At Extraordinary Adventures, we say that we plan "Culturally authentic, locally immersive European travel for the curious, middle-aged explorer - alone or with friends, but always on their terms." But, what does that mean? In this and the next few blog posts, we're going to explore what that means and how that creates an extraordinary adventure for YOU!
Let's begin at the beginning, shall we? What do we mean by "Culturally Authentic?" To understand that, we need to break that phrase down further.
What is "culture?"
Even if the human species is genetically the same, the expression of those genes is influenced by our parents, our schooling, our community, the ambitions we strive after, and even the weather and the landscape we're surrounded by growing up. Clearly, those are not the same everywhere on our planet.
The Italians differ from Germans who differ from the English who all differ from Americans, and so on. We're not raised the same, our schools are not the same, and our communities vary. We may grow up in frigid climates or more temperate ones. We may live by rivers and valleys or bogs and crags. If you scratch the surface of some countries, you'll find a Nordic past. While in others, you'll find a Roman one.
Those influences play a huge role in the things we desire to achieve. Those achievements, combined with the achievements of others, collectively become our culture. Moreover, that which we seek for entertainment varies and together that, too, helps make up our culture. After all, it's only half an adventure to explore the great histories of nations. You must also enjoy the modern ways the people eat, drink, sing, dance, love, and play.
To us, the cultural differences are a big part of what makes traveling to foreign lands so extraordinary. We work very hard to not place you in American-style hotels. We seek out quintessential experiences so you'll come home feeling like you traveled to an extraordinary land. Do you really want to go to Italy and hit up the nearest Starbucks? No knock on Starbucks, but YOU'RE IN ITALY!!! Go to the small cafes that locals go to. Drink the local flavors and strike up a conversation with an Italian. Meet the owner and appreciate that you're given back to the local community. (More on that in the next part.)
If you want the McDonald's/Starbucks/Holiday Inn experience, we may not be the best travel agency for you. We would never presume to tell you what to enjoy or how to travel, but that's not our niche. We focus instead on the Irish pub, the Austrian Biergarten, and the English B&B. If you want to experience authentic culture, that's how you do it.
It's not all just stuffy museums. It's those, but it's also city parks, nightclubs, street food, and climbing the steep hills to explore ancient castles. (You'll get a little exercise in so you'll be able to eat and drink more!) It's about people, not just things and places. European architecture is incredible, but a chat with an old Scot is enchanting! The Louvre has breathtaking art, but yelling "Prost!" at the Oktoberfest in Deutschland will be a cherished memory for life!
A bit of advice: when you go to Europe, don't bring America with you. Open yourself to the new and different. Don't say, "But, that's not how we do it in America." Try it their way! They've been doing it far longer than we have, and they've made it work. More than that, they've made it extraordinary!
I hope the idea of "culturally authentic" is as appealing to you as it is to us. If so, then we're the right travel agency for you, and we'd feel privileged to plan your next extraordinary adventure!
Next week, we'll explore "locally immersive." Stay tuned...
This week's "Travel Tip" is buy a SCOTTeVEST!
Pickpockets are EVERYWHERE in Europe. You must protect yourself. Rick Steves recommends the money belt, but I think that's one of the rare cases when he's wrong. Of course, he's still right in theory, but a SCOTTeVEST is a far superior product, it's more comfortable to wear, and it's more stylish.
SCOTTeVEST is the expert, so instead of me rambling on, just go learn about it here: https://www.scottevest.com/SFNT.html.
(Lest you think I don't practice what I preach, scroll down to see a photo of me in London wearing my very own SCOTTeVEST!)
In almost all of our travel photos, you'll see me wearing my SCOTTeVEST
or Laura wearing her SCOTTeVEST or both of us wearing our SCOTTeVESTs!
This week's "Travel Tip" is buy travel insurance!
If this week taught us anything, it taught us just how important it is to protect yourself.
I considered making this tip about Thomas Cook specifically, but then I reflected on it and concluded it could happen with any business, not just Thomas Cook. In fact, Laura and I flew with Thomas Cook a few years ago. We have also flown with other low-cost carriers. Low-cost does not equal financially risky. However, the stronger the company, the more they tend to charge. So, Delta, American Airlines, etc, will likely be a safer bet, but not always. Again, it could happen to any of them.
Were there warning signs? Yes.
Are there signs from other companies that they're likely strong? Yes.
Can you know with 100% certainty either way? No, you can't.
So, what do you do? Never travel again? That's absurd. Clearly, you're not going to stop traveling because of irrational paranoia, especially when there are many solid suppliers out there.
However, a little "rational paranoia" is a healthy thing. Again, you need to protect yourself and the best way to do that is not to abstain, but to use protection! Protection comes in many forms, including educating yourself, hiring the right help (me!), and buying travel insurance.
Travel insurance is just like any other insurance. Of course, it seems like a waste of money until you need it. It's a risk/benefit thing. But, you don't drive around without car insurance and you don't try to pay those insane hospital bills without medical insurance, do you?
The risk of not being covered in those cases is clear. But, I'm sure you've traveled before and nothing went wrong. So, you're thinking, why do I need it? Well, I'm also sure that you've driven before and nothing went wrong. And, if you're young, you've probably never needed to use your health insurance. And yet, you still have those coverages because you know that the past does not equal the future.
Likewise, just because a situation like Thomas Cook happened, doesn't mean it will happen again. On the other hand, it absolutely could. Do you want to get caught without coverage if it does? I don't. So, add a line-item into each and every travel budget and just accept that it is what it is. It's the world we live in and burying your head in the sand won't help you if you're caught off guard.
One caveat: Insurance providers offer similar, but not the same coverage. I suggest Travel Insured International to my clients, but there are many strong insurers out there, including Allianz, Chubb, AIG, and others. These companies' offerings are all 80-90% the same, but it's that 10-20% difference that could make a 100% difference to you personally.
Note: In every case, your travel agent is not an insurance agent and we are not qualified to offer insurance advice - nor is it legal for us to in many states. Speak with your insurance agent. Know your benefits. Understand what you're covered for and what you're not. Also, ask if any of the suppliers you're using are not covered, especially in cases of bankruptcy.
This week's "Travel Tip" is don't cheat your feet!
When it comes to your feet, DO NOT skimp out! If there's one article of clothing that's vital to the success of your trip, it's your shoes. Just bite the bullet and dig deep into your wallet. But, it's not just about spending money. It's about buying right!
As is often the case, my wisdom came at a price. I was stupid once and learned from my mistakes. Now you are the beneficiary. Like that old saying...
"Good Judgment Depends
Mostly on Experience,
And Experience Usually Comes
From Poor Judgment."
To make my long Washington, D.C. story short, suffice it to say that I paid a lot of money for the wrong type of shoes and my feet were absolutely killing me the entire time!
Fast forward to England and, armed with the experience of my poor judgment, I made a wiser decision. I Googled and learned. Then I went to REI, got help, and bought the right pair of shoes for my feet and for the type of walking I'd be doing. It made a world of difference!
I don't want to offer specific advice because everyone's needs are different, but I will ask you to consider the temperature and precipitation in your destination, as well as the weight of the shoe. Consider also getting a shoe that rises above your ankle. That said, any further advice I'll let you get from the professionals.
Use Travel-Friendly Debit Cards Instead!
This week's "Travel Tip" is don't bring your money to Europe! lol :-D Okay, that's clearly a joke. Obviously, you'll need to have money with you when you travel to Europe. What you don't need to do is carry much paper money or coins in your pockets on the way over.
Don't go to the bank to exchange your Dollars for Euros. Here's why...
There are more reasons, for sure, but that's some of the better ones.
So, what should you do? Find a debit card that is designed for travelers.
Personally, when Laura and I went overseas, we used our Capital One 360 card. That is certainly not the only card which is traveler-friendly. I've heard many great things about the Chase Sapphire credit card. Just be sure to check their fees and limitations because that's a credit card, not a debit card.
This week's "Travel Tip," is to look for restaurants with handwritten menus that only have a few selections and are written in the native language of the country you're visiting. That is if you want to find the most authentic dining places. If not, stay with the touristy places. I'm sure they'll be fine, too. NOT!