Italy more than ever is perfect for the independent traveler and for most demographics/budgets. With all the information out there, and with sites like tripadvisor, planning a trip to Italy has never seemed easier.
Let me do my best to break it down.
Say you a are a first time visitor to Italy and you are a “foodie.” So you gotta visit Tuscany, right?
Tuscany is renowned for red Chianti wine, Super Tuscan and Brunello wine for the more sophisticated wine traveler, pecorino cheese and cured meats like finocchiona, Tuscan prosciutto and wild boar salami. Truffles from Tuscany are not terribly bad either.
So you start looking for wine tours and food tours and tripadvisor is suddenly your virtual trip planner.
My suggestion for food and wine seekers planning a trip to Italy is to go on food tours, take a cooking class or sign up for a wine tour either in the countryside or by visiting wine bars in Florence. Investing in a travel consultant is not bad either because they can help you build some foodie itineraries and treasure hunts.
For all you DIY travel builders out there- it is worth it to invest in a travel consultant and/or a tour guide. You may find the right place based off what other people liked and reported on tripadvisor, from a guidebook or what local bloggers are saying, but what if your palate and preferences differ from Joe the Yelper? What if you get stuck in a language barrier? Depending on tripadvisor to be your trip planner is like going to a museum and just walking around. Yes, you found the attraction that thousands of others have rated however you may want to consider if you are really going to experience anything other than being able to mark Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus “off your “bucket list.”
Small investments in travel services automatically help increase your absorption during your travel experience. Even for super budget travelers, an audio guide is the first step to understanding what is all around you and with a little more, a personal tour guide is the one who actually can interpret the information in an entertaining way.
Now back to food travel objectives…
I do think that in places like London, Seattle, Bristol, New York, etc, the local food culture has taught people to have a critical eye for quality culture consumption. Personally being from Seattle, I attribute part of my discernment for artisan food and demand for organic/sustainable agriculture to this food obsessed region! But generally speaking, I don’t think you can trust that everyone who contributes reviews has the most sophisticated of palates. Therefore, when you read a review from Joe the Yelper, how can you be sure that he has the same eye for quality as you do? You can glean information from bloggers like myself, but what I do and where I go is going to be based on my personal tastes and where I fit demographically. If you think we have something in common, great. But a travel consultant will be able to give you more unbiased advice based on your personal tastes, budget and travel objectives.
I do think tripadvisor has its place- I totally use it to see if any tour provider has a bad review or to see what people are saying about it in general. But I think travelers should treat tripadvisor as a trip planning supplement, and not as a trip planner. I of course think guidebooks are informative resources too, but I am hesitant to base my entire trip from cherry picked articles and randomly scoured travel tips. I’d much prefer to get advice from a local or someone with extensive experience either living or traveling there.
Going on food tours and tours in general are really fantastic, you get to do something social either with the tour group or do something more exclusive with a local guide on a private tour. Plus, when you meet your guide, they will give you tips and help you get your bearings on a new city.
So now I have thoroughly exhausted my schpeel on travel consultants and tours.
What should you do once you have found the right travel consultant?
-List your preferences and perhaps reference some articles you particularly found of interest in their blog, as every consultant/travel guide should have a blog.
-Your consultant should ask you a lot of questions. Remember- the whole point of you shucking out money for a consult is to get something you can’t get from a guidebook- and that is personalization.
- Content is key. Don’t be fooled by fancy presentations, graphics aka marketing fluff. The proof is in the pudding. If the tour company or travel consultant has compelling content in the services and experiences they provide, that supersedes their ability to master graphic design, adobe software and website plug-ins.
- Make sure they are responsive and willing to provide on the ground support. It is a major MAJOR plus if they speak the local language. Again- you are trying to get services that you would not be able to do on your own. A travel consultant who speaks the language can make bookings for you a lot easier.
In picking tours….
- Your travel consultant should have an extensive black book of tour operators and guides they trust and refer people to. And that is not easily found on the interwebs. Part of all this is that the consultant is bridging you to more exclusive experiences you would not be able to find on your own.
- Do cross-reference your consultant’s recommendations with sites like tripadvisor if possible. You don’t want to end up on a 1 star rated tour.
- Be specific about your objectives for your trip. I.e. If you really like Baroque art or fascinated by Ancient Rome- you should find a tour organized by art historians, docents or journalists. A travel consultant will know the right people. If you’re a sommelier in training and you really want a wine tour organized by wine professionals. Or you are a total newby to wine and want a tasting tour that will not overwhelm you with wine shop talk or nerdy wine terms.
In my tripadvisor opinion,