Universal Studios is the competitive edge to Disney’s theme park empire. While the Universal Studios experience has existed since 1961, the theme park magic that we know today is a more recent concoction. While some attractions existed at their Hollywood Studio in the 1960s and 1970s, the theme park lands really expanded in the 1990s with the opening of Universal Orlando in Florida. Over the last 50+ years Universal has brought its own version of movie magic to kids young and old, offering imaginative and exciting adventures.
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!
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
I see this same scenarios time after time in my job:
My client wants to travel overseas and check off some places on their bucket list. They have one week, three kids, and they want to cram as much culture in their little brains as they possibly can. They want to see ALL of Italy in a week.
My client is taking his dad to Europe, his dad is 80 years old, they want to see ALL of Europe in three weeks.
I research their top places and assemble a schedule that I think is ideal. I find options that match their budget, and activities that all extra time if someone needs a break or a coffee or if a train is late. The savvy travelers agree to my suggestions. The wild ones try to break records, or so it seems, on how many countries they can visit in no time.
While a week, or three weeks seems like a long time, the truth is there will never be seeing ALL of anything in a week, or a month, or a lifetime. It is literally impossible to see everything Rick Steves tells you to, or eat at every Michelin restaurant. It’s just not something that can be done. Besides, the best travel experiences are the unexpected, the moments when nothing was planned, and the stars seem to align. It’s when you actually take time to ENJOY traveling that good things come together.
My favorite meals, or my most loved memories don’t come from the days I planned out hour-by-hour they are finding randomness on this planet we call home. Sometimes it has been a funeral procession or a wedding. Other times it has been making friends with a child or getting lost on a side street. Sometimes it was simply sitting in a train station and people watching while I ate a sandwich. I saw the Queen of England when I just wanted to enjoy being in London in a park. I made friends while hanging out at pubs and hostels. I have always fallen in love with cities I never expected to, or never planned to originally visit.
When one takes time to slow down and breath in their time in a new location, then one REALLY understands the heart and soul of why people travel. It’s a cafe in Paris, or a bakery in Dublin, and taking the time to eat a pastry or drink a cup of coffee. It is a club in Edinburgh or a pub in London that opens up conversation and connection. It’s never when you have museum after museum planned. It’s never when you follow a massive group from sea of people to sea of people. It is always the in between.
As I have seen more and more of the world over ten years I have moved from racing to one place and another, and instead I have craved more of the in between. When I mentally picture a trip back to Paris, I see a mosey instead of a rush. When I mentally picture a visit to China, it’s sitting on the Great Wall and listening to others speak in awe. I imagine crying at finally seeing the Pyramids of Giza and sitting in the sand as I feel the centuries of life in front of and around me. I want the cups of teas and messy foods as much too. I want making friends and photographs of new connections too.
So, dear reader, slow down your plans. See two cities instead of five. See one less museum, and add in a park. Walk everywhere you can so that you can absorb the essence of what is around you. Speak to everyone you can so that you know the people better. Try new foods that would otherwise freak you out. Most importantly, live it all, as much as you can.
A lot of people seek out someone that is a reflection of them in a relationship. Reflections show you…well you…they don’t always help you examine your own back. Instead, I have the spotlight relationship, a person that shines light on where I can improve, and helps me build myself into a better person.
It’s fun to have someone that loves all the same things as you, but it’s equally fun to have someone to teach you new things and visa versa. My husband is someone that would prefer a night in to a night out. A day of video games to a day of hiking. A staycation to a camping trip. If you can guess, I like the opposite.
We have done plenty of trips together such as cruising, Santa Fe Road Tripping, and our Honeymoon to Mexico. However, there are journeys and activities Mr. Stillway will never be as keen on and that means I get to do one of my favorite things, traveling solo.
I love traveling with Ryan, but I also love being on my own in the world. I love the thrill of being independent and free to travel and do as I please. I love the opportunities and strength and wonders that it brings. I will always continue to travel by myself as long as opportunity allows.
I plan on, in 2020 to hike the Inca Trail. I plan on taking work trips with or without my colleagues. I plan on going to places like China and India as Ryan and many friends don’t hold the same interest in them as I do. In the decades to come I plan on checking off places like Antarctica, Kenya, Rwanda, Egypt, Jordan, and many other places.
Traveling solo means time to reflect and learn the deepest parts of myself. It makes me stand taller and hold my head higher. It encourages me that if I can plan a trip halfway around the world, I sure as hell can kick ass at work and school. It helps me encourage my fellow woman and girl to dream of all the possibilities they also have in the world!
Where are you going?