Answer this question: how much time to you have?
a) You don’t even have time to be reading this. You need bells and whistles, i’s dotted and t’s crossed, and for it to Just Get Done —–> Platinum itinerary planning
b) You’d like someone else to manage the project and you’re okay with a relaxed itinerary ———> Gold itinerary planning
c) You’re happy to do it yourself, just not sure where to begin / suffering from information overload / traveling next week / need guidance and tailored recommendations AND you have 40 – 80 hours to dedicate to planning your own trip ——–> Coaching
d) You just need an hour or two of time to give advice on an existing itinerary ——–> hourly consulting (contact Madeline at email@example.com)
It depends on when you are going and how flexible the itinerary can be. For trips in high season, the more notice the better. For a low stress planning process, 4-6 months is ideal. For Platinum itinerary planning, we need 3-4 months to plan your trip. For Gold itinerary planning service, we need at least 2 months to plan your trip. For coaching service, as long as you can get on my calendar, you can do it last-minute.
Absolutely. And, you should ask us for the cost breakdown, because the vast majority of the time, we can create the same trip for a lower cost. Online tours are sold at a package price, and when we break down the individual costs – even with our highest end Platinum level planning services – the total trip cost always comes out lower.
Fees are based on groups of 6 people. If your group is larger than 6 people please contact me to ask about fees.
You get access to Madeline and Claudia during your Italy trip, which means we cover you 24/7! Past examples of clients using on-trip support include:
- Someone doesn’t feel well. Where’s the closest pharmacy or hospital? (We’ll also help translate)
- We’re tired. Please cancel tomorrow’s activity.
- We’re running late. Please let our guide / hotel / restaurant know.
- Please cancel/change our dinner reservation
- Someone is yelling at me in Italian. Please tell me what they are saying and yell back at them.
- The cigarette lighter on our rental car is broken so we can’t plug in our GPS. Please arrange for a new rental car and tell us when and where to do the exchange.
- We need to do laundry, what are nearby options?
- We are museumed out and would like to update tomorrow’s itinerary to include an outdoor activity instead.
- The forecast is for rain / heat tomorrow so we won’t be able to go hiking. Please suggest alternative activities.
- There’s a train strike tomorrow. What do we do?
- We heard there’s a great concert on tomorrow night. Please get us tickets while we are out today and have them ready at the hotel front desk for pick-up.
Coaching does not need to be 7 consecutive days, and yes we can take a break or two while you work on bookings. However, I have more coaching requests than I can say yes to, so they are often scheduled out several weeks. The important thing is to get the coaching days on my calendar.
Don’t worry, we’ll work together until it’s perfect.
I have two children and have traveled a lot with them, so yes I have lots of suggestions for traveling with kids in Italy. What influences trip planning more than anything else is how you travel with kids: some people want a kid-oriented vacation, so move from beach to playground to children’s museum. Others want to do the same things they’d normally do, but move at a slower pace and be back at the hotel in the middle of the day for nap time. We’ll customize it based on your needs.
The short answer is: the business model. Here at Italy Beyond the Obvious, we can offer all the services a travel agent can offer, except we don’t book flights. We have a depth of Italy knowledge that few travel agents have. Travel agents receive commissions for booking hotels, cruises, flights, or tours for travelers from their portfolio. From a business perspective, they must spend their time booking things that give them commission, or they won’t be in business for long.
As travel consultants, we charge for time and expertise. We want to be able to spend the time on the areas that will make your trip absolutely amazing. We spend a lot of time on things that do not offer commissions such as:
- Detailed recommendations for the best way of getting from A to B within Italy
- Specific shopping recommendations with maps for the most efficient shopping route in a city
- Recommendations for restaurants, cafes, gelaterias, food festivals, and local markets
- Detailed driving routes with recommendations for parking, sights, and including detailed logistics
- Hiking route recommendations for people who can hike on their own but need to know the difficulty of hike, the distance, starting point, ending point, stops along the way.
No, you’ll still need the guidebook, however Platinum Trip Planning itineraries include historical information that can replace a guide book. The written itinerary is an outline of activities, contact information, and a daily route map, and will be about 1 or 2 pages per day. If you would like guidebook suggestions we are happy to provide them.
Return on your investment is in 2 parts:
Time saved during the planning process: To organize a trip to Italy with the level of organization and detail provided by Italy Beyond the Obvious, plan on spending about 8 hours per travel day if you are going to do it yourself. A 10-day trip would therefore take about 80 hours for an average person to plan (including internet and guidebook research, time spent on the phone to Italy, booking time, and double-checking everything). By contrast, plan on 2-3 hours spent via phone or email with Italy Beyond the Obvious. For a 10-day trip, that’s about 77 hours of time saved. How much is your time worth per hour?
Time used more efficiently on the trip: when a trip is well-organized ahead of time, you won’t waste time getting lost; showing up at the train station and realizing that train doesn’t run on Sundays; fixing errors due to the language barrier during the booking process; or waiting in line for 2 hours for a museum that could have been pre-booked. We estimate that travelers with organized pre-booked itineraries can accomplish 20% more in a day, and don’t forget: you accomplish more in a single day, at a lower stress level, for more enjoyment.
Let’s say your 10-day trip to Italy works out to cost $600/day, including everything. Let’s say you have 12 hours per day of “out and about time”, to enjoy, explore, and relax. Each Italian vacation hour essentially costs $50. A 10-day vacation has 120 vacation hours. Therefore being able to do 20% more because of a well-planned vacation equals 24 hours during the vacation which are spent relaxing and enjoying Italy rather than spent problem-solving and stressed in a foreign country. To put a dollar value on it, those 24 hours x $50 per hour is $1200 worth of time that can be used to enjoy Italy instead of lost due to planning mistakes.
Put your own numbers in to the examples above in 1) and 2) (and take into account that part 2 can be multiplied by number of people traveling together) to calculate how much you will actually save by having Italy Beyond the Obvious plan your Italian vacation!
Sometimes. But more importantly, you can be assured that all recommendations are good value for the money. You get what you pay for, so I don’t necessarily recommend the least expensive option. However, I am used to working within a budget.
Sure. Italy’s main sights are famous for good reason. Sometimes “beyond the obvious” means the way you travel, not what you see. So maybe you want to see the main sights with a 2 year old in tow, or maybe you want to avoid crowds as much as possible.
We should discuss this before we begin.
Your Italy Beyond the Obvious itinerary will be pre-organized, everything will be pre-booked and double checked, but you have to be able to execute it on your own when you get there. You’ll know where to go, when, and how to get there, but you’ll still have to leave your hotel, on your own, in a foreign country with a foreign language and using foreign currency (and possibly in a jet-lagged fog). Local guides can help a lot here, but if you haven’t spent time in foreign countries, it’s very difficult for me to paint the picture of exactly how overwhelming it can be.
This Wall Street Journal article does a great job of outlining four reasons you should use a travel consultant:
When should you reach out to a travel agent?
• If you want someone to call when things go wrong: Nearly 70% of affluent consumers who use travel agents say what’s most important is that an agent protect them or help them when things go wrong with a trip, according to a study by Harrison Group and American Express Publishing. “Travel agents are a kind of insurance,” Taylor say. For many agents, this means being on call at all hours.
• If you’re pressed for time or just want to avoid hassles: About one in three travelers feels overwhelmed by the amount of travel information online, according to the American Express Spending & Savings Tracker, a survey that looks at Americans’ spending and saving habits. If you’re in this group, or simply don’t have time to deal with trip planning, travel agents can do it all for you. Tell them where you want to go and the types of things you like to do, and they can put together a list of options for you and book them, saving you time. Agents are particularly useful to travelers who plan to take complicated trips, or go to multiple destinations or with multiple generations, says Gonchar.
• If you want more of a local experience: Good travel consultants have relationships with locals in your destination, experts say, so they can do things like arrange for you to have dinner with a local family, recommend restaurants and pubs that residents like but tourists don’t tend to know about, or find a tiny B&B for you to stay at where you can get to know the owner.
• If you want a highly customized experience: More and more travelers are asking for one-of-a-kind trips specifically tailored to their likes, says Gonchar. A foodie might want something like a private cooking class in Italy, a meet-and-greet with a chef she’s been reading about and a table in the private wine room of a restaurant. While she might not have the connections to get this done herself, a travel agent with deep local knowledge might be able to make this happen for her, Gonchar says.
Ok here’s where I am going to toot my own horn. I am hard working, detail oriented, and will provide you excellent customer service. But anybody can say that. Here are nine specific reasons you should work with me that separate me from other travel consultants:
- I lived in Italy for five years. The benefits to you are that I know how things work, including the little things, and how to navigate them. I know what can go wrong, and how to fix it. I have the answers to questions about Italy that you didn’t even know you should ask.
- I’ve worked as a tour guide in Italy, leading 25 people on 8 day biking and hiking tours. The benefits to you are that I know how to find great hiking and biking trails in Italy; I can recommend lots of great hotels and out of the way places and unique experiences; I have detailed knowledge of many Italian regions. And probably most importantly, I understand Italy’s “wow” factor and can ensure you have it on your trip.
- I speak fluent Italian (and have taught Italian). The benefits to you are that while I work on your trip, I do my research in Italian, so I can access many more reviews and different perspectives and just lots of information that you cannot access if you only speak English. I also speak French, and that comes in handy when reading reviews, too. It also means that there is no miscommunication when I make reservations or bookings, and that I have relationships with guides and service providers.
- I spent 8 years in corporate America. The benefits to you are that I am a process person, I can manage a project and a budget. Nobody can keep on top of every hotel and restaurant and guide in Italy, but my processes and methods mean I can make the best possible recommendations for your specific trip. I can ensure that each of my travelers have a personalized, high-quality and unique trip. And, for gold and platinum clients, I can manage your budget.
- I’ve traveled to lots of countries. The benefits to you are that I know what it’s like to feel like a foreigner in a foreign land. I have tips about travel insurance, luggage, cell phone usage, and language. My husband is British-Indian; my family lives in Canada; my husband’s family lives in England and Switzerland.
- I understand customer service. The benefits to you are that you get a North American level of customer service from me, and I act as the bridge between cultures, setting expectations on both sides, because the words “customer service” don’t mean quite the same thing in Italy.
- I have two kids. The benefits to those of you with children are that I know how to travel with kids. We’ve taken our kids across Europe, across the United States and Canada, and to India. I understand what it’s like to travel with a 4-month old, a two-year old, a six- year old, and teenagers, and will ensure that your trip is fun for the whole family.
- I’ve worked guiding 90 minute tours to groups in both an art gallery and a fort. The benefits to you are that I know how to choose good guides. I work with guides who are engaging, informative, and provide the context you need, whether that be good for the kids; a focus on Jewish history; or an emphasis on food.
- I will spend time on details like transportation, food, festivals, and overall flow and balance of your itinerary. Travel agents cannot earn commissions on any of these items so most cannot spend time on them. But that’s why I charge consulting fees; these are the details that will make your entire trip flow smoothly.
- I do not mark anything up or create a nebulous “package” with one price. All your trip costs are transparent, because you don’t pay me – I’ll use your credit card to pay the vendors directly so you’ll see line item by line item, what each item costs you. Hence my consulting fees.
Officially, I only do Italy. However I have spent a lot of time in France and Switzerland and the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark). On occasion I will plan other destinations for clients — but only if I have worked with those clients in the past and only at the platinum trip planning level.