Traveling Made Simple

Keep Dreams Alive – and Worry Free – with a Guided Vacation
Renata Faeth

It wasn’t so long ago we were hunkered down in airport terminals, peering over each other’s shoulders for a glimpse of a rare painting, gathering to applaud sunsets, and scrunching - elbow to elbow – for the taste of a local delicacy. We were all in that together, too.

Those of us with a passion for travel share an appetite for discovery, a tolerance for the unfamiliar, and perhaps most important-an understanding that things don’t always go as planned. Yet we’re always looking ahead, confident in another path forward, another lens through which to view the world. Passionate travelers are optimists – experts at keeping a dream alive.

With so many altered travel plans in 2020, there has never been a better time than right now to discover the extraordinary value of a qualified Travel Advisor, who is there to help travelers do just that.

Travel with Someone You Trust

It’s a AAA tag line of the past that still resonates – especially now. I asked my AAA Travel colleagues about emerging trends and their recommendations for travel in 2021. Some common themes emerged, and one thing is certain: travelers are determined to fulfill their dreams - but they’re proceeding with caution and a thoughtful approach. For many, the ideal travel experience will include the care of someone in charge, and the opportunity to form connections with others, safely.

“We think it makes sense to recommend travel experiences that offer both, and guided vacations provide that.” says AAA Downtown Minneapolis Branch Manager Catherine Moore. “When borders started to close in March as a result of the Coronavirus, we saw logistical challenges reminiscent of 9/11. No one wants to be left to their own devices in a foreign country during an international crisis. In situations like this, travelers are in far better shape with a Travel Director and the company’s operations team to help them get home.”

And while an international crisis may be a rare occurrence, tour companies are always on alert for unexpected interruptions, like dangerous weather, sudden illnesses and even security issues like lost passports. Long-time AAA Minneapolis Tour Director, JoAnne Boche agrees. “I’ve accompanied travelers to the hospital on a few occasions, and thankfully, every situation ended well. The familiar refrain I’ve heard over the years is that travelers want to know that if something unexpected happens to them, they aren’t alone. They know me and they trust me. This is a real plus.”

Learn from the Locals

International Travel Advisor Chris Anderson, a fearless solo adventurer, now preaches the benefits of guided vacations, especially to destinations that require a lot of point-to-point planning. “I will always feel comfortable striking out on my own,” he says. “It’s in my DNA. But I’ve learned the value of having a local guide for an authentic cultural perspective. I like to see things through the eyes of a local rather than off the page of a guidebook. “

Take dining, for example. Rather than offering only pre-planned meals (beef, chicken or fish?), most guided itineraries feature several imaginative venues that celebrate the joys of a shared experience. Guests might find themselves taking pasta-making lessons in a Tuscan kitchen, going dine-around style in the pubs of Galway, Ireland, or savoring a farm-to-table village feast in Dubrovnik, Croatia. “There is a big difference between selecting one ‘safe’ entree, and sampling delicacies in a marketplace with a guide to tell you what you’re eating,”says Anderson, who joined his group on a foodie tour of the Marrakesh Medina on his Moroccan adventure tour. Roaming narrow, crowded hallways, his entourage experimented with oil-cured black olives, spiced teas, preserved lemons and “Tete de Mounton,”or roasted head of lamb. “Definitely not something I would have ordered off a menu.” he acknowledges, “but I wasn’t going back any time soon, and this was my moment.”

Sit back and relax

Travel shouldn’t be uncomfortably stressful, and for those of us who’ve sat in the co-pilot seat, franticly un-crumpling and refolding a map, or rotating a mobile device to find directions - we know it can be. Tour Directors take care of the details -from dining reservations to museum tickets and hotel keys, while a skilled driver navigates traffic, scenic overlooks, and that universal headache-inducer, parking. Meanwhile, guests recline in a roomy seat watching the world go by. “I defy anyone to say they’d pick the former, given a choice,” says Anderson.

It’s the Tour Director’s job to stay on schedule, but also to keep things light and provide just the right amount of information to draw interest and bring the destination to life. Shared laughter works well too. Says Boche: “I research the small towns and points of interest, and when appropriate, I throw in a humorous short story about the area. It makes the trip more relaxing and fun.”

Trending Now

Small Group Travel

Small group travel has increased in popularity in the past several years, and it’s likely to be in greater demand next year, says Anderson. “I will look to travel partners that specialize in it, because they have the operations already in place, ready to go.” Groups of 16 or fewer individuals traveling together on one itinerary is in especially high demand to destinations best suited for it, like Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, and less populated areas of the USA, like National Parks and Alaska.

“Smaller groups can be nimble,” he says. “Obviously, a smaller vehicle is required, so it’s easier to navigate the traffic in large cities, but Tour Directors also have the luxury of fewer people to please. They have an easier time making itinerary changes or re-calibrating a trip to include attractions or dining reservations that perhaps only a few folks are interested in.”

Private Travel Guides

Private Guides were already gaining in popularity before the Covid-19 virus, and next year is no exception. “It’s worth making a price comparison, because in some destinations, it’s more competitively priced than you might think,” says AAA Minneapolis Regional Manager, Starr Ward.

The benefit? “Personalized service and flexibility,” she says. “And for discerning clients, you just can’t put a price on that. Private guides can adjust a tour on the fly to cater to a client’s’ specific interests or change of heart, but more importantly, they are there to serve - making restaurant recommendations, obtaining express entries into the top visitor attractions, and creating intimate moments that connect the traveler to their home.” One couple on a private tour of Israel dined at the home of their guide’s parents on the shores of the Dead Sea. Another well-traveled couple visiting India were surprised by an unexpected detour to a Holy Festival, completely off the itinerary. “By this time, he knew they were up for an adventure, and that he had their trust.” says Ward. “They told me it was the best travel experience of their lives.”

International Travel Advisor Dawn McDaniel, a UK and Ireland specialist - and serious history buff - reflects on personal experience with private tours and chauffeurs. “Of course, you choose where you want to go, but often the driver will know of an out-of-the-way pub, castle ruin, or even a cemetery, and suddenly you find yourself on a little quest for the unexpected. “ Recalling tales of otherworldly phenomena lying buried in an ancient stone church in Ireland and her overnight stay in a haunted castle-turned- golf resort near Inverness, Scotland, she says “These are centuries-old legends passed from one generation to another, preserved by story tellers to keep them alive, and as a guest, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy.”

Hot Travel Destinations

“At AAA, we predict that continental USA will be especially busy well into 2021, especially for road trips, National Parks, and destinations with less congested, wide open spaces.” says Ward. But exotic destinations are thriving too. “Africa, Alaska, and South America - particularly the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands - are extremely popular requests, as are remote islands with luxury resorts.” These are once-in-a-lifetime adventures that most of our clients prefer to postpone rather than cancel altogether.” she says. “Carry-over from canceled business in 2020 will impact the next two years, so we’re encouraging our clients to check 2021 and beyond now for best availability and flexible options. There is nothing to lose and plenty to gain, including the joy of anticipation, which is part of the fun.”

AAA Travel Advisors know their clients won’t all rush to travel at the same time, but when they are comfortable with the idea, we hope they turn to an expert first, a kindred spirit eager to put dreams back on the calendars.

Those of us who love to travel won’t stop celebrating sunsets and waterfalls, and we won’t stop yearning to discover what’s around the next corner or bend in the river. We’ll always wonder what it’s like to be from somewhere else on this planet we all call home, and we’ll keep packing our bags to find out, even if we must adapt a little to make it possible.