For one (all too short) week at the end of October, Ricky and I toured and experienced the awesomeness of the Tuscany region of central Italy with a select group of travel agents and their companions. I believe Tuscany is one of the most beautiful places you could hope to visit. There’s a soft serenity almost everywhere out in the wide countryside of rolling hills and vineyards, cypress-lined driveways, ancient buildings made of honey-colored stones and terra cotta roof tiles, and golden sunsets. They all just whisper “welcome home; relax and stay awhile” into your soul. Ok, I gush…and I admit it. But Tuscany is deserving of the praise, and YOU SHOULD ALL GO to see what I mean!
I have to say that this trip was different than most of our vacations, because this was actually a WORK trip for me. Nice work if you can get it, right? But by no means was it one of the nearly mythical “travel agents travel for free” trips that everyone seems to think we can take all the time. Nope. Ricky and I paid our own way for this training. As a travel agent, it’s accurate that almost any trip I take helps me gain knowledge and inside information that make me a better, smarter, more experienced and educated agent. All those attributes are ultimately reflected in the work I do and advice I give to my clients as we plan their trips. Still, the majority of my trips are just that–MY trips, MY vacation, even though I’m always paying attention to details that help in my business. Sometimes I choose activities or hotels or some other component in MY trip that is specifically business-related, but mostly I take vacations just like you do–to relax and enjoy being away somewhere. But when an opportunity comes along for an educational trip experience that will make me better at what I do, I do my best to try to make that happen, too. Travel is definitely the best education!
This trip was wholly created to be destination training by immersion and participation, hosted by my trusted colleagues at See Italy Travel. It was kind of an invitation to “come see how we do things and take care of your clients”. Scheduled a full year ago, I had a LONG time to look forward to it, and to get it paid for! There were 8 agents on this trip and 7 spouses/companions. I’m especially grateful that See Italy opened this educational trip up to enable companions to participate, because Ricky sees things differently than I do, asks different questions, and has feedback similar to that of my clients. This is good! So not only was it a work trip, but it was an escorted, small group trip. Ricky and I usually travel independently–always with a plan–but still on our own whether we have a car or use the train to get around. We may occasionally join a locally guided tour of a specific sight, but beyond that we do our own thing based on research done prior to departing. By virtue of the fact that this was an educational familiarization trip, the small group set-up made perfect sense, worked very well, and we enjoyed ourselves, although See Italy can facilitate independent OR small group travel. We even had a few evenings on our own for exploring, shopping, and dining locally.
We took whole books full of notes, gazillions of pictures, we did hotel inspections (explored the 3 where we stayed plus visited 2 more), learned new things and went new places. We brainstormed together and with the marketing team from See Italy, we had homework assignments. We met “on the ground” contacts during our local tours/activities, the same ones our clients would be meeting during their own trips to Italy. Did we get to do these 10-12 hour days and all this work in totally, completely, fabulously DREAMY surroundings? Yes we did. Did we enjoy cooking classes and wine tastings and visiting hilltowns and staying in boutique hotels? Oh yes! We laughed, we shared, and we enjoyed one another’s company as we all made new friends and connections. But we did what we came to do: learn!
Ricky and I have been to Tuscany a couple times in the past, for maybe 2-3 days at a time and in limited areas. With many, many hilltowns, abbeys, castles, vineyards, 2-lane roads, and covering a geographical area about the size of New Hampshire (about 1/6 the size of Georgia), there’s a surprising amount of territory to cover. So even though we’d been to Tuscany at other times, there are so many towns and features we’d never even gotten close to and pretty much everything was new, or at least different, to us. All these places were on my “next trip” list. Knowing how unlikely it is that you can really “see” a destination in just one trip, there’s always a “next trip” being formulated in my brain, haha! It was almost as if See Italy knew what was in my head and created this trip just for me!
Which brings me to a point: just because you’ve been somewhere once (or twice) doesn’t mean you’ve taken advantage of the best of what that destination offers. First-time Italy trippers typically ask to cover the highlights of Venice-Florence-Rome because those 3 truly represent the best overview of Italy, and I realize that is enough for some people who want to move on to experience other places across the globe. But Italy is a geographically and historically diverse country and Venice-Florence-Rome are really just drops in the proverbial bucket! There’s a reason that Italy always keeps us coming back, even with 22 years of various European trips under our belts. Or perhaps there are many reasons! Discovery…serenity…scenery…history…people…relaxed travel…oh yeah, and the food! There’s SO MUCH to see and do that we simply never get tired of being in Italy, and each trip is completely different than the last.
I apparently stopped being a tourist a long time ago and transitioned to traveler, without really realizing it! When you’ve done the “best of”, then what comes next? A LOT! Diving deeper…exploring off the beaten path…learning…experiencing rather than merely seeing…insider experiences…connections…surprises! Tuscany can absolutely inspire you to become a traveler, too.
Loretta Lamberth–Take Time To Travel