The ultimate disrupter when it comes to luxury travel, adventurer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and tireless traveller – Virtuoso’s Matthew Upchurch sat down with Bold Magazine to share his travel philosophies.
Born into a travel-industry family, Matthew D. Upchurch’s childhood included African safaris, Europe during the holidays and an upbringing on several continents. He began his travel career in 1979 as a mail clerk at his family’s Percival Tours, a company he eventually transformed into Virtuoso, a network of top luxury travel agencies, with more than 17,500 advisors worldwide. An executive with his finger on the pulse of current and coming trends in upscale travel, Upchurch was named to the American Society of Travel Agents Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Cruise Lines International Association Hall of Fame in 2010.
Where in the world have you felt happiest?
I was born in Mexico City and spent my first 12 years there. Something switches the moment I get back. Maybe it’s as basic as the change in language, but my national pride swells and I really love the culture, the people, its transformation to a true international city and the food, most definitely the food.
Name a place that most lived up to the hype.
I’d always heard about New Zealand’s natural beauty and I already knew that Kiwis were fun, enthusiastic and welcoming people. But when my family visited, I was not prepared for how much we would fall in love with it.
Which is your favourite hotel?
I can’t answer this; it’s like picking my favourite child. I love many of them and for different reasons.
The restaurant or dish that’s most delighted me is….
Alinea in Chicago is the single most incredible culinary experience I’ve ever enjoyed. I realize that’s a bold statement, especially considering that I’ve been fortunate enough to dine at some of the world’s best restaurants. But Alinea was not a meal, it was an experience, and one I won’t forget.
If you allow it, travel is transformative, even when your feet stay on the ground.
Confession time: name one thing you’ve taken from a hotel.
I collect the key cards from each hotel. At some point, I will figure out what to do with them. Maybe an art installation.
What’s the one thing you pack for every trip? Besides my sense of humour, which I think is essential when travelling, I pack all my various chargers. And I cannot wait for the day when I no longer have to.
Which is your road most travelled?
My travel schedule tends to be driven by meetings, and locations where we have the highest concentration of travel agency partners and Virtuoso offices. Every year you will find me in London, Sydney, New York, Mexico City and São Paulo.
Who is your favourite travel companion?
My family are my favourite travel companions. Even places I’ve visited before become completely new again when I see them through my children’s eyes. And my wife, who is always so mindful of how our travels impact the earth, makes me a much more conscientious traveller.
What’s the one essential thing for making travel more comfortable? This may sound self-serving given my company, but I wholeheartedly believe that having a trusted travel advisor makes all the difference in how you travel. Their guidance and expertise coupled with their relationships takes travel to a new level.
Being pushed out of your comfort level forces you to learn something new.
What’s your guilty pleasure while travelling?
Raiding the minibar is my favourite. Not for the alcohol, but to satisfy my sweet tooth.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met on your travels?
My immediate inclination was to name people who inspire me who I’ve been fortunate enough to meet during my travels, like Richard Branson. With further introspection, though, it’s the indigenous people who share their stories with me—a tribesman in Botswana, priest in Bali or a farmer in Mexico—who I find the most interesting and who have made the greatest difference in my travels.
What other lifetime adventure is on your bucket list? I am a “Founding Astronaut” with Virgin Galactic, meaning I will be one of the first 84 people to make the suborbital flight when it launches. If you allow it, travel is transformative, even when your feet stay on the ground. Being pushed out of your comfort level forces you to learn something new. Everyone who’s ever travelled to space says it has changed them.
Which travel experience most changed your worldview and why?
My lifelong love of Africa is a product of my experiences there. Most go for the wildlife and natural beauty, both of which are available in abundance, but it’s when you encounter the people there, who are just so joyful, that you are forever changed. Africa awakens the spirit.