Criterion Travel is based in Palo Alto, California, and is owned and operated by industry veteran Steve Ridgway. Our senior staff members average nearly 16 years of experience in the educational travel niche.
Company president Steve Ridgway grew up in a family of educators in a small Midwestern university town. After a 20-year career as a professional tour operator, where he ended up with responsibility for a staff of 120 providing travel programs for 40,000 travelers annually, a mutual friend introduced him to the owner of a small educational tour operator based in Palo Alto, California. He quickly realized that travel with a strong educational overlay provides experiences that combine the best of both these worlds that he loves, so he has spent the second half of his professional career planning and operating educational travel programs for top U.S. nonprofit organizations.
Some of Andy Ridgway’s earliest memories are of traveling around the U.S. with his family. And when, as a teenager, he got his first taste of overseas travel, he was instantly hooked for good. While he’s sure he could happily spend a lifetime or two exploring the Mediterranean region, some of his favorite destinations remain here on domestic soil. And though he’d been plying his marketing trade in other industries for a while, at some point it became apparent that helping others fulfill their passion for travel, which he does as Criterion’s Marketing Manager, is where his heart truly lies.
After several years of working in high-tech marketing and sales in Silicon Valley, Carla Munt jumped at the chance to join a small tour company specializing in educational travel, and has never looked back. Twenty-eight years later, Carla still relishes the joys and challenges of this dynamic business. With many years as an operations manager under her belt, she has had numerous opportunities to travel the world, and her favorite destinations are Alaska, Turkey, and Italy. Currently, Carla’s primary responsibility at Criterion Travel is preparing pre-departure materials and travel documents for passengers.
Debby Fife’s favorite places are the English countryside and the Galapagos Islands—“no cathedrals, no museums”—and most prized travel treasures are watercolor paintings of local scenes and “suitcases full of antique china.” A native of Massachusetts and New Jersey, Debby still considers herself “East Coast at the core” even after four decades in California, where she spent many years at the Stanford Alumni Association as editor of Stanford magazine before embarking in 1995 on “a wonderful second career in the travel industry.” Retirement in 2010 lasted all of seven months before she happily joined Criterion Travel part time to assist with all things marketing.
As Jason Graham traveled to Cordoba, Argentina, to start his year as a high school exchange student, he sat next to a woman who was returning from the Australian Outback. She advised him, “If you’re not interested, you’re not interesting!” These words started Jason on a path of exploration throughout the Americas and all over the world. He has studied, worked, and lived in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Costa Rica. Over the past 12 years, he has developed, managed, and led scores of trips in the nonprofit educational niche of the travel industry. Most recently he was responsible for a travel series involving several former world leaders.
John Babin, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, has been an ardent world traveler since participating in an educational tour of Europe his senior year of high school. Inspired by this eye-opening experience, John further explored his budding passion for international educational travel by studying abroad in the historic city of Prague, Czech Republic. Before joining the Passenger Services team at Criterion Travel, John was an advisor to international students from over 30 countries at his alma mater, Notre Dame de Namur University. John’s favorite travel destinations include the Czech Republic, New Zealand, and Hong Kong, and he is thrilled to be part of an organization that designs and facilitates exceptional educational travel experiences.
After emerging from UCLA’s Graduate School of Management, Kathie Harvey sprinted up the corporate ladder until she realized that marketing door hardware (albeit top-quality door hardware) did not fulfillment bring. Lonely Planet Guide in hand, she wandered the world for a year, diving with hammerheads, dancing with Australian opal miners, feeding fish entrails to monitor lizards with Tioman Islanders, and trekking over prayer flag–festooned mountain passes. Thus began her fascination with unique destinations and people-to-people experiences, along with a passion for assisting others as they venture forth to explore, which she does as part of the team at Criterion.
Kees van der Zee
Kees van der Zee was born and raised in Holland and was instrumental in creating a successful alumni travel program at the California Alumni Association at Berkeley. Even though he is primarily focused on the financial side of the travel business, having traveled extensively on his own or during his tenure with several different travel companies has given him a great appreciation for the educational travel market. His personal travel preferences align with where he grew up (Europe), including hikes in Switzerland, Austria, and Ireland, as well as exploration of East Germany, the former Czechoslovakia, and Russia when those countries were not as open as we find them today.
Kiirsta Ridgway was a baby when her parents took her on her first educational small-ship cruise, where she was quickly adopted for the week by at least twenty grandmothers who were also on board. Growing up, her passions were dance—she won a national competition at age 14— and travel. And after traveling so much in her early years, it was natural for her to join the industry in a passenger services position. In addition to helping travelers prepare for their upcoming journeys, she is continuing her college studies with a focus on business.
Kristen Harden spent the first half of her life living in Italy, Belgium, and Germany due to her father's career in the military. After graduating from the University of Arizona, she returned to Germany to work at a ski resort in the Alps, and ended up living and traveling around Europe for three years! Kristen is happy to now be living in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area, and to be sharing her passion for diverse cultures and regions with Criterion travelers. Kristen's favorite things include yoga, cookies, and, of course, travel!
After growing up in Southern California, Kylie first moved to the Bay Area to attend San Jose State University, where she earned a degree in Linguistics. Her love of foreign languages and travel went hand in hand, and upon graduating she joined a local travel agency where she spent 3 years learning the ins and outs of the travel industry. After a short time at a travel startup, Kylie quickly realized that she wanted to work with people who took pride in their vacations and traveled with purpose. It was then that she joined the Passenger Services team at Criterion Travel, and she couldn’t be happier!
Linda Busek had a life-changing trip to Europe in 1977 when she set off from Ohio with a Eurail Pass and explored 18 countries in six months on her own. When she returned there was no way she was staying “down on the farm,” so she confidently lit out for parts unknown, eventually settling on the San Francisco Peninsula. Interspersed between corporate jobs and a stint at Stanford University were exciting interludes living abroad in London, Florence, Greece, and Istanbul. Immersing oneself in the different cultures, histories, and languages of people around the world—so important to her personally—is an experience she strives to provide to Criterion travelers.
Maris Shields, born and raised in Hawaii, would be hard pressed to say if it was a reaction to island isolation or her upbringing in an ethnically diverse place that sparked her interest in exploring the world and other cultures. She began her career in the educational travel business as a tour manager; then, while raising three children, she settled into the role of operations manager, designing and implementing educational tours to destinations as diverse as India, Peru, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, and, of course, Hawaii. Gaining an in-depth understanding of the complex, spectacularly beautiful, and culturally rich world we live in is a passion that she loves to share with fellow travelers.
Michelle Maurer was born and raised in Tokyo in a bicultural home and has traveled to 38 countries and counting! She left Tokyo for Emmanuel College in Boston, where she pursued her bachelor’s degree in international relations. Her love for international educational travel began while studying abroad with Semester at Sea, traveling to 10 countries with 700 other students on the MV Explorer. She went on to teach English in Thailand for seven months before moving to San Francisco, which she now calls home. From Michelle’s experience of working in travel and having traveled extensively herself, it’s her passion to share this love of travel with everyone.
Sharman Fox got her first passport at six weeks old, and from age 12 began accompanying her father, a professor of anthropology at Stanford, on study tours to the Maya heartland. In high school and college, she spent summers doing volunteer public health work in Latin America with Amigos de las Americas, becoming fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, and eventually took on the role of project director in Brazil. Sharman developed a passion for bridging cultural differences, organizing complicated logistics, and solving problems on the fly, and can’t imagine a better job than designing and implementing international educational tours—which she feels lucky to have done for the past 18 years.
Susan Phillips handles trip development and operations work from her home office in Edmonds, Washington. A long-time travel industry professional, Susan has overseen the development and operation of many small-ship cruise charters as well as some of the first grand private jet programs in the industry. She handles operations for a number of land tours at Criterion and is responsible for the operation of the company’s regional private air trips. She also teaches classes in hospitality and tourism at the local community college. As a tour manager, she has accompanied groups to China, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Africa, South America, and the South Pacific.
Susannah’s love for educational travel sprouted soon after college. After earning her B.A. at Brown University, she created immersive educational experiences for children in wilderness and at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. She spent 12 years at the tour operator High Country Passage, which allowed her to extend the experiential classroom to the entire planet for family and adult groups. Susannah developed and led educational programs to places including Africa, India, the Great Barrier Reef, Galapagos Islands, northern Europe and the Canadian Arctic. Her roles included Director of Marketing and Associate Director of Operations. She is delighted to be focusing her energy on creating exceptional experiences around the globe.
Originally from Maryland, in 1997 Tiffany migrated west to San Francisco and never looked back. Inspired by the cultural diversity flourishing in the Bay Area, she quickly got the travel bug and then started her career in educational travel in 2001. Tiffany spent ten years at a multi-destination tour operator and four years at a China destination specialist, both with a focus on the educational travel niche, before joining Criterion Travel in 2015. Having worked in nearly every aspect of the business, from passenger services to management and business development, she is delighted to concentrate her efforts at Criterion Travel on trip operations and logistics. Tiffany's passion is crafting highly customized itineraries with special access to local communities, and offering inquisitive travelers authentic, educational and transformative experiences.