Classic SFDepartments

Liz Spander knows where to go

By Kienan O'Doherty

Liz Spander’s love of international travel began long before her career arranging exotic vacations for San Francisco’s jet set. When she was a young girl, Spander had already accumulated passport stamps from several countries outside of the United States. “My parents loved to travel,” she says. “My sister and I used to travel with them. We’re talking about the ’50s, when people weren’t doing that much traveling, and we were going to Mexico, Canada and Europe.”

Once married, Spander told her husband, Art Spander, that they would keep on traveling — and that they did, taking off in the summer almost every year, with Europe one of their favorite destinations. After children came into the picture and her teaching job hit a standstill, Spander had an experience that motivated her to become a travel agent. “I was helping friends plan a trip and I thought, ‘Oh, maybe that would be a fun thing to do.’”

She started part-time in the ‘70s while also teaching conversational Spanish at the elementary level, and as her business grew, she seized the opportunity to see the world — and tour all the places she’d booked for her clients, some of whom have enlisted Liz Spander Luxury Travel for more than 30 years.

“This year I went to Patagonia, was in Argentina and Chile and we did the islands and saw all the penguins,” she enthuses. “Two years ago we went to Bhutan and Nepal.”

Nowadays, Spander says, the most popular vacations depends on the age group: Italy is a hotspot for travelers 50 and up, and the bold and the young seek adventure in Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Meanwhile, “China I have found is not what it used to be.” Spander notes. “People are going but not the amount that I think would be going.”

In all her years as an agent, trends across the industry have come and gone. Out of vogue: The pre-excitement of flying and rapid transportation. Currently trending: Off-the grid excursions favored by Millennials with seemingly unlimited bank accounts. “Your dot-commers, the people who have really done very well — they want things that are over-the-top, very unusual,” she says. “Money doesn’t matter, so they’ll get charter planes to fly them into remote areas. They want to stay in the best hotels, so it’s challenging to find something they’ll like.”

Spander advises rookies to “pick a country, pick an area and do it. Don’t try to see everything, because then you’ll see nothing and be exhausted. Once you travel for the first time you’ll get hooked. Because when you pick an area and see how amazing it is, then you’ll want to keep traveling:


Spander and her sister Ellen during their hike to Tiger’s Nest, also known as the Taktsang Palphug Monastery, a sacred cliffside site in Bhutan’s Paro valley. 



Spander and her husband Art, an award-winning sports writer, enjoying the good life on a Rhone River cruise.


The travel agent and friends floating in the Dead Sea, a salt lake bordered by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories.

Related Articles

Back to top button