Tours: How to Trade Your Local Knowledge for Profit

Toni DeBella likes to start her morning with a walk around the historic center of Orvieto, a town in Central Italy. She follows it up by popping into her favorite café for a cup of coffee, then strolls back to her home to complete a little work.

“I’m a creature of habit. When you work for yourself, you have to have a structure in your day,” she says. Toni moved to Italy from the San Francisco Bay Area six years ago, and is loving every moment of it.

Toni is a freelance travel and content marketing writer who also runs a consultancy, called Italy or Bust, helping people who want to move to Italy. Recently, she has added another income stream to her ventures, cashing in on her local knowledge and organizational skills, with a six-day sketching tour for visiting artists.

“I don’t paint but I have a friend, Kelly Medford, who is an artist in Rome,” she says. “I am very organized and detailed-oriented, and she is an artist, who is not. So, we collaborate.” Toni describes herself as “an unofficial ambassador” for Orvieto. “I’ve written a guide to the town, I write a blog about it, and know many people here.”

Kelly, Toni’s artist friend, has a strong following on her Facebook page and many subscribers to her newsletter, so getting people to sign up for the workshop in Orvieto was easy. Kelly just sent an email out, posted on Facebook, and it filled up really fast. “Now we even have people on a waiting list,” says Toni. “I guess we had a good idea after all.”

Toni says that the first tour involved a bit of work, but she enjoyed it. “I contacted everyone after they signed up, answered their questions, sent them information about getting here, set the schedule, booked the B&Bs, and helped them to get to Orvieto.” She also organized discounts from an art supply shop for the participants. “I didn’t get any kickbacks from the stores, but I wanted to promote the stores and businesses that I thought were good.”

Each participant pays €950 ($1,080), which includes accommodation with breakfast, a welcome dinner, sketching and painting instructions, and several trips. Toni says it’s a great little side earner. “It was well worth our while. Now that I have templates, the next tours will be easier to organize, I wouldn’t have to do everything from scratch.” At the end of the week-long tour, the artists showed their work at a small gallery, with many local art lovers turning up to see the exhibition.

Toni says that life is affordable and laidback in Orvieto. “Here I don’t have the pressure to earn a million dollars, just to make enough to have a good lifestyle,” she says. “I don’t have to commute, I don’t have a car, everything is reachable by foot. If I need something from a grocery shop, I hop on my bike, buy stuff for lunch, and I’m home again in 12 minutes.”

If she feels like a few hours in a big city, Toni hops on a train, which takes her to Rome in just over an hour, but there are plenty of things to do in Orvieto, too. “It has one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, a theater, a lot of cultural events, and an annual international jazz festival. Life is pretty good here.”

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