Adventures with My Clients

by Michelle Maton

As a financial advisor, I rarely get to spend quality time outside of the office with the many clients I have grown close to over the years. That changed when I decided to invite clients to join me in my travels. My first trip to Peru, one of my favorite travel destinations, was a 15-day excursion. It turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.

Peru is famous for its fascinating ecology, geology, and culture. It is one of the most diverse birding destinations in the world, boasting more than 1,800 species. In addition, it is a natural habitat for numerous monkeys, sloths, bats, red squirrels, otters, bears, and other wildlife as well.

I think it is fair to say I am a dedicated birder and adventure traveler with a passionate love of animals. Years ago, when I found I had openings available in my travel group, on a whim I invited clients to reserve a spot on a first-come, first-served basis. Included in the travel package were lodging, meals, guide services, transportation, and transfers. Some of my clients jumped at the opportunity to go.

As the years past, I was able to travel to Peru, Zimbabwe (twice), Zambia, Brazil and Costa Rica. The list continues to grow. Our more adventurous clients and good friends often join us. In many of the places we travel, eco-tourism is bringing sorely needed funding into the country, which is used to address conservation issues and help protect the environment.

I remember on one occasion, I was shopping at a Trader Joe’s store in Chicago when I literally bumped into a client couple. While exchanging pleasantries, they asked when and where I would be traveling next. When I mentioned that Zambia, Africa was my next adventure travel destination, they decided immediately they wanted to go.

My husband Mike and I are both ecologically minded explorers and enjoy taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes of different countries and cultures. I like to try to get single women or couples who might not ordinarily take these types of trips to be more adventurous. Our trips usually include daily hikes, sightseeing, and learning more about the work of local wildlife conservation programs.

One evening, near the end of a trip to Zimbabwe, Mike, my client, and I were having dinner. She remarked that she was thinking of visiting Victoria Falls before our departure. It was her intention to travel alone, but we decided we should go with her.

Victoria Falls is a mile-long curtain of falling water. It qualifies as one of the world greatest natural wonders. It lies between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa.

Our travel groups usually stay in several different locations during our trip. Even when we sleep in tents, our accommodations are always very comfortable and occasionally quite luxurious. On this trip, we all agreed it would be good to spend the night in a nice hotel to end our trip.

We were on our own in an unfamiliar part of town. We had no guide. After enjoying the spectacular view of the falls and the ever-present rainbows they displayed, we retired to a popular bar nearby that overlooked the gorge below the falls.

While enjoying our libations, we overheard a warning to be careful of an adolescent elephant in the area. Sure enough, as we were departing, we suddenly spotted the elephant in question and it spotted us. I have always heard if an elephant begins to slowly charge toward you “don’t run,” but it certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. So let us just say we backed away very briskly.

As the elephant began to trot in our direction, we picked up our pace too. We were looking for the best means of escape or a safe haven when some of the bar staff in a truck swung by in their truck. They picked us up, drove us out of the path of danger, and back into town. Needless to say, we were in need of a strong nightcap after our experience, but thankfully the night ended safely so that is all that matters.

In retrospect, at least, that day remains a pleasant memory and a good adventure story.

Michelle Maton, CFP® is a Partner and Senior Financial Planner in the Chicago office of The Planning Center, a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm.

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