I’m a registered nurse and Director of Home Care for a hospital-based home health agency. I’ve worked in the health care industry for over 30 years. But after 10 years in a hospital environment, I yearned to see the world.
So, upon turning 40, I signed up for a 13-day bicycle trip across Italy, cycling from the Adriatic to the Mediterranean. I was hooked. Since then, I’ve traveled to Italy annually for the past 15 years, expanding my knowledge of the country and its 20 regions.
Then, several years ago, I took my best friend to Italy and taught her everything I knew. She later traveled there by herself, and then again taking her mother-in-law. My first Italy travel “student” was a success—providing testimonials to others.
It was then that I realized I had the expertise to share my knowledge of Italy along with the necessary skills to travel there. That’s when I considered leading tours, and I conceived the idea for my “First Trip to Italy” tour.
My first tour was an 11-day Italian Sampler. My goal was to visit the major icons of Italy (Rome, Florence, and Venice) while teaching Italian-specific travel skills to first-time Italy travelers. Along with travel instruction and coaching, I emphasized cultural sensitivity. It makes a world of difference in how travelers are perceived and received in Italy.
The trip started in Venice and concluded in Rome, and we spent the middle of our journey in a luxurious 4-star Tuscan Villa high in the Florentine hills. There we enjoyed olive oil tasting…an afternoon cooking with the resort’s renowned chef…relaxing by the pool overlooking the stunning, verdant valley below…horseback riding…shopping excursions…and more.
The tour encompassed the multitude of reasons why travelers choose Italy: art, history, architecture, food, wine, and the pleasures of shopping. I filled the itinerary with unique specialty tours not typically available to the average traveler.
For example, in Florence we visited several artisan workshops. Each artisan demonstrated the ancient techniques of their craft, which included specialty paper products, gold jewelry production, and ceramic painting. While traveling from Venice to Tuscany, we visited a balsamic vinegar producer and experienced an entire lunch based on the vinegar it produced.
How to Market Your Tour
During the 15 years I’ve traveled to Italy, I’ve shared my experiences with friends and acquaintances while providing informal trip planning for many others. Several people mentioned they wanted to travel with me to Italy, and they were the first to join the tour. A few others joined based on recommendations from their friends.
I made enough from that first tour to cover the cost of my trip, and I could have made more.
Although I built in a buffer to cover the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the euro, the value of the dollar dropped significantly from the time I launched the tour until I collected the last payment. The exchange rate went from the lowest it’s been in years to the highest. This being my first formal time leading tours in a challenging economy, I was satisfied that the cost of my travel was covered.
In Leading Tours for Fun and Profit, Cynthia Morris suggests using her program like a mini-coaching session, which I did, and it paid off for me. In fact, all of her tips were extremely valuable in planning my Italian Sampler, but one was particularly key…
Cynthia suggests using a “person in the field” to help with planning, and again when you get to your destination. I found someone that I termed my “Italian intermediary.” Having an inside track from someone who knows the area intimately contributed greatly to the success of my first tour.
For example, although I have 15 years of experience traveling through Italy, it would have been difficult to uncover the acetaia, or balsamic vinegar producer. The owner, whose family business had been in operation since 1850, was delightful. Don’t be afraid to elicit help in the beginning.
If you’re interested in leading your own tours, my top tip is: confirm, reconfirm, and reconfirm again. Especially when a foreign language is involved. Also, always have a backup plan for a rainy day. And finally, don’t over-schedule. Be sure to allow adequate time for relaxation and replenishment.
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