Day Trips – to go or not to go?

Caribbean, Cruising, europe, France, Ireland, italy, mexico, Scotland, Throwback Thursday, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

There are times in life where preconceived notions have to be put to the test and nothing has challenged me more than the subject of day trips (in regards to travel anyway). Well before I started venturing into the world on my own I had in my head that the best way to travel was to travel with no rules, no script, and no one telling you where and when to do things. I thought of all the school trips and family vacations I had been dragged around on and knew that there was no way I wanted to travel in a massive bus with less than knowledgeable guides trying to sell people on things. No, I wanted to explore on my own and find the best things without rules. I wanted to wander and forge my own path and take the path less taken and be amazing! All without any knowledge or experience!

In 2010 I obsessively made my own plans and scheduled in times to pee and blow my nose and shove an apple in my mouth. Read more here. Which in reality all went to shit within one week, because of nature, thank you Icelandic Volcano. The truth was that I had no idea how to plan or manage two months, let alone a week, or a day traveling because I didn’t have a clue. My trip went okay, I saw plenty of things, but I also learned where to worry and what to forget, and how to get help when I needed it.

Fast forward to 2013 and a study abroad trip opened my eyes to the value of guides in foreign countries, especially when you don’t speak the language. What I realized is that no matter how many signs or guide books or snippets I read, I was missing valuable information whenever I looked around at the world, the castle, the street, the odd carving in a wall. I missed the stories, myths, and legends that made different corners of the world remarkable. It was then that I realized that, in fact, guides are invaluable and important people when visiting a city for the first time.

Even in a day of endless information and content, guides offer insight, and an intimacy that no amount of paper and signs can ever give to an experience. Having a guide walk you around Florence will allow you to truly experience the details of the experience, versus aimlessly wandering trying to make sense of everything that is around you. Having a guide takes you to the best gelato, or the tastiest lunch in a town, and it lets you better understand the people that are hosting you in their home. Since 2013 I make sure every trip has at least one tour, but I am very selective on how and where I take these tours. Here are some of my fast tips on selecting the best tour for you and your travel companions!

  1. Start with researching and finding as many tour providers as you can that will cover what you need. This includes group and private tours, and companies like Viator, or independent companies that you find.
  2. Review all of the itineraries and inclusions, then figure out what seems like a reasonable price for the tour either for a large, small, or private tour and then decide what is friendliest for your budget.
    1. For private tours you will likely need to email guides, and explain what you want. However, they will be able to fully customize your adventure from the locations seen, the time spent in each place, and the routing taken. This is definitely worth paying extra for, if you can afford it.
  3. Read up on the vehicles being offered. This seems silly, but sometimes something will be listed that won’t actually work with your family of six, and two car seats. Read up, email with questions, and call if you have any concerns.
    1. My husband can attest to the discomfort of small Mexican vans for 5 hours of driving to Chichen Itza, I majorly failed on researching that one. My short self is now much more mindful that 6’4” doesn’t fit in cars as well as 5’2”.
  4. Read as many reviews as you can, either through TripAdvisor, Facebook, viator, etc. this will give you a better idea of what to expect and what to watch out for. Remember, most people will complain before they complement, but it’s important to check all the resources for consistency and safety.
  5. Ask your travel companions about their preferences. Sometimes they won’t care, but brain storming may mean they think of unforeseen issues, or other ideas to make the trip better.
  6. Ask an expert for advice! This is especially important if you are working with a travel agent for your trip. They will likely have direct connections to some of the best guides and experts in an area, and if they don’t they will know who to ask for help.However, experts can be other people like friends that know the region, a hotel concierge, or your credit card concierge and travel departments!
  7. Make a choice – yes you have to pick. It’s far better to pick SOMETHING and not have the best tour, but get to SEE something versus never going at all. I say this because so many people hesitate to take a tour and then they don’t ever get the experience they should have tried for. It’s scary to put trust in another company or guide, but I promise that it’s worthwhile more than staying behind.
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Travel Is More Than Checklists

France, Ireland, italy, musings, Scotland, Travel

In my work, and my passion, there is a lot of talk about “bucket lists”. Bucket Lists, for those unaware, are lists of things and places one wants to go to before they “kick the bucket” aka drop dead.

While it’s great to have lists and goals, dreams and wishes, it’s also important not to lose track of all the other reasons one should travel.

No doubt I have my own goals I want to accomplish, and a bucket list a mile long, yet I know in my heart of hearts I travel for much more than checking off places.

When I was 19 and I took off to Europe by myself, I kept thinking “if I die now I will feel fulfilled”. I felt this when I saw Paris. Then again in London. Again in Edinburgh. Once again in Ireland….and I have felt it so many more times in eight and a half years. Yet I have not run out of places I want to visit, things I want to experiences, beauty I want to absorb. This is because the act of traveling is much more than coming home and saying “I have been here” it’s the stories, the people, and the moments that make traveling whole.

Some of my more vivid memories have nothing to do with making it to a place I always wanted to see. While seeing the Eiffel Tower was spectacular. I remember the same wonder at a funeral procession in the Orkney Islands. Something about those moments connected me deeper to humanity that I was witnessing, and the glory that was our existence. I laughed as much at a comedy show in Dublin as I did a little girl in a park in Blarney who was trying to talk me out of my crackers as I ate a picnic. I have wept seeing the Mona Lisa and the Birth of Venus, surrounded by hundreds of people, because of the connection we all felt through time and to ourselves and those around us in awe. I have also cried sitting alone on mountain tops, flabbergasted at the insignificance of my own size and existence.

My point is that travel is an emotional experience. Travel is a humanitarian experience. I travel to be more in love with the people I share earth with. I travel to be humbled at the beauty of nature. I have traveled to get closer to family and friends. I have traveled to escape family. Traveling means pushing my comfort levels to a breaking point. Traveling means eating food I never would try otherwise (hello escargot). Travel means drinking and eating at totally bizarre places and falling in love with it. Traveling means looking other people in the face and feeling connected to them, even if they are a complete stranger.

Because checking off lists holds you to a form, and the earth is far better explored in its natural chaos.

Travel is to live your life to its highest value.

Travel, in its pure form, is magic.

Happy Travels!