Excel Travel’s Ted Friedl Works To “Kick Cancer Overboard”

ted friedl at work

Ted Friedl, hard at work on a typical day.

Ted Friedl is known to many as the local travel agency owner with two beaded braids, a Hawaiian shirt, and the memorable slogan: Make Us Happy–Go Away!

When he’s not setting up a honeymoon aboard a Russian Icebreaker to the North Pole or at a chamber of commerce function (he belongs to seven), he raises money for cancer survivors and their families to embark on one-week Royal Caribbean cruises out of Cape Liberty, all expenses paid.

“The recipient’s most important question [on a cruise] is not how to pay for the next medical bill, but whether to play bingo, get a massage or sing karaoke,” says the upbeat CVO, or Chief Vacation Officer of Excel Travel in Long Branch. He and DonnaLyn Giegrich, a cancer survivor and fellow business owner, started “Kick Cancer Overboard” in 2011, and just achieved 501(3)(c) status, making KCO a nonprofit eligible for matching contributions.

Ted’s career has not always had smooth sailing.

KCO button

Kick Cancer Overboard was founded to help people with cancer.

In 1994 Ted and his wife, Joanna Friedl, Excel Travel’s vice president, thought the future looked somewhat grim when newscaster Connie Chung predicted that this new thing called the internet would be the death of the travel industry, he remembers.

Ted and Joanna watched as airlines slashed commissions, many travel agencies folded or consolidated, and internet travel sites proliferated. The business that they’d started together out of a mutual passion for travel was at risk.

Excel pivoted away from mainly business into leisure travel. That shift was an important aspect of its success, Ted notes. Today they have a team of agents, a surfboard for a coffee table, and a binder full of glowing–and unsolicited–testimonials.

“I don’t know what happened to Connie Chung, but we’re still here,” quips Ted, the recipient of two Spinnaker awards from the Eastern Monmouth Chamber of Commerce, for Volunteer of the Year and for Community Service.

“Ted has endured multiple storm Sandy setbacks, including losing his house; maintained a thriving travel business; and served the community in leadership roles without waivering from KCO’s mission,” says his partner, Donnlyn. “It’s an honor to collaborate on his award-winning creation and we’re grateful to our KCO community of staunch supporters who’ve made it possible.”

Ted notes that all of KCO’s donations and sponsorships go to survivors and their families. He and DonnaLyn don’t use any donations for administrative costs, and their overhead is “very low.” Past fundraisers have been sponsored by Tom’s Ford in Keyport, Fred Astaire Dancers, A Kneaded Vacation, Dean’s Natural Market in Ocean, and Rich and Maria Laganga. In December KCO threw a holiday party with partner Rockit.

The majority of the 91 cruise goers have survived, but sadly, one passed away before going on the cruise and nine after returning home.

Amy with hoop onstage

Goodbie Amy vocalist and cancer survivor onstage hoola-hooping. (Her band’s on Facebook.)


The first recipient, Goodbie Amy vocalist Amy Paradise, had breast cancer twice and is now a big supporter of KCO, having hosted several benefit concerts.

Another cruise goer was an oncology nurse who herself developed cancer, and was nominated by her patients at the hospital where she worked. The recipients are chosen by a ten-person team, and are always locals because Ted says there’s no reason to look outside the state. He recuses himself from the selection committee.

So what’s Ted’s secret for staying relevant in a rapidly changing industry? Raising awareness about the value he provides as an independent agent. He enjoys “debunking myths” people hold about travel and guarantees the best prices for cruises or vacation packages, insisting the conventional wisdom that you’ll save money online for travel is wrong.

“There’s not one study saying that it’s cheaper,” says Ted, who has a standing offer of $100 to anyone who can prove otherwise. The commissions that airlines and hotels pay to agents are simply pocketed when people buy online, and the savings are not passed on to the traveler, he explains.

Also, Ted says, the U.S. State Department in Washington issues warnings about Mexico, yet Washington D.C. is four times more deadly than Mexico City.  The chances of contracting a disease on a cruise are miniscule, he points out, because every year 40 million people go on cruises, yet fewer than 1,000 get sick.

Trends he’s noticed in the last year are the popularity of destination weddings, river cruises and family reunions that take place on vacation.

“We’ve shifted to doing more leisure and group travel, safaris, family reunions, destination weddings, cruises,” he says. “It’s more creative. The more complicated and difficult the itinerary, the more valuable our services become.”

Ted's office in Long Branch

Excel Travel in Long Branch has shifted its focus to the leisure travel market.

Ted says he’s thrilled to go to work in a business that brings joy to people’s lives and KCO is a way to spread that joy.

“They’re going to enjoy it a lot more, because they understand how precious life is,” says Ted of KCO’s cruise recipients.

And, he notes, over the last three years, the old-fashioned brick and mortar travel agencies are actually gaining market share back from the web.

So, make Ted happy and go away.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial