These cousins are travelers, not tourists

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Nance Ackerman, left, and Laguna Beach resident Laurie Nassif, right, painted letters, numbers and animals on an elementary school in a village outside Sa Pa, Vietnam. Courtesy of Cousins Photo Tours

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

Woods Cove resident Laurie Nassif and her cousin, Nance Ackerman, who lives in Nova Scotia, created Cousins Photo Tours with the idea of taking adventurous clients to far-flung world destinations. But they do more than tour. They create a travel environment that fosters connection, understanding, and relationships, immersing guests in the culture as they document these authentic experiences.

Nassif is a seasoned travel photographer, author, fashion shoot producer, and restaurateur. Ackerman is a documentary photographer, filmmaker, and author whose work has appeared in Time, The New York Times, and Canada’s Globe and Mail. She recently returned from filming in Afghanistan and Mexico for a documentary about midwives working on the frontlines of conflict, migration, and poverty.

The duo curate trips that offer photography workshops, culinary experiences, and cooking classes for groups of 10 or fewer travelers. Before departure, guests are encouraged to dive into a recommended reading list of books set in their destination. Vetted guides are hired to ensure safe, enriching experiences. Each stimulating day ends with a delicious meal and a bed in a boutique hotel.

Cousins Photo Tours’ maiden voyage was to Vietnam in 2011. Since then, adventures have included two return trips to Vietnam as well as Morocco, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Ecuador, and West Africa.

The women add depth and meaning to each trip by arranging “giving back” projects. They raise money before each journey to fund a specific project at their destination or arrange to complete a group project on-site.

“Our donation work revolves around the idea that people around the world could use a boost to achieve their goals,” Nassif said. “We encourage building relationships rather than charity.”

In Vietnam, the cousins and their travelers have delivered 1,500 pairs of donated reading glasses to villagers in the remote north, made repairs at elementary schools, and boosted Know One Teach One, a restaurant vocational training program for street and disadvantaged youth. In Ghana, they worked with women of the “witch camps”—refuges for women accused of being witches for a variety of reasons, including mental illness—to make their lives more bearable. A project as simple as replacing the broken gutters on an office building of a Sri Lankan orphanage with new PVC ones prevents stagnant water from gathering and attracting mosquitos that spread disease.

“A planned trip to Morocco has been rescheduled twice due to COVID-19,” noted Nassif. “So we’re excited to finally offer two trips next March, one to Marrakech and the High Atlas followed by another to Fes and the northern Rif Mountains. We’ll hike high above the tree line and drink mint tea with a local Berber family. We’ll ride donkeys to the UNESCO heritage sites surrounding the Muslim holy city of Moulay Idriss and trek in the Rif Mountains.”

An optional Sahara Desert excursion from Fes to Erg Chebbi will take guests with their Bedouin guide for a camel ride over the dunes to a real midnight-at-the-oasis camping experience under the stars. To learn more about these unique tours, visit cousinsphototours.com.

Barbara is a Laguna Beach-based writer, communications, and marketing professional. Find her at mcmurraymarketing.com.

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