For the past 20 years, I have traveled with my dear friends Chris and Kate every 5 years for our milestones (we share the same birth year). Over that span of time, I’ve taken the time away from children, responsibilities, and husband Bill to enjoy quality time with friends for a week to 10 days per trip. We’ve been to Napa, Lake Tahoe, Ireland, Spain, Alaska, and have even done a couple “staycations” together. We are perfect travel companions!
My children are now grown, Bill is still working but headed for retirement, and I’m getting close to 65. While Chris, Kate, and I were on our last official milestone trip when we turned 60 – to Barcelona and the Costa Brava of Spain – we agreed we had to accelerate our schedule if we want to see everything we want to in our lives.
Yes, it’s challenging to balance obligations and responsibilities, but the rewards of traveling with close friends and family are priceless. Let me share a couple client stories with you.
Christine and her husband have been all over the world. But when she was ready to celebrate a milestone birthday at 50, she decided she wanted to share the experience with a group of friends who share her love of Italian food and cooking. This group of six included sophisticated world travelers like Christine and first-time to Europe travelers, but they share a bond of friendship and common interests together. After almost a year of planning, the group headed to Florence, the Tuscan countryside for 3 days of cooking classes, and Rome in November. They enjoyed each other’s company, great food and conversation, and new recipes to showcase at home. They toured the Uffizi in Florence, had a wonderful private tour at the Vatican, and cooked, laughed and drank wine together. When I met with them after their return, what they most valued about this amazing trip was the time they got to hang out together. Because they shared typical small European hotel rooms, they appreciated the intimate public areas of the Hotel Cellai in Florence and especially loved the small Villa Fattoria Valle in Panzano where they were the only guests.
Flo and Vivian are friends but their relationship is really more like that of sisters (it’s equally awesome to travel with sisters as I can attest to!). They love to travel together and have discovered the joys of river cruising. They are inveterate shoppers and their first river cruise experience was an Ama Waterways cruise on the Danube from Budapest to Prague for the Christmas market season. I was so impressed with these two women – they went to each of the markets and each stand at each market. In Salzburg alone, they visited 120 stalls and came away with fabulous and unique treasures for friends and family. They had such a great time they signed up for another Ama Waterways cruise – this one along the Rhine and waterways of Germany and the Netherlands to experience tulip time. They were delighted with the 125th anniversary commemoration of the death of Van Gogh with a spectacular “Van Gogh” tulip display at Keukenhof fields. They exuberantly shared photos, their treasures, and even recipes from Ama Waterways which focuses on the regional cuisine of its destinations.
When you have friends who share that kind of enthusiasm and interests, why not channel it into a trip together? Life is too short not to go. Here’s my short list of tips to make traveling with friends the perfect experience:
- Plan ahead to minimize surprises. The planning process helps crystallize what is important for all the friends traveling together. A travel professional – such as any one of our team members at Bay World Travel – is an objective and collaborative partner in making sure it’s an experience you’ll all find amazing.
- Allow for downtime on your trip to make time for what friends value most – conversation and companionship.
- Consider cruising. Whether a small vessel like AmaWaterways or a large ship, there’s opportunity for friends to do things together or separately. When I went on the Alaska cruise with friends and family, we always gathered for a pre-dinner cocktail and dinner – sometimes sharing stories of what we did together and sometimes what we did on our own.
- Do a trial run. Haven’t traveled with this friend or group of friends before? Try a weekend getaway to see just how compatible you are as travel companions.
- Get extra amenities. If you want to invite friends along on a cruise, tour or resort stay, there are often extra benefits we can negotiate to help sweeten the deal.
Call Bay World Travel today to start planning your next adventure with friends and family!
Florence, Italy, Panzano, Rome
After our amazing Azamara Monaco Grand Prix cruise, Bill and I decided to spend 5 nights in Italy. Northern Italy is just a short drive from Nice, our cruise disembarkation point. We spent 3 nights in Liguria in an agriturismo (farmhouse that offers inn-style accommodations) so that we could visit the Cinque Terre and 2 nights in the Piemonte region to enjoy Italy’s best wines. Accommodations and car rental were the only advance reservations we made (highly recommended!) – the rest we lived in the moment.
I love Italy! The food, wine, people, and scenery can’t be beat. I’ve traveled there several times but this was a first for Bill. In addition to the food, wine, people, and scenery, he also loved driving in Italy. Granted our Fiat diesel was not his fantasy car but it was sturdy and remained largely unscathed during our whirlwind tour.
Sostio a Levante was our chosen agriturismo. The big attraction there is the views over the Cinque Terre and innkeeper and owner Laura’s cooking. Every night featured a fantastic 3-course meal with wines served from their own vineyards. Breakfast in the morning included freshly baked pastries along with local cheeses, meats, eggs, and bread. I spied Laura picking herbs early in the morning which showed up in the evening meal. On the first night, we had gnocchi with fresh pesto (Ligurian specialty) as a first course – it was fantastic!
We spent a day traveling by train to the 5 legendary towns of the Cinque Terre. It was a quick trip out of Framura to the towns. Since some of the trails connecting the towns are still in disrepair after the 2011 floods, we opted to do our walking in Riomaggiore, the last town of the 5. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! The views are spectacular as we enjoyed a lazy late lunch on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean.
We had considered going to Florence, about two hours from our inn, but decided instead to go to Lucca – just a little over an hour. What a great choice – we avoided the hordes of tourists in Florence but still got to see amazing cathedrals, Renaissance art, and saints’ relics. The basilica of San Frediano houses the mummified remains of St. Zita, a 13th century saint who is the patron of domestic servants and I was happy to learn she can also be called upon to help locate lost keys. We strolled on top of the medieval walls which have been transformed into a city park and enjoyed a wonderful lunch in the plaza which rings an ancient Roman amphitheater. Speaking of which, it was searching for the amphitheater which finally led us to break down and buy a map of Lucca. However, we thoroughly enjoyed being lost in Lucca – finding St. Zita and the boyhood home of Giacomo Puccini along the way. Serendipitous discovery is the hallmark of traveling with Bill and one I haven’t tired of after 30 years of traveling together.
On our last morning in Liguria, I broke down and enjoyed one of Laura’s fresh apple muffins. I’m not usually attracted to sweets but these were amazing! Then we were off to La Morra, a hillside medieval town in the middle of the Langhe region of the Piemonte – overlooking the famous Barolo vineyards. Our inn was just outside La Morra and we learned that the presentation of the 2013 Barolo wines was happening on that weekend. The inn was quickly filled to capacity with well-heeled oenophiles from Switzerland. I counted about 12 cases of wine that were moved from the trunk of a fancy Ferrari to one of the guest’s rooms. Another example of why booking ahead is important!
We spent one day enjoying the views from La Morra and another day in Alba, the famous wine and culinary center of this region (famous not just for wines but also for white truffles). This time, we went with maps in hand, provided by our innkeeper. We toured more churches and I finally had the opportunity to climb a bell tower to look out over this beautiful city. We had a memorable lunch at La Bottega del Vicoletta, a humble looking restaurant with a takeout counter in the front but with incredible Alban gourmet cuisine. We talked to the chef to ask her secret on the best broccoli I’ve ever eaten (turned out it was just vinegar but it was cooked perfectly and perched atop a veal carpaccio that legends are made of.) The tajarin tartufo nero – another Piemonte specialty featuring porcini mushrooms and feather-light egg noodles – was incredible with the lovely bottle of local Barbera we split.
Do you like finding your own way through Europe? Bay World Travel’s recommendation is to make sure you have all your big dots connected – flights in and out of Europe, transportation within Europe, and accommodations. Then fill in the little dots if you’re adventurous or let us organize a full itinerary for you. Call us or email when you’re ready to start planning! 650-726-7345 or firstname.lastname@example.org