Based in Egham

Meher Oliaji

It's Nice To Meet You

My name is Meher Oliaji, and I’ve learnt one thing from COVID.

Working from home is easy. After more than 30 years running my own travel agency in Egham, I’ve now become used to working online and over the phone, and discovered I really enjoy it.

So, this is a new adventure for me, as a Travel Counsellor; still working for myself but now with the support of a large travel agency group behind me.

With Travel Counsellors I will be able to continue booking with the specialist tour operators I and my clients have learnt to trust over decades. I can also go on doing what I love: building holiday plans and business trips which exactly suit my clients using flights, hotels, excursions, and activities sourced, negotiated and vetted by Travel Counsellors.

My experience includes arranging complex tailormade itineraries and tours to Africa, Asia, Australia and America, but also cruises and stay-still holidays to the Caribbean, Europe, and even Newquay, as well of years of arranging business travel to some fairly obscure places.

I’m thorough, careful and I try to ensure my clients won’t have to worry about anything because I’ve thought about everything beforehand.

I would love to send all my clients to Seychelles, the most beautiful country in the world. But the truth is, since the world’s most perfect beaches were my childhood playground, my own trips have been less relaxing.

I loved the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies, the seemingly endless plains of the Serengeti, the Great Wall of China, the ridiculously ornate interior of St Petersburg’s Hermitage. And I’ve wanted, since I visited 30 years ago, to return to Samarkand, now in a country that didn’t even exist then. Strangely, since my travel agency was named Karnak Travel, I have never been to Egypt.

I’m quite a fan of group tours, which make seeing a lot really easy, but since my own first exhausting tour aged 19, called “8 Countries in 10 days” I’ve known the benefits of building my own trips and I’ve enjoyed recommending, planning, and booking for other people too.

I’m hoping to go on doing that for my past clients and many future ones for a long time to come.

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Contact Me

Whatever your holiday needs I'm here to help you, so simply give me a call or send me an email with your contact details on and I can get things started for you:

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My Blog

I absolutely live and breathe travel and I love to write about my experiences! Please take a look through my posts - you might find your own holiday inspiration.

In Red List Quarantine - part 2, detention centre

17 August 2021

Day ONE of our 11 days. The CTM form allowed us to specify only how many people in the room. Plus about 50 characters to specify special needs. Mum needs walk-in shower and twin beds, so CTM have sent us to the Ramada Hounslow. We are in a box, with 2 single beds, 1 upright chair, 1 armchair. The rest is a basic counter, cupboard, 2 shelves, and small wardrobe. And a TV, on the wall opposite the beds. Because the room is so small, neither chair can face the TV. The armchair is tucked into a corner. The upright chair has an upholstered seat, which has obviously been used as a trampoline by a weightlifter. The counter is work desk, dressing table, and (one at a time) dining table. The lack of a table is lessened by having all our meals delivered to our door in brown paper bags with plastic disposable cutlery. Today's lunch bag has a main course, a tub of salad, a carton of juice and a piece of fruit - photo of fruit to be sent to a gardener friend for identification. A younger relative tells me it is quite normal to eat takeaways from the boxes they are delivered in. Plates, it appears, are old-fashioned. Our attempts to get moved to a larger room have failed. The hotel has no larger rooms. Interconnecting? Sorry, none available. Family rooms? Sorry, all occupied. A different hotel? Well, I must speak to CTM. CTM say I must ring NHS 119, whose menu doesn’t have any relevant options. And now CTM have blocked my number, so my next 4 calls don’t connect at all. But the weightlifter’s chair has been replaced with one used by a small gymnast. I can still feel the wooden frame but there is some bounce in the seat. I have shoved the twin beds together and there is now room for a second armchair, which (hooray) faces the TV. And my sister is packing a bag with plates, cutlery, fairy liquid, extra glasses, (so the toothmugs stay in the bathroom) and snacks. I’m wondering if anyone has a small table-top fridge I can borrow? The hotel (kind, but terrified of putting a foot wrong and so losing their Home Office contract) can store my insulin in their fridge, but I’m pretty sure they will lose it. Day TWO My sister phones. She has left a bag with the front desk, and is parked by a gate to the hotel car park. This, we can see from our window, is also the prison exercise yard, the bin yard and the smoking area. We ask to be escorted down for our daily exercise. A nice young female guard escorts us, past 3 guards on our corridor, 4 at the bottom of the lift, 3 by the door to the car park, each recording our names and room numbers, to the yard. A guard at the gate tells us we cannot speak to my sister, who is standing on the pavement outside. Why? Because you are not allowed to talk. Why, we are 12 feet apart, and there is a closed gate? Because that is our orders. It is not in OUR info pack. Nothing about not talking to someone in the street. But the G4S functionary shouts us down and prevents any conversation, interposing himself between us and my sister, who goes away, very upset that after 18 months she is not able to even speak to her mother through a fence. Apparently the rules say “ no visitors”. My sister is standing on the pavement of a public road, and we are inside the locked gate. Day THREE Mum tests the system. She takes her book, marches out of the room to the lift. The guards remonstrate but don’t touch her. She settles into an armchair in the lobby and reads. 2 guards try to persuade her to move, but she stands (sits) firm. Finally they call for senior help and (so she tells me) after giving him a telling off on the pointlessness of his rules she appreciates the word "fine” and beats an orderly retreat. Back in our room she says she is going on hunger strike. Fortunately the next brown paper bag contains a quite tempting meal and we now have plates and cutlery. We had been given our “menu” at the beginning of the week and asked to make our choices for the duration. Tuesday is an improvement on Monday Breakfast: Bread, carton of juice, long-life yogurt A: Omelette (sic) with peppers, mushroom and onion B: Cereal, peppers, mushrooms and onion Lunch: A: Minted Moroccan lamb, Naan Or B: Tandoori chicken, Naan Or C: Hummus and veg, Naan Salad, Crisps, Lemon cake Dinner A: Salmon fillets, new potatoes & broccoli Or B: Lamb Curry, Basmati Rice & Veg medley Or C: Mushroom risotto with cheese Salad, Flapjack, Fruit Day FOUR I work for about 4 hours, and Mum reads. We eat, wash up our plate, our mug and our glass. We have long conversations with people who feel sorry for us. I ask for escort to the prison yard. The sweet female guard asks if Mum is coming? No. With a grin visible behind her mask, “Is she still on hunger strike?” I think I can get used to the people here. Day FIVE Mum discovers there are no sports channels on our TV. She rings down to ask if that can be added but it cannot. “There is a TV in the lounge” says receptionist absent-mindedly. So start of the football season and Mum is reduced to listening to Arsenal losing to Brentford on the radio. I think the score reconciles her to not being able to watch. Day SIX Phone reception and explain that supplying 6 teabags and 6 of the little pots of milk is a waste of time. They send 2 dozen teabags, milk and sugar which they hope will last till we leave. (postscript, it didn’t). Eat, work, listen to radio, watch the Afghan debacle on TV, sleep. Day SEVEN Eat, work, listen to India beating England. Sleep. 2 hours trying to photograph a plane in a puddle. I haven’t the courage to check my blood sugars. Day EIGHT Second Covid test. I’m mildly nervous, what if we have somehow managed to catch Covid and are not allowed home this week? Eat, work, read, sleep. Day NINE I check my emails at 5am. Results in, both negative. I sleep sound till 8. Day TEN Mum starts packing. We have thrown away vast amounts of edible food because quarantine rules say that nothing but rubbish leaves our room, in the bin bag supplied with each meal. All those yogurts, fruit, bread, cake… I think I ought not to wash all the plastic containers and half-way through our stay I give up. But we still have a bag with about a dozen, plus about 40 sets of plastic cutlery, and 18 cartons of long-life juice. They will come home and hopefully a picnic opportunity will arise. Tomorrow is Day ELEVEN. I hope nothing happens tomorrow to justify me adding to this account.

In Red List Quarantine - part one

17 August 2021

The Red List Quarantine Day minus3. Still no reply from CTM, the Quarantine Management service regarding the twin beds, or the shower. No reply about how/where I join my mother either, (emailed 10 days ago) or who assists wheelchair guests to the shuttle bus, or how a “Quarantinee” aged 90 manages her suitcase. But I've given up on that, and am now on her terrace in swimsuit eating roasted breadfruit and green mango salad, and being admired for flying out for 3 days just to return with Mum to London. Potential problem is the 3 warning text messages reminding me to get my day2 and day8 PCR tests. We should be confined to our room at the exciting-sounding Ramada Hounslow, where our £2400 is supposed to cover the tests. I've emailed requests for clarification about who books those. No reply. Day minus2. Govt has just announced that next week the cost for 2 sharing a room for 11 nights goes up to £ 3700. Day minus1 Still no reply from CTM. Why am I not surprised? We will trust that the package works. The passenger locator forms (PLF) are done, the PCR tests are done... When your travel agent tells you to check your documents, DO IT. We accidentally gave the tester Mum's expired passport and only just managed to get the certificate fixed on time. DAY ZERO The handbag contains my passport, E-ticket printout, exit declaration, PCR certificate, vaccination certificate, passenger locator form, quarantine hotel booking confirmation, Quarantine hotel receipt with crucial receipt number, masks, sanitiser, reading glasses, phone charger and cable; on top of all the stuff a normal person travels with. We have checked in (passport, PCR Cert, PLF) security immigration (passport, boarding pass, exit form) boarding (passport, boarding pass). We have disembarked in Dubai and boarded the plane to London (passport, PLF, PCR Test, boarding card) and are now enroute to London. Everyone has been incredibly helpful, Mum in her wheelchair being treated like royalty. The huge plane is almost empty. But the rules changed 2 days ago. Dubai is now on Amber list and the crew tell me when they turn around the A380 will fly back full. Meanwhile, I've got 3 seats and am having a little lie-down. On arrival Emirates and airport staff helped mum into the wheelchair, and on to a shuttle bus to take us from Terminal 3, (Emirates) to Terminal 4, a 30-minute ride through the interesting working sides of the airport, with two pointless security checks on the way, given that the 4 people on the minibus included two elderly ladies in wheelchairs and 2 companions hardly likely to try to excape. Escorted to a special immigration hall looking like an ill-lit warehouse, where our sweet wheelchair man tried to take us to a free agent. A supervisor who had got out of the wrong side of bed insisted that we stick to the wheelchair queue, which was the only desk with a queue, sorting a large group whose papers were not in order. We were cleared very quickly. My niece, who got the passport number fixed, is irritated to learn that the PCR test was barely glanced at. Then another desk where someone wrote the name of our hotel on a chitty for the shuttle bus driver. Bags, and on to the waiting bus. This is where we come back into the oh-so-efficient remit of CTM. 25 people on a shuttle bus, booked into 6 different hotels, ours incomprehensibly the last, since we were at T4, our hotel was on the A30 and all the other hotels were on the Bath Road. At each the security escort would take the passports to the hotel door, hand them over and we would wait. Finally, the passengers would be allowed off, escorted into the hotel by security, and bus could leave. Next time you are offered a 2-hour transfer time from airport to hotel, be grateful you are going somewhere interesting, and not to a hotel less than 5 miles away. We were checked in by another employee of CTM, which took another half-hour, including 4 forms to be signed, but no information pack. And so to jail…

A Trek in North Vietnam

15 February 2021

Unexpectedly, the trek in Vietnam was one of the best holidays ever. It rained, a little more than I was expecting. March should be one of the best times to visit Vietnam, but during last week's walk on Runnymede's soggy meadow I was immediately reminded of that Vietnam trip. It was my first trek. Officially it was a charity trek raising funds for Action Aid, for projects I have supported for years. It quickly became a proper holiday. I’d been worried about keeping up but the local trek organisers were very experienced and very professional and they paced us perfectly. We started in 2 nights in Hanoi, then a 5 night trek in the beautiful nature reserve of Pu Luong; then (a bonus not normally included in holidays) a visit to a village the charity was supporting. The perfect ending was seeing Halong Bay from the deck of a sailing junk. Hanoi: Hanoi is an Asian city, noisy and colourful. I was initially nervous about seeing the Old Town from a cycle rickshaw sitting low down in front of the driver. We visited an ancient Temple complex, and the famous water-puppet theatre. The National Park: Then to Mai Chau, an hour or two away, the entry point to the beautiful Pu Luong nature reserve. There we were able to visit local craft shops and a market (anyone who wants a photo of a bucket of live frogs, please ask). Being a city girl myself, I was amused that the people of the area had abandoned traditional wooden houses in favour of a style I can only call "rural stand-alone townhouses". Mai Chau was at that time surprisingly fully of young Vietnamese tourists enjoying a weekend break. I accompanied our guide in the evening and he introduced me to their holiday street food, like sticky rice sticks in banana leaves. Our Home-stays: Our own accommodation was to be in “Home-Stays”. The one in Mai Chau was purpose built for tourists, but the next 4 nights were in peoples’ homes. Each had just one large room raised on stilts above an undercroft, with a separate kitchen area. They had minimal furniture: a living room in the daytime, when the bedding and mats were rolled up and put away in cupboards, and a sleeping room at night. When a group of tourists wanted to stay, one of the local families would carry their bedding to a neighbour or relative, and our group just took over their home! Our guide told us that in each village on the walking circuit there would be several homeowners who had signed up to do this and they would take turns to host us. The Trek: Some of the walks were easy, through level rice paddies. Others were strenuous, climbing through stunningly beautiful hillside terraces. From time to time we passed through villages. Our tour company transported everything except our day-packs. Each morning we and our guides would set out, and the rest of the crew (cook, bed-maker, driver) would take the minibus to our next stop and cook us lunch. Then goodbye again as they drove to our overnight stop, and arranged the room/s. By the time we arrived, our bedrolls would be unrolled, mosquito nets strung up, dinner cooked. It looked like local cooking but I’m sure they adapted their traditional cuisine for our tender palates. The seating was not adapted: mats on floors, except on the final night when we had a grand feast with table and chairs. The Wonderful People: We were told that the people would be friendly but shy. The adults were shy, but the children were not at all. They found us incredibly amusing and would pose for photos, the little ones giggling madly. The Project: Action Aid arranged for us to visit a village they were supporting. We were welcomed as VIPs at the school and entertained with singing and dancing. Then to visit some farms with the cleanest pigs I have ever seen, probably washed and groomed just for us. In the evening the whole village gathered in their social hall to demonstrate folk dancing. Having been warned we also performed for them: we showed them - singing in English with a translator - "Old MacDonald had a farm”. (More giggling, this time both adults and children). This was followed by a feast which sadly we were warned to eat sparingly. (A reminder to travellers of non-European background, just because you can handle SOME spices, it doesn’t mean you can ignore instructions.) Halong Bay: Our last day was spent sailing on Halong Bay, one of the most beautiful bays, where thousands of limestone islands (karsts) rise out of the sea. Many local families live on boats and rafts and make a living farming fish. Some junks have cabins and take people further out into the bay for overnight trips, but we had a plane to catch. So after a late lunch on our junk we headed for the airport for the overnight flight home, and I was tired enough to sleep through it. Next time, the rest of the country: The ancient capitals of Hoi An, and Hue (with the beach resort of Danang between them), Saigon in the south, and the Mekong Delta. Meanwhile I’m delighted to find that at least one of Travel Counsellors’ tour operators will arrange something similar for walking holidays in Europe and Britain, booking the night stops and transporting baggage for people who want to walk but not carry. Who’s up for Hadrian’s wall without a backpack?

My customer stories

Sent by Zoe Little

Always a pleasure to have you on board when looking for the perfect holiday, it didn’t work out for us this time , not your fault will always come to you first when thinking of going anywhere top service nothings too much trouble many thanks once again Zoe

Sent by Alicia Wise

Meher has provided the most terrific travel services over the last 15 years, and is simply *amazing*. She's got a wealth of knowledge about places throughout the UK and around the world, and a cracking sense of humour. Top flight service!