By David Porter
Tuscola was well represented in Italy for 11 days this summer during a group tour of the European country known for its art, food, wine and wiseguys. Retired Tuscola science teacher Marty Marx was on the trip but found 11 of his former students also on the tour as well as Tuscola graduate Larry Bean.
Gigi Henderson of Travel Simple 4 You, who organized the trip, said the school connection wasn’t planned but added a fun element to the tour that was more than a year in the making.
A similar group toured Ireland prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and put Italy on the list of places they’d like to go. Henderson said she likes to spend a year on a trip like this to give people time to save up and learn about the destination.
The pandemic halted overseas vacationing, but it’s booming again, she said. She already has 30 reservations for an Alaskan cruise for June of next year and is planning a river cruise through Holland and Belgium during tulip season in April of next year.
The Italy tour included 25 area residents that shared a bus with 19 other people. “It was like a dream,” she said of standing in front of the Vatican, seeing the Sistine Chapel and visiting the architectural ruins of Pompeii. She said “there are no words to describe” the beauty of the Amalfi Coast.
The weather was beautiful but humid, she said. “The food was outstanding,” she added but wondered whether Italy has any gelato left after her husband David did his best to consume as much of it as he could.
Henderson said there are a lot of advantages to traveling abroad in a group. The itinerary is planned yet there are optional tours so travelers have time to do their own thing. The groups include a tour guide, which helps with the language barrier and navigation. Plus, it’s just fun, she said. The trip started out with subsets within the group, but by the end of the tour, newfound friends mingled together.
The process is much more than the time set aside for the tour. Henderson said she surveys her clients to find a common destination and then selects a date and site. She then starts a Facebook page for the trip so those going can get to know each other and ask questions. She keeps the page up after the trip so those who went can share photos and memories.
She also researches for the best tour providers to match the interests of the group and holds meetings prior to the trip so everyone knows what to expect. There are always questions: What do I need for identification? What clothes should I bring? Will my cell phone work? Will my phone charger work? How much money should I bring? What if I don’t like the food? How much walking is there? Can I skip part of the tour to go out on my own? Henderson said she wants to get all those questions answered well before the group embarks.
She also has a representative of the tour company visit to give a presentation about each trip. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into international travel, she said.
There’s something for everyone, and there are always opportunities for free time and individualized experiences, she said. But one common result is that you’ll return a different person from when you started, she said. A tour like this is not your typical vacation, she said. It’s not a week of lying on the beach and eating in fancy restaurants. It’s history and architecture and experiencing different cultures.
She said the main thing she wants people to know is that international travel services are available right here in Tuscola. Whether one is planning a family trip, class reunion excursion, a honeymoon or anniversary, she works with small and large groups but works almost exclusively with international travel.
Besides the Alaskan cruise and the tulip trip, she’s planning an Oktoberfest journey to Germany in 2024. Henderson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 217-919-0872.