I’ve been traveling since I was seventeen and, as much as it pains me to admit, that’s more than a few years ago. My first ‘grown up trip on a plane’ was from NY to Miami, after that it was Puerto Rico (many times) and then international travel. At a time when people thought you couldn’t go to Europe unless you went for 3 weeks, my first trip was a Thanksgiving weekend in Madrid. I’ve never regretted it.
And, although I had been traveling for a while, it wasn’t until 2001 that I took my first ever ‘group package’ tour. My friend Carolyn and I joined a Globus group for a trip to Paris, Provence and Nice. Unfortunately, it was September 2001.
We were midway through the trip in Nimes on September 11th when we heard the devasting news.
It was on that trip that I learned to appreciate the benefits of having a group, a tour escort, and large companies responsible for your well-being. We were forced to continue with the tour due to airport closures but people were working behind-the-scenes to secure hotels and flights home — and we had about 40 people who were also on the tour to commiserate with, a few of whom we remained friends with for a number of years.
Subsequent Group Travel
Shortly after I returned home, I had the opportunity to work with a women’s travel club for two years and during that time I escorted groups to destinations like Italy, Ireland, Cuba, and Mexico — but it is the very first group that I escorted in November 2002 that stands out most in my mind. It’s when I became the ‘behind-the-scenes’ person making things happen in the face of dilemmas.
Baptism by Fire: We were 23 women from all over the U.S. who took that trip to Florence. Unfortunately, we arrived and our luggage did not … for 3 days! I spent a lot of time on the phone, faxing and just trying to assure the group that we needed to keep to our itinerary while things got sorted out. And they did.
But then … we got word that most of Florence was closing down for fear of unruly protests reacting to a scheduled G-8 conference and we had to evacuate to a safer area. Besides, our tours were being cancelled and shops were closing. So off we went to another city for our last 2 nights … grudgingly.
But, by then, I was getting the hang of massive hand-holding and being the go-between with the U.S. office and the women on tour. It was a “baptism by fire” but the group appreciated my efforts and we managed to enjoy our experience — and, most importantly, it did not quell my love of travel and all that it encompasses.
Once again, I got a renewed appreciation for ‘group travel’ — even if, this time, I was the wizard behind the curtain.
The Traveling Sisterhood
After that job ended and I had gotten a good taste of group travel, I decided to form my own private travel group — friends traveling together just for fun and the love of travel. The Traveling Sisterhood took its first trip in 2006 and we’ve been traveling together ever since. We’ve made several visits to Italy and Spain and also to Greece, Brazil, Argentina, Rhine River Cruise, Canada, Portugal — and because we are personal friends, we’ve created a few mini trips in between. And, with each trip, the bonds of friendship have deepened.
Once again, I took on the role of group organizer. I research the tours to present to the group, work with the travel planners to customize the itineraries to our liking, and a myriad number of other things that go along with pretty much being the ‘go to’ person for both suppliers and passengers. And, of course, I document everything with photography and posts on social media and websites,
Fast Forward to 2016.
This year felt different. I felt different. I wasn’t doing my usual group research. Without trying to sound too ‘new age’, I found a need to unbundle. I wanted something different than what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years. No packages, no groups (even friends), no time schedules, no daily tours, no planned meals. I felt a need to slow down. To embrace discovery. To just be. Me.
Coming in September, With the help of my Facebook friend Antonello and Alex of his Southern Visions Travel, I’ll be solo-traveling for a week in Southern Italy from Lecce to Matera with a stop in Alberobello on the way. It’s a more remote part of Italy than I’m accustomed to, one where I may be forced to communicate in Italian and assimilate with some old world traditions, but I’m up for the challenge. I think. While in Matera I’ve arranged a 1/2 day tour to Craco, the ‘ghost town’ from which my paternal grandparents immigrated to America in the late 1800s.
Although it sounds idyllic and very ‘eat-pray-love‘, I expect I’ll encounter some challenges along the way. The biggest challenge I foresee will be slowing down, taking a real breath and getting accustomed to not micro-managing every minute of the day as is my way — here, there, everywhere.