Travel Snobs No More – guest post on Destination Go

I recently was a guest blogger on Destination Go, the travel blog for Go Ahead Tours.
A little background: I always vowed  I would never  do a guided tour. But as you will see below,  I thoroughly enjoyed my 9-day guided tour to Italy a few years ago.  Choose  your tour company carefully — the Go Ahead guide was laid back and fun and our fellow travelers were, too. But when I was in Copennhagen this past summer I saw huge tour groups at our hotel who were herded around like school kids — and their daily excursions started with breakfast at 7 a.m. Now what kind of vacation is that?   
Here’s my recent blog for Destination Go: 

My kids have been traveling since they were infants, on treks across the U.S. and across the world. As our family’s passports filled with stamps, I must admit that we became travel snobs. There are a number of rules by which a travel snob lives, the first of which is: Never pack more than a carry-on bag. Rule #2: Skip the escorted trips and travel independently.

Margo McDonough and her daughter Natalie McDonough Fisher enjoy a moment on the sea cliffs of Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

A few years ago, we broke Rule #2 when we traveled to Naples, Sorrento & Rome with Go Ahead Tours. I had envisioned guided travel as a grown-up version of a school field trip—complete with stern chaperone. But our guide was laid-back, witty and proved to be a font of knowledge. This was our best trip abroad ever, and it made us rethink some of our travel snobbery.

On a previous family trip to Paris, I was the de facto tour guide—answering my in-laws’ frequent questions, seeing that they got an extra blanket in their hotel room, mapping out all the sightseeing and meal options. On this planned jaunt to Italy, I wanted to kick back and let someone else do the hand-holding. I had heard good things about Go Ahead Tours so I looked into the 9-day Naples, Sorrento and Rome tour.

The ruins of Pompeii…exploring the Blue Grotto in Capri…a mozzarella-making lesson at a family-run farm…the Colosseum and the Vatican (and maybe a little shopping, too) in Rome. The itinerary sounded fabulous; hopefully, our guide and fellow travelers would be, too.

Our fellow tour participants came from all walks of life but all seemed to share a common goal of wanting to be travelers, not tourists. Many had prepared by perusing a title or two from the Suggested Reading List that Go Ahead distributes for each tour. And all appeared eager to immerse themselves in the culture and traditions of Italy.

Natalie McDonough Fisher makes a new friend at the Colosseum.

Our nine days in Italy went by all too fast but I never felt rushed because someone else was doing the legwork. We traveled with my huband’s parents, and while the in-laws watched a lively performance of tarantella dancing, my first-grader and I made  friends with a local mom and daughter at a Sorrento gelato stand. While they were at a Dinner with the Tenors on our last night Rome, my husband took our three sons out for a late-night (and final) taste of authentic Italian pizza.

I’m happy to report that my family is no longer part of the travel snob clique. However, we still stand by our first rule of travel snobbery: pack only carry-ons. That’s all we brought on our 9 days to Naples, Sorrento and Rome and, all that we’ll bring on our next Go Ahead adventure.

A family trip to Costa Rica this winter? Maybe the U.S. National Parks next summer? Or, perhaps a wildlife safari in Kenya to celebrate our son’s high school graduation?  Deciding which trip to take is the only hard part of a Go Ahead vacation.

Margo McDonough is a mother, a traveler and a writer. You can read more of her thoughts on traveling with a family at her blog.

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Posted in Europe, Family Vacations, Featured Traveler, General Travel, Italy, Naples, Rome, Sorrento, Travel Photography, Travel Questions, Travel Spotlight, Travel Stories | 0 Comments and 3 Reactions


Save $$ on International Travel

International travel isn’t cheap.  Even if you’re going to an inexpensive locale, such as Vietnam, (where three meals a day costs about $15) you still need to pay that pricey airfare to get over there. And many locales are anything but cheap. In London, Paris or Rome, consider yourself lucky to snag morning coffee and pastry for 15 U.S. dollars.

When my 16-year-old son and I talked about visiting his friend in Sweden this summer, we were initially put off by the peak season airfare and high hotel prices. But with a little legwork we came up with an itinerary that, while not exactly dirt cheap, won’t break the bank.  

See if our travel strategies make sense for your next trip abroad:

Fly out of an alternative airport

Philadelphia is my home airport. Although I love the convenience of flying out of a Philly, I also frequently fly out of Baltimore, Washington’s two airports and New York City’s trio of airports.

I’m fortunate to have five alternative airports – all offering international routes — within two hours of my home. Most U.S. residents have at least one or two alternatives to their home town airport. Check ‘em out before you book. And look at fares for every airline at the airport. You may need to dig a bit to make sure your search is exhaustive. For example, Southwest fares aren’t listed in Yahoo Travel or other popular travel sites.

For our trip to Sweden, I found the cheapest fare out of Newark, N.J. This will mean an hour and a half drive to the airport but we have relatives who are willing to ferry us there. If we had to pay for a shuttle service, we’d run the numbers to see if this alternative airport was still the best deal.

Fly to an alternative city   

My son’s friend Arvid lives in southern Sweden, an hour’s train ride from the Copenhagen airport. But rail service is excellent throughout Sweden so we also looked at airfares to Stockholm, which is about 300 miles from Arvid’s town. If Stockholm had been the cheaper airport (it wasn’t) we would have planned an overnight in that city to see the sights and recover from jet lag before taking the train to southern Sweden.

 Is American-style lodging a must?

Many international hotels don’t offer the comforts of the average Motel 6 in the U.S. Abroad, hotel rooms can be small, air-conditioning non-existent, mattresses well-worn and walls paper thin. Of course this isn’t always the case – put me up at The Savoy in London or Hotel George V in Paris any day.  

Decide whether you can go with the flow and lodge in a typical European inn, pensione or bed and breakfast or whether you require a cushier (and more expensive) American- style hotel. Sometimes you won’t have a choice – basic accommodations may be your only option.

We’ll be staying in Copenhagen for three nights before heading to southern Sweden. The hotel options in Denmark’s capital city are endless, including such American chains as Marriott, Radisson and Hilton.

Although we’re not a high-maintenance bunch, we did elect to go with the Marriott –chiefly because it offers rooms that are large enough to hold two beds and a rollaway. One of my son’s friends is joining us on the trip and the three teens want to stay in one room. They most definitely did not want to share bedding.

But I did some digging and found a rate that was hundreds and hundreds less than the rack rate (in Danish krones, that is, but a nice savings in dollars, too). Find out how I did it next week in Save $$ on International Travel – Part II.

–Margo McDonough