The CTS team had  planned a record number of amazing, once-in-a-lifetime, large-scale events: a sophisticated Beethoven choral and orchestral music Festival at the Musikverein in Vienna, more than 1,000 travelers booked for the Oberammergau Passion Play, a grand Poland music festival celebrating the 100th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s birth, our largest student event at Mackinac’s Grand Hotel, and 7 full ship music charters in collaboration with our valued partners at Star Vista Live. And this doesn’t even consider our collaboration on new and exciting endeavors with our long-time partners Steve Ray and Footprints of God, Teresa Tomeo and T’s Italy, Dr. Liz Lev and Master’s Gallery, Legatus, Ave Maria Radio, and the Vatican Patrons of the Arts. Hundreds of families and couples had also planned extraordinary dream vacations through our retail agency, Exceptional Journeys. Whew! All told, the CTS team developed, negotiated, marketed, and enrolled more than 30,000 travelers for our 2020 year as of January 2020! Little did we know that our anticipation of a historic year would be altered by a very different and unexpected historic event…


March ushered in a brewing, monumental storm. Borders were closed, international travel was cancelled, and “no sail” cruise orders were issued. CTS events and tours were cancelling faster than the team could even process them. Only days into the crisis, even many thousands of domestic student travel plans were being cancelled. In the midst of the uncertainty, everyone’s thoughts and concerns were consumed for the health of their loved ones.

Utter chaos, panic and fear unleashed across the globe and the CTS team was immediately thrust into an incomprehensible set of fire-fighting tasks. With less than a third of the team, CTS was forced to unwind years’ worth of work in just a few short weeks. Emergency all-nighters ensued to expatriate groups from Europe and the middle East. A tsunami of calls deluged our team from clients rightfully demanding answers on the ongoing continuing uncertainty. Resolving tours was complicated by a growing and widespread set of issues that ranged from emergency overseas legislation regarding deposits, vendor closures, and millions of dollars of obligations associated with forward Euro contracts. The deposits had been invested in every imaginable itinerary inclusion from restaurants and hotels to nearly bankrupt airlines to closed music venues. Weeks passed with no communication from these vendors other than “we are unable to return your deposit.”

There is no fair way to fully characterize the trauma or the degree of work on our shoulders.  And there is no way to soften the anguish of those who have seen loved ones fall to this menacing virus.  And yet, throughout and despite the hardship and loss, we work still! And we do so in hopeful expectation!


There are too many examples of gratitude and graces to site in a book, let alone a blog. The brightest lights have been our team and our clients. CTS has the greatest, all-in, supportive team that any company has known! Not only did our team patiently bear the brunt of this hit, but they have done so with aplomb and grace every single day for 10 months. They have our deepest love and admiration.

Our amazing clients, who understood the terrible and unprecedented circumstances, have supported us in every imaginable way. There is simply no way to thank those we serve who called, texted, prayed, and ultimately trusted us to do the very best we could under unimaginable circumstances. 

Among the many highlights is a simple but profound early evening text from a friend of CTS during the height of the chaos and peak of panic when outcomes weren’t as certain as today. It read “you have friends you didn’t know that you had.” This friend offered to provide whatever resources he could to help carry the company through that time. A smart and accomplished businessman himself, he intuitively knew what extraordinary trials we must be enduring and wanted us to know that our mission and our impact on the community was too great to let a pandemic threaten it. It was certainly an affirmation and consolation of the impact that our team’s work has made. Thankfully, the sentiment that accompanied the offer IS getting us through. 

The unexpected graces have continued unabated for months on end: From texts of family, clients, and dear friends checking in to gift baskets, cards and generous lunch and dinner invitations; for the love and support we have experienced poured out on those who have lost loved ones; from quiet nights at home with family to extra miles gone by supermarket and carry out staffs to smile wide and sincerely; from Euchre and Scattegories nights to heart to heart conversations with loved ones about those things that matter most; from time with scripture to gratitude for being able to return to Church, it has, indeed, been a year of many and abundant unexpected Graces. 

And it is in the spirit of trust that we have been brought through the fire and into a place in which we can more clearly see the gifts that are all around us as we start anew in 2021.  Our hope does not arise from an undue expectation of a near-term better reality nor an end to very real problems, but because we are equipped with a new sense of security, one entrusted to and given by our Heavenly Father who brought us here and will safely carry us forward. If this past year has been about survival, may 2021 be about us living life as God intended.  We humbly invite you to please join the CTS team in our mission to enhance lives through travel experiences that build culture so that 2021 can be all about renewal and growth with gratitude!

It’s Always About The People

by David DiFranco

Travel involves taking people to different places.  But not merely that.  If getting people from one place to another was the crux of it, we would be talking about transportation, not travel.  Travel is about going to different places for the express purpose of experiencing things.  This is the essence of what we as travel-providers are focused on.  Yes, we want our products to cost less.  We want them to be devoid of delays or interruptions.  But above all, we want them to be exhilarating, memorable and life-changing.  As our mission statement here at Corporate Travel captures well, the collective purpose for which we are engaged is to enhance lives, promote culture, and to open the world to our clients.

So how is that done?

In second grade we are taught what nouns are.  Nouns are words that represent people, places and things.  And in our sector of the travel industry where we focus on experiential travel, all three of those feature prominently in our products.  The people we introduce our clients to, the hidden places that fill all their senses, and the profound, tangible things our guests are able to contemplate first-hand are the building blocks of any experiential travel encounter.  We connect our guests with the exotic, historic, and sacred places of the world in ways that could never be done without our help.  But what makes these places and things worth experiencing?  Why do people invest so much of their financial and emotional resources to visit and interact physically with other objects and foreign locations across our planet?  The answer is because someone, somewhere, at some previous point in time suffered some strife, exerted some inspired influence, or achieved some profound accomplishment to give those locations and those things extraordinary value.

The clients we serve take millions of photos every year to prove they have encountered certain places and things.  They plaster their evidence across Instagram and Facebook as if to proclaim, “Look!  Here is the moment I did something that changed my life!”  Here I am standing next to Michelangelo’s David, strolling atop the Great Wall of China, or marveling among the stones of Machu Picchu!  Here I stood overwhelmed on the hallowed shores of Normandy where men bled for our freedom.  Here I sang with my fellow choristers on the revered stage of Carnegie Hall.  Here I trod the streets of Jerusalem where Jesus Christ himself walked, ate, cured, and died for humanity.  In the end, they are just places and things.  But they are very special places and things.  And they were made special, by people.

What unknown craft or lost technology did the ancients employ to heave the megaliths of Stonehenge into place?  How is Gettysburg more than a mere field in the middle of farm country, save for the epic battle that ensued there over a century ago?  Is the Burj Khalifa captivating just because it’s tall, or is it the fact that its unfathomable height is made possible only by the unbridled imagination and engineering of humankind?  Is St. Peter’s in Rome relevant because of the basilica that is there, or is the basilica there because St. Peter’s was first made relevant by the martyrdom of St. Peter himself on that very spot?  People are behind the significant places on Earth. 

Of course, in some instances, nature provides the marvels.  Majestic mountains, calving glaciers, and tropical beaches offer magnificent experiences without the influence of man.  And the scenic wonders of our gorgeous planet will always supply exhilarating and recuperative options for travelers.  But while nature provides beauty, man provides significance.  And it is significance that draws the greatest number of guests in our organization.  It is significance that makes the USS Arizona Memorial more than just a sunken vessel, the Camino de Santiago worth the rigorous hike, and a night in Mackinac’s Grand Hotel more than just a place to sleep.  Yes, experiential travel occurs when we give people access to interact fully with the places and things that are significant to them.  And the contributions of humankind are what made those places and things significant.  

Which leads me to ourselves.  This year our world, our nation, and specifically here at Corporate Travel, our company has weathered withering trials.  The litany of threats, challenges, and assaults to our company has been continuous, destructive, and overwhelming.  But as people in ages past have used creativity, persistence, and sacrifice to overcome the challenges and achievements of their day, so too have the people in our company tendered relevance to the struggles of this day.  Presently, our team celebrates the arrival of promising vaccines.  We anticipate with great joy the return of our peers who are sacrificing through an unavoidable but temporary furlough.  We also welcome calls from loyal and supportive friends and clients who are now wisely capturing the opportunity to plan new travel experiences in a world that is about to emerge from its own confinement.  As I consider all our team has and continues to endure and how we are prevailing, my mind goes to the amazing people in our midst who have fought, sacrificed, and wept to achieve something amazing in the face of this year’s adversity.  I offer this article to them.  I marvel at the incredible people who have lent relevance to what they have created and defended in this daunting time.  Our organization is merely a thing.  Our office is just a place.  But they are made significant by the people who have worked here.

It’s always about the people.

Our Journey of Listening for God

by Teresa Tomeo

As someone who loves to travel, leads pilgrimages to Italy several times a year, and writes as well as speaks about my travel experiences, I’ve realized I need to do a better job of practicing what I preach. 

I am the first to offer all kids of sage advice about the most beautiful chapels, best restaurants, off the beaten path places that are a must in Rome, Florence, or Assisi.  And when it comes to advising someone concerning what to bring or how to dress, I remind fellow travelers, less is more.  “Oh, you don’t need much more than good comfortable shoes, a versatile jacket,” I will tell them.  

But if I am honest with myself, I must admit I still struggle with that important “less is more” concept every time I prepare to pack for another journey.  Surely just one more pair of black flats just in case, or another sweater, will not slow me down?

Whatever those extra items, especially items that we can easily do without, they can make a difference and not in a good way.  After all, packing for a special trip is a lot like traveling through life.  We pack way too much baggage for our journey with God. We certainly don’t need all the extra weight.  But we just cannot seem to let go of the very issues or things that may be slowing us down when it comes to growing closer to Him. Are we really listening? Are we too consumed with the effort it takes to drag that heavy emotional suitcase behind us, to hear what He might be trying to say?

There was a time in life, even after returning to my Catholic faith and recommitting my life to Christ, I was still having a hard time packing and unpacking so to speak.  There were several, shall we say, larger items that were bulging from my carry on.  The heavy load of pride was the first thing that needed to go.  My plans, if God would only bless them, surely were the best plans.  After all, who knew better than me, myself, and I what would make me the happiest, or so I thought.  Noise was the next obstacle that was really causing me to hit major bumps in the road.  I spent too much time listening to the messages of the world, instead of the messages I was hearing at Mass or reading in Scripture.  It was all about my career according to my agenda.  Fear was also a constant companion. 

As I explain in my new book, “Listening for God: Discovering the Incredible Ways God Speaks to Us” , the good Lord could have been standing right in front of me speaking loudly through a bullhorn and I would have been oblivious to whatever He had to say.  It was my way or the highway, pun intended.  I was fearful that not fulfilling my goals would mean an unfulfilling or boring existence. 

As I mentioned earlier, like many of us, I am a work in progress, still dealing with emotional baggage from time to time.  But I have learned, along with the contributors to my book, that true joy is a continual journey that begins by listening for God. 

So how do we do that exactly?  When a person decides to go on a tour, for example, a good travel agency does their best to prepare the traveler. We could think of God and our faith as our top travel guides.  He provides a beautiful plan that brings us to the ultimate destination, a solid relationship with His son, Jesus.  Our faith, including the sacraments, the Bible, the saints, and of course regular prayer, act as Google Maps, preventing us from getting lost.  They enable us to enjoy life and see the signs along the way.  These are all great tools and tips to pack as we take the steps needed to listen for God. 

In “Listening for God”, several Catholic voyagers share how they are well prepared for their Godly adventures packing double doses of hope and trust. They highlight their own “Godcidences”, as I like to call them, those “aha” moments that catch our attention and cause us to think about what God might be trying to say.  These experiences include everything from a car accident that led to a lifesaving encounter, to a business offer that suddenly landed in the lap of a woman threatened with financial ruin. There is the jaw dropping moment experienced by Corporate Travel Service President John Hale during Mass, where he felt the Lord directly speaking to him through the celebrant with the unique timing of the word “pilgrimage.” So many memorable moments put in writing, letting us know as the great saint and doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila says,  “the feeling remains that God is on this journey too.”

Again, I love to travel and cannot wait to get back on the road and in the air, God willing, very soon.  But my absolute favorite trip is this thing called life.  And the journey of listening for God makes it even more meaningful and exciting.  As they say in my beloved Italia, “Andiamo”.  Let’s go!

Let Music Live!

by Doug Droste


This unsettling time in our world has caused us to change and rethink the way we live, but there have been a few silver linings as a result. I have spent more time with my family (sometimes too much…), getting to know my children better as they grow and learn in this crazy time. I have slowed down my professional schedule (some by choice, some not by choice) that has allowed me to focus on what I really want to accomplish in the “back 9” of my career. And I have had plenty of time (sometimes too much…) to think, read, and learn about myself.

One aspect I always knew, but was even more so confirmed, is that I am incredibly nostalgic and forward-looking. (I have gotten better, but have to constantly remind myself to appreciate the present and remember how blessed I am with a wonderful family and career!)

I love reconnecting with old friends (part of my admitted addiction to Facebook) and reminiscing on past stories, events, music, shows (LOVED Cobra Kai and can’t wait for Season 3). I also enjoy looking ahead to upcoming events, games, concerts, and trips.

And on the flip side, I enjoy looking forward to big occasions which often help me get through busy and tough weeks. One future event in which I am greatly anticipating is the Let Music Live Festival occurring in June 2022. Rescheduled and rebranded due to COVID-19, this premier festival will feature performances in beautiful Dvorak Hall at the Rudolfinum in Prague, and the historical Musikverein in Vienna. Repertoire will include Dvorak: Te Deum (performing Dvorak IN DVORAK HALL…can it get much better? Well…), movements of Brahms: Requiem (in VIENNA!), an American work, Joseph Martin’s The Awakening (its text providing us with our festival title), and another work TBA.

As Director of Orchestras at Ball State University, I am excited to provide my students with this life-changing opportunity. Group travel through music, especially in venues such as these, creates a once in a lifetime opportunity for performances, in addition to the many memories your students will make sharing this experience with their peers. I distinctly remember two international performance trips I took as a student, and they remain some of the fondest memories I have of my school years.

The Let Music Live Festival in 2022 will be just that- an opportunity to let music live, thrive, and be present in our lives as we create our new post pandemic reality. I hope you will consider joining us on this special adventure. I know I will be looking forward!

Is It Safe to Not Travel ?

by Joe DiFranco

Our health is our greatest gift.  We are reminded of this by people in our lives far beyond the exam room of our physician’s office.  Family and friends who know us best and love us most remind us of this basic fact of life.  Undoubtedly, we have all heard, “Well, at least we have our heath” when sharing with a neighbor our common challenges in life.  Phone calls with old friends invariably include, “So how are you?  Everybody healthy?” in the first 60 seconds of the conversation.  We take our one-a-day vitamins religiously.  We exercise, choose meals carefully, and eat responsibly (most of the time!…).  Our health is, in a word, everything.

The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us of this like nothing else in our lifetimes.  In some ways, it has served to accentuate many things we have always known and done, for better or worse.  It has intensified, once could say, how we protect our gift of health.  We have always refrained from hugging Aunt Pat when experiencing the sniffles; now we avoid visiting her altogether.  We always washed our hands when returning from our weekly shopping; now many of us wash the groceries themselves.  We always respected others’ personal space (at least in North America!); now we protect six feet of their personal space.

What we find so enlightening as we continue our voyage through these uncharted waters is our evolving interpretation of a simple term like “health”.  There existed, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, a singular interpretation for many: avoid contracting COVID-19 at all costs!  With an unknown, unstudied, and aggressive threat, this strident reaction, we might argue, was prudent.  Increasingly greater numbers of us now are taking a more comprehensive, and we can argue more, well, “healthy”, approach to protecting our gift of health.  As we learn more about the virus as a society, we also are learning more about ourselves as individuals.  We are learning that mental health – never independent of physical health – deserves equal protection.

 The ill-effects of remaining hunkered down are surfacing in various ways never seen.  One need not be a psychiatrist or sociologist to understand the statistical and anecdotal evidence now emerging.  The health benefits of feeding our social nature as humans is proving irrefutable.  The need to see people, connect with people, and meet new people is real, universal, and very, very healthy.  And here is the great news: we are not faced with an either / or.  It is not one or the other!  Getting out, stretching our legs, seeing new places and meeting new people – in a word, traveling – is not simply something we do despite our health.  We do it in support of our health.

 Travelers are traveling today in ways that are responsible, safe, and very healthy.  Airlines have been serving people for many months with precautions that make flying no less safe than any other part of our daily life.  Hotels and resorts throughout the US, Mexico, and the Caribbean have in place protocols that are undeniably rigorous and effective.  Hawaii has been open for a month with great success.  Even places farther afield like the Maldives, Tahiti, and the Seychelles have been welcoming people safely for many months.  The health benefits are enormous.

We are emerging back into the world in a way that is not only safe, but healthy.  The next time we are asked, “Is it safe to travel?”, our response might be, “Is it safe not to travel?”

An Antidote To The Pandemic’s Effects

by Albert Faraj

My 82-year old father and my 73-year old mother wouldn’t have it any other way. After the slight easing of draconian lock-down measures in Honduras, my parents booked the first flight they could to the USA.  Don’t get me wrong, they love Honduras. But it was time – high time – for them to experience freedom. And, the freedom they seek is not freedom FROM these draconian measures, but freedom FOR living!  Are they concerned about contracting COVID? Certainly. While they are careful and mask up everywhere they go, they simply needed to connect with others. They experience great joy in being with others, with going to Church, with going out to eat.

Like so many people intuitively know, the burnout of the “new [ab]normal” is wearing people down. Certainly, the health effects of the pandemic are real. But so are the effects of the social restrictions in response to the pandemic. As humans, we have a fundamental need to connect with others, to interact with them, to be really present. While technology and social media have attempted to bridge the gap, they are increasingly failing, and in some cases worsening people’s lives. Many of us have experienced first-hand how social media can generate more divisions, anger and misunderstanding between friends, families and acquaintances.

Technology has enabled us to be present to those who are absent.  In our family, we instituted weekly Zoom meetings to help connect with people living throughout North and Central America. However, audio and video are simply not the same as actual presence.  It’s akin to replacing all food and drink with calorically-free alternatives: after a while, you starve! Technology may hit the spot for near-term needs, but it simply cannot replace our fundamental need to be physically present.

What’s the antidote?

First, a disclaimer: I’m not going to recommend policy or politics.  The medical community must continue to pursue improved therapeutics, and pharmaceuticals need to continue to invest in immunity boosters.  Where absolutely necessary, safeguards need to remain in place to help minimize the transmission of this virus.

Fundamentally, I’m a human who wants everyone living enriching lives. Our goal shouldn’t be to live as long as possible: we should seek to live as well – or as humanly – as possible.

Enter travel!

The antidote to the social impact of the pandemic is to find ways for people to truly come together.  It’s the reason my parents, who are certainly in the most vulnerable demographic, decided to travel. You may feel that it is not wise for them to do so. In their place, you may not choose to do the same.

During these difficult restrictions we are enduring, we are called to creatively find ways for people to travel, to connect, to enrich lives. As a travel company, we are responsible for ensuring it is done as safely as possible!  And we are finding WONDERFUL ways for doing so.

One of my colleagues reflected on our newest private group travel concept: the Family Field Trip which “Takes Virtual on the Road!” (read about it here).  The idea enables families to travel in their “pod” to safely experience fun, hassle-free learning opportunities to places like Washington DC and Mackinac Island. The response from our clients indicates how beautifully this resonates with their pent-up desires.

Another colleague shared how we are ensuring successful, safe group tours.  “A Favorable Reaction on the American People” (read about it here) reflects on just how important it is for each of us to seek these opportunities to be together.  The phenomenal response to our Pilgrimage to Wisconsin serves to underscore the best way to battle the social effects of this pandemic is through travel. The following are just a few of the overwhelmingly positive comments we received:

  • I traveled alone. It was amazing! I met so many wonderful people with which I was honored to share this journey. I was positively impacted by this experience. I had no idea what to expect, but God showed up in a BIG way. I am going through some real struggles at the present time (in addition to COVID) and can honestly say I was truly blessed.
  • I don’t have a favorite as the whole trip was peaceful. Loved every person on the trip.
  • You all took such good care of us – which helped us focus on what’s important – growing more holy every day.
  • CTS did a wonderful job keeping us safe, very organized.CTS takes care of their travelers.

As we move forward in these challenging times, our team will continue to seek creative, life enriching ways to bring people together. We hope to be a positive force in building and promoting culture throughout our country.

Take Virtual On the Road!

by John Hale

Among family and friends, I have heard many lament the loss of annual traditions, once-in-a-lifetime celebrations and a bevy of rites of passage.

Having seniors in high school and college, we are feeling a certain heaviness knowing that we won’t be able to enjoy important rituals like football, homecoming, prom, and parent weekends, which are just a few affecting our family, to say nothing of a sweet 16  birthday on our horizon and Thanksgiving, and . . .  so on.

And yet, I have marveled at the ingenuity of so many who have found ways to create new and meaningful personal connections as well as preserve, to some extent, if not improve, these rites for which we so pine. I just learned of a large family who each will cook their own “pod” Thanksgiving dinner then gather, socially distanced in a hall, celebrate mass, and spread out in the room for dessert to watch family movies. Brilliant! Thanksgiving, maybe made better!

It has gotten our team at Corporate Travel to think of the ways in which we might be such a solution to some of that which virtually every American is longing.  Naturally, our thoughts initially pursued the virtual route, which has mercifully connected people, at least visually through the darkest days of lockdown. However, we realized that, fundamentally, we are not a technology company. We are about creating experiences through personal connections. Thinking, praying and meeting as a team for several weeks on Corporate Travel’s 55 year mission to enhance lives and promote culture, the team saw an amazing opportunity to pivot our business to be a solution to at least a few of these problems created by the pandemic.


It was striking to us that our mission, and corresponding mission statement, have actually never been more relevant as a roadmap for solutions. By God’s Grace, we have found a way to serve the needs of the day while opening up the world to those we serve!  And it is an antidote to the virtual solutions, of which people have fatigued.  As pioneers in educational and family travel more than 55 years ago, our creative team has reimagined education, family and faith travel.  And, like our family friends’ new and improved Thanksgiving plans, the Corporate Travel team started to see a way in which we could not only preserve, but also improve, on at least a few of these rites of passage, especially for kids and their families!

Thus was borne the Family Field Trip to provide families with the opportunity to still experience those important school trips like Washington DC.  This destination is particularly important because it is one of the very rites of passage of a middle school education that will otherwise be largely missed by two years of middle schoolers. Missing that trip compromises their overall appreciation and understanding of American history. The Family Field Trip not only provides this otherwise missed experience but does so in a way that includes the whole family, building a bond with parents and siblings through travel.  With hotels booked, guides scheduled and restaurant reservations made, Corporate Travel is making the educational school trip BETTER, EASIER and MORE AFFORDABLE, through the FAMILY FIELD TRIP!

We learned over the summer by organizing a number of very successful family weekends at resorts around the country that parents are traveling unabated and truly looking for a way to combat Zoom fatigue and to discover ways to take the classroom on the road. None of us want to miss these important educational traditions, which include school trips – all of which have or will be cancelled for the better part of two years. And we don’t want our children to miss this experience because it compromises their competitiveness for, among other things, college, and diminishes their understanding of the very history that they will hope to enjoy!

To launch the FAMILY FIELD TRIP, we have produced two, three and four night programs to Washington DC as well as a Catholic Highlights Pilgrimage Washington DC. I am so proud of the amazing programs that our team has created during what will be the best time to visit Washington DC. The trip is BETTER than a traditional school trip as it anticipates little traffic and no crowds! Our families can choose which other families they most want to experience the capital with or go it on their own! The experience is tailored for families and provides the opportunity for a private guide. The trip is EASIER than planning it on your own which takes hours and days of research. We have been organizing Washington DC for more than 55 years.  We know what to see and in what order. Our team does all the planning and work ahead of time. Our clients won’t have to even think about the trip until they start on the road with their fully developed itinerary that will also provide the flexibility to go at their own pace. And finally, it is significantly MORE AFFORDABLE than a traditional school tour. Our team has worked to offer the highest quality experience at less than half the cost!

If you are interested to have Corporate Travel help you capture at least a few of your children’s and your family’s most important experiences this year, join us on a FAMILY FIELD TRIP!



A Favorable Reaction On The American People

by David DiFranco

President Donald Trump, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and my home state’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer are just three of many American leaders who have likened the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic to World War Two.  While such a comparison can be both scrutinized and politicized, I would for my part respond this way:  If the pandemic is like World War Two, then this past weekend’s uber-successful pilgrimage through Michigan, Indiana and upper Wisconsin is the Doolittle Raid.

For those not familiar with the reference, by April of 1942 a full four months had passed since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The American people were desperate for some positive news in their struggle against the threatening might of the Japanese Empire.  The problem at that time, however, was that we had no aircraft with a long enough range to strike the Japanese mainland, and successfully return.  The Japanese menace, it seemed, was unreachable.  Like many today who might mistakenly acquiesce to a narrative of fear and hunkering down, Americans in 1942 risked a crisis of despair. 

Enter James Doolittle.  On April 18, 1942 Captain Doolittle with his volunteer force of 80 American airmen flew a daring raid off of aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean on what was intended to be a one-way ticket.  Knowing they would not have enough fuel to return home, these brave men successfully operated a direct bombing run on Japan, providing the first step in America’s fight against the imposing threat of Japan’s ambition for world conquest.  Running out of fuel after the surprise attack, most of the American aircraft would crash into the sea in the hopes of being picked up by allied submarines.  All but three of the airmen survived the raid.  In tactical terms, the attack had little effect on Japan’s military might.  But psychologically, it changed everything.  The mindset and the morale of the American people were awakened.  The clouds of despair that had veiled the nation were pierced, and from that point forward, Americans knew it was time to get moving, and to win.  As James Doolittle predicted, the mission had “a favorable reaction on the American people”.

Now if you will indulge me but a little, I will extend the already tenuous Covid/WWII analogy and proclaim that on October 9, 2020 another daring mission was embarked upon, that should dispel the gloom for today’s Americans everywhere.  Particularly, for those of us whose livelihoods are founded on the creation of life-changing travel experiences, and for anyone who understands and embraces the irreplaceable and sacred role of travel in both personal human development, and the foundations of human culture.  For after eight full months without a single motorcoach tour departure for our determined and tenured organization, travel has finally returned.  And just as the story played out in the theaters of World War II seven decades ago, here also in 2020, we have had nothing to fear all along, but fear itself. 

To explain, it helps to recognize that our company, Corporate Travel, is but one small piece of an enormous travel industry that does not merely transport people from place to place, but that helps provide society with the experiences, memories, and perspectives that are essential to its development.  Group travel promotes and builds culture.  It is essential for the collective soul of any society.  And as the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has proven, life without travel is a dystopian abyss. 

Our company produces hundreds of group tours for tens of thousands of travelers each year.  Any normal ‘day in the life’ at Corporate Travel Service is a bustling flurry of excitement and activity as multiple concurrent events are produced for bus load upon bus load of eager travelers.  We franticly and passionately serve sorties of tourists who depart with complex and delicate itineraries.  But all of that changed abruptly with the arrival of Covid-19.  Like the Americans reading headlines after the attack on Pearl Harbor, our employees and our clients were left shell-shocked as the world was abruptly locked down.  Years of work and preparation were franticly undone, as every single tour from March 10, 2020 forward was forced to cancel.  The deluge of terrifying headlines accommodated no visible horizon for when group travel might return, and our industry atrophied under the unrelenting confusion and uncertainty of a frightened, paralyzed world. 

That is, until a few days ago, when on a warm sunlit Autumn morning, 30 Catholic pilgrims entrusted our organization and our amazing partner suppliers with their health and safety and departed on a 3-day, 1,100 mile jaunt through Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.  These travelers marveled at peak Fall colors enroute to serene National Shrines like the Shrine of St. Joseph at St. Norbert’s College and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Wisconsin.  They enjoyed delicious group meals before touring iconic American institutions like Cross in the Woods and the University of Notre Dame.  They attended Mass and listened to live presentations from prolific Catholic authors.  Under the prayerful direction of our dear friend and Catholic Radio Host Teresa Tomeo, her husband Deacon Dominick Pastore, and our Spiritual Director Fr. Derik Peterman, this intrepid group of people visited historic, natural and religious sites that will, as all travel does, affect them forever.  They prayed.  They learned.  They traveled. 

They lived. 

Be assured, every precaution was taken.  Sanitation, social distancing, the wearing of masks and the taking of temperatures were a constant feature.  As Doolittle was limited to fly only half the round trip in his day, our group was intentionally limited to half a bus, giving each guest extra space on the motor coach.  But how beautiful it was to see these Americans choose for themselves between the risks of going out, and the risks of staying in.

So is the pandemic over?  No.  Neither was World War Two after Doolittle’s raid.  Borders to foreign countries have not yet opened.  Cruise ships do not yet tread the relaxing waves of the Caribbean Sea.  But they will.  And soon.  Because Americans are resilient.  Americans adapt.  And they will not forfeit freedom.  Not to a foreign empire, nor to a foreign virus.  Take heart American travelers.  For as proven by the thirty people who decided to safely travel where precaution and governments permit; travel is not dead.  The veil of doom and paralysis was broken this week.   A ‘favorable reaction on the American people’ was earned.  And it portends that this war too, will soon be won.

The Return to Travel: The Future is Bright!

by John Hale

Something that had seemed so routine suddenly seemed so exhilarating; a previously known but now unknown, or at least reinvented, experience lay before me. September 30 was my first flight since February 24! I didn’t quite know what to expect with so many new protocols, rules and precautions in place.

My job has required me to travel at least monthly for the last 20 years and it has been at least that many years since I have been off an airplane for 7 months! And, I have to admit, I was somewhat leery of what that new old experience would look like.

It wasn’t always a walk in the park on the easiest of flights without all of the new protocols. I am happy to report that after a short hop from Detroit to Washington DC, it was the easiest, smoothest, and most enjoyable flight experience that I have had since the days following 9/11, when still fewer folks ventured onto airplanes.


From the arrival at the airport, through TSA screening, a visit to the Delta SkyClub to boarding and actually flying, Delta made flying easy, faster and, overall, more enjoyable! More enjoyable? Yes, and I write this for two reasons 1) the volume of travelers is 30% of a few short months ago and 2) I didn’t take the opportunity to be traveling for granted.

I flew with my daughter for dual reasons:  a business trip to scope out Washington DC to launch Corporate Travel’s Family Field Trip program and a college visit for Elizabeth to the Catholic University of America. Since being the littlest of tykes, Elizabeth has been my constant companion through many of the world’s airports and cities. We always manage to make the potential hassle of travel fun, but we found this trip to be particularly so. I think, in part, because we realized just how blessed we were to  be able to travel .

We live in an age with so many privileges that it is easier to take each one for granted (and even complain about said privileges) than to step back and realize that in the 6 million years of human history, it is only the last few years that traveling across the world has been made possible for regular folks like us! Think of it, until our lifetimes, or those of our parents and grandparents, to see what we see in a few short hours required you to be a Pytheas, Magellan, or Lewis & Clark to see beyond our own narrow horizons.

Still, it is our human condition to be given a gift only to complain about it later and so for me, traveling to Washington DC and flying there, was that opportunity to pause and reflect on this great gift of even the possibility to travel the world over!

We arrived in Washington DC to see the streets, once backed up with so much traffic, totally clear with not a single back up. It was as if we were motoring into the nation’s capital on Christmas Day! The city was transformed into an easily navigable city. In just a few short hours, we drove around to each monument and had time to pause and contemplate each one! Upon arrival in the city, we easily found a parking spot and went on a walking tour to visit most of the sites. With our guide in tow, we experienced each monument without crowds. The full impact of each monument and person or event associated with the monument and the sacrifices made could be made more real and experienced more deeply without the distraction of thousands of non-plussed kids and adults mixing about unimpressed with our nation’s history and associated enormous sacrifices.

Without the crowds and myriad distractions and frustrations of trying to move about, in just a few short hours, we experienced more of Washington DC than I have on my 50 previous trips. There Elizabeth and I stood in front of the capital, brilliant white as legislators negotiated on that very day the course of history. No matter our political affiliation, it was amazing to step back and think that I could be living, er being persecuted, under Nero or deprived of my religious liberty under King George, or crushed under the Nazi regime. And  yet, with all of its foibles, risks, and downright errored ways, here we stood with people I actually elected representing me in that vast house of legislators as a part of a government conceived more than 200 years ago.

US Capitol DC

As we did a lap around the mall, even though we were unable to visit some of the museums due to COVID closures, the open museums were so much more enjoyable. In fact, the entire experience was so much more enjoyable. We could breath in the place we  were visiting, think more deeply of it and what it represents.  Talking with one of only a few tourists we encountered, they had the same feelings. They were enjoying  this city and able to experience it on a different level. Not taking for granted the fact that we were here just to check places off the list for later bragging rights or for the requisite selfie, which, of course, we did, but for the more real reason we travel – to understand a place, a people, a nation, which helps us understand ourselves better and our place in the world.  Not to take it for granted but to inspire us to go on. Not to be overwhelmed by the problems in our nation or in our lives but to be inspired by those who came before us to try and make it better.  In short, the lack of crowds allowed us to really experience travel and all the reasons we do or should travel.

From start to finish, my first flight and trip to DC were 5 stars and our guide in DC said it best “THIS is the time to come!”