How An Anthropologist Became the Luxury Version of Rick Steves with Fora

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Fora Author Fora

The Modern Travel Agency


    a man in a hat stands next to a yellow frame on a blue wall

    Image courtesy of Jeff Katcherian

    As a cultural anthropologist, Jeff Katcherian has always had a deep fascination with people. He pursued a pre-med track at the University of California, Irvine, more out of obligation than passion. (He also majored in International Relations.) But after taking one anthropology class, he fell in love, ultimately earning his doctorate in the field.

    “That is when I realized that this is how I want to see the world, or view the world or understand the world,” Jeff said.

    He became a professor and taught courses in European studies. He also started working for his dad, a canine orthopedic surgeon who had a pet crematorium business (“which is pretty random,” Jeff laughed). Jeff later started another company in the medical field. 

    Jeff credits his talented team for running the businesses smoothly. As these endeavors sustained themselves, Jeff found that he could pursue more of the things he really enjoyed doing. He started a non-profit called Culture Academy, a virtual global studies program for German and American undergraduates. The project combined his love for anthropology, teaching and travel. 

    A couple years later, in 2022, Jeff found Fora, which, he reasoned, would allow him to zero in on that latter passion: travel.

    “I know everyone says, ‘I want to help people.’ And of course that's great. Doctors help people, lawyers help people. Humanitarian aid workers help people,” Jeff said. “But I really think planning travel and itineraries — it's life-changing. And I know that sounds maybe a little dramatic, but I really think it is life-changing. That's why I joined Fora.”

    Don't do anything but observe

    a man in a blue shirt sits at a wooden table with a small cup of espresso

    Images courtesy of Jeff Katcherian

    Jeff caught the travel bug early on. He was a competitive gymnast growing up and, in the 80s, traveled to Russia for a competition. That was his first time abroad. But Europe — France in particular — was what enchanted him the most. He decided to study abroad, and lived with a French family in the Loire Valley. (They still keep in touch; some members of his host family are coming to visit him later this year.)

    “At the time, I didn't know what the Loire Valley was and how beautiful it was,” Jeff recalled. 

    He studied abroad in Paris as an undergraduate, too, all the while falling further in love with Europe‌. 

    “Even if you're in the countryside, you're always close to a big city of some sort,” he said. “You're physically closer to people. That's part of what I'm always interested in: how we get closer to individuals.”

    Jeff applies this anthropologist lens to his trip planning — both for himself and his clients. He focuses on creating full experiences. 

    “I always want to be the luxury version of Rick Steves, because he's my idol,” Jeff said. “He knows Europe and I think he's fascinating. I wish I could be like him.” 

    Many of his clients want to pack their itinerary with activities and tours. Jeff said he often “gently nudges” them to pull it back a little. (Jeff still believes in the power of a great itinerary, of course. He calls it “gentle planning,” allowing enough time for spontaneity.)

    “Just looking at the people, looking at the stores, looking at the cobblestone streets. It's having a coffee, having another coffee. That is a pure vacation for me. That's relaxing,” he said. “And maybe that's also what I take with my anthropology background: just observe. See what's going on. Don't do anything but observe.”

    Find your people

    a man stands near a golden crown on the banks of an urban river

    Image courtesy of Jeff Katcherian

    Jeff said that one of the reasons he loves being a Fora Advisor is that he’s able to maintain his independence. (He still runs his non-profit and medical businesses.) 

    “You can really take advantage of all the learning opportunities (with Fora’s training program). It's readily available to you, if you want to,” he said. 

    Jeff also delights in Fora’s collaborative community. He frequently taps into the knowledge of fellow advisors, and has found that everyone — even new advisors — comes with their own unique set of insight and expertise. This shared knowledge set only augments the trips he’s able to plan for clients (a bachelorette party is in the works). 

    “It's so nice to be with your people. Everyone loves travel and we all want to talk about travel, and that's all I really want to talk about,” Jeff said. “I love it. It's so great to be in this ‌community.”

    Nothing better in the world

    a man in a blue shirt laughs in a kitchen

    Images courtesy of Jeff Katcherian

    Any good advisor, Jeff said, must know what the client wants, and what they think they want. This intuition comes with working to understand the traveler. It’s about anticipating the clients’ needs, even if they don’t know what those needs are.

    “It's really trying to be the anthropologist and get to know the person or group or family or couple,” Jeff said.

    Sometimes, a client knows exactly what they’re looking for. But more often than not, they want to be guided. This is where Jeff shines. 

    Jeff recently planned a trip to Paris and Provence for a group of women in their 70s. They’ve known each other since kindergarten, but this was their first time traveling abroad together. The group had recently undergone some difficult times, and Jeff wanted to make this trip particularly memorable. 

    “I will jump hoops to make trips as special as possible,” he said. 

    The women ended up having a trip of a lifetime. They still keep in touch, and insisted upon sending Jeff a gift. Ever humble, he blushed as he recounted the story. 

    “There's nothing better in the world,” he said. “Of course, saving someone's life is amazing, but for me, to allow someone to experience a country or a city or a place in ways that they never thought they could experience — it is so gratifying and so satisfying. And it makes me so happy, to say the least.”

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