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Meet BJ & Lauren

Meet BJ & Lauren

Who we are & why it makes a difference

It’s nice to know who your traveling companions are, but even more important to know your trip organizers. After all, they are the ones who carefully craft these voyages, based on firsthand experience, and are largely responsible for the trip’s success and your enjoyment. That’s why we think it’s important for you to understand that RetreaTours is at heart a two-person operation, created with love and skill by husband-and-wife team BJ Graf and Lauren Rathvon.

While we are supported in every destination by a hand-selected team of awesome locals, we are the ones who have put our heart and soul into making these experiences come alive for you. If you’d like to get to know us personally a bit better, read on. If you’re more interested in the origins and the “abouts” of the company, click over here.

What we want to do for YOU:

  1. Answer all questions you may have about the itinerary.
  2. Help you find the best international flight based on your location, preference & reward programs.
  3. Walk you through the visa process, packing list, and even provide extras like a food and language primer.
  4. Handle ALL the details so you can show up and focus on your experience & relax. You won’t need a vacation from this vacation!

We are personally involved in handling EVERY aspect of your journey—what other tour operators can say the same? Here’s just a taste of what we offer:

  • Clever and unique itineraries, highlighting the best of a region
  • Hand-selected hotels, restaurants, and activities: we’ve done everything first to make sure it’s perfect for you!
  • Quick, easy, and personal communication via email (or phone if necessary)
  • Personalized (and free!) advice on the best international flights or trip extensions
  • Specific packing lists and gear recommendations
  • For our tours and RetreaTours, we are onsite with you 24/7 to manage all details, including:
    • ordering at restaurants for those unfamiliar with the local cuisine or just up for a surprise!
    • arranging local transportation, by camel, boat, bus, or plane
    • helping you stay in contact with those at home (if you want 😉 )
    • showing you the best shopping areas & finest local products
    • providing impromptu cultural lessons, camera lesson, culinary lesson & more
    • to hang out with you, showing you the best time possible!

Lauren

“Former life” before RetreaTours: Acupuncture Physician and Doctor of Oriental Medicine & a college instructor of the same (there was also that 13 years with Whole Foods Market)

My RetreaTours specialty: Web design, social media, and all-around “I.T.” guy  //  Itinerary quality control (aka, I’m our own harshest critic)

My REAL RetreaTours specialty: Trying every restaurant in each destination to make sure we bring you to the best. Sometimes I have to try the good ones three or four times.  //  Meeting every street dog in the world and giving them all names.

Favorite local custom: Thanaka in Burma (Myanmar), a natural sunscreen & skin tonic

Travel game changer: Noise-canceling earbuds and packing cubes

Current Camera Gear: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 and oh, how I love it so.  I also love my iPhone Olloclip for wide angles and fish eye shots.

3 things I think the U.S. should have more of:  Tea-coffee blends (a la Malaysia), tea leaf salad (a la Burma), and hand-held spray bidets (seriously, guys).

When ______, Remember to _______. :: getting sprayed in the face by an elephant; close your mouth.

Top of the “bucket list”: Seeing the daffodil farms in Holland.

Why RetreaTours?:  No matter what my focus, from medicine to teaching to travel, my main goal is accessibility. For travel, this not only means making a trip financially accessible, but intellectually and emotionally accessible as well. International travel can be intimidating, especially the first few times, and I strive to make the journey smooth, safe, and superb.

Fast Facts

We moved out of the U.S. in January 2013 to travel and research new itineraries full time (yup—that means no cars, no house, no storage units!)

We finally met at BJ’s import shop in Sarasota, where Lauren had been buying funky necklaces for years.

Many of BJ’s customers at said import shop would ask to join him during his semi-annual buying trips and he said Yes! This planted the seed for RetreaTours. 

We were married on New Years Day (which makes it a bit difficult to remember which year it technically was, although we’re pretty sure it was 2012)

We really, really, really like squirrels.

BJ’s the early bird, Lauren’s the night owl.

You already know we love portmanteaus, so it shouldn’t surprise you that we often playfully use a mash-ups of both our last names, “Grathvon.”

As of mid-2016, BJ has been to India 22 times for a total of 17 months; Lauren is still catching up at 12 times (and a measly 6 months).

We are pretty obsessed with the Italian food in Ubud, Bali, of all places. 

In 1995 BJ got snowed in for 3 nights on a mountain past Everest Base Camp before having to hike out. A rescue helicopter was sent but it couldn’t land because it was too snowy!

Despite growing up in South Florida, Lauren was always terrified of snorkeling, until the Gili Islands off of Lombok made a believer out of her. Now snorkeling with sharks in the Galapagos ain’t no thang.

BJ is a cat person, Lauren a dog person (although she is making progress with him).

BJ

“Former life” before RetreaTours: Master’s in Education, but I mostly worked in the mental health field for a non-profit agency. I then worked in that same non-profit (Volunteers of America of Florida) developing & managing housing for low-income individuals. I am a LEED®AP (specialist in “green” building and design).

My RetreaTours specialty: Itinerary and logistics development, as well as flight arrangements and trip extension planning for guests.

My REAL RetreaTours specialty: International Flight Finding Wizard

Favorite local custom:  The free food that is offered to all at Sikh temples (gurdwara) which you then eat with your hands while sitting on the floor.

Travel game changer: Earplugs! And eyeshades–I carry three pair with me (don’t tell anyone)

Top of the “bucket list”:  Namibia & Botswana safari or Antarctica

Current Camera Gear: Fuji XT1 and Sony Rx100 III

Favorite Place to take photos: Varanasi, India and Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal

Foreign word that gets the most milage: “Jullay” is the “Aloha” of the Ladakh region of India–it goes a LONG way.

Favorite travel movie(s): Ron Fricke’s Baraka and Samsara are stunningly beautiful and inspirational. I saw Baraka in 1996 and waited 16 years for the sequel, Samsara.

Essential travel wardrobe: Merino wool shirts because they breathe well, regulate temperature, don’t itch, and most importantly, they don’t stink!

Million Dollar Question: BJ stands for “Brad Jasun,” but my parents literally never called me that once.