Our trips to other countries generally fall into two categories.
First there are the DIY tours that we plan and book ourselves. We stay two weeks in the same city, get to know the neighborhood, and pretend we live there. The itinerary is very loose and based on books we have read—for instance in Trieste where we didn’t know a soul, our guide was Jan Morris’s Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere; in Florence it was A Room With A View, the E.M. Forster book and the Merchant Ivory movie (Julian Sands circa 1986 did not show up, but we were chatted up by someone who looked like Paul Sorvino in Goodfellas).
The advantage of this method is that you don’t have to follow anyone’s schedule—you can do whatever you feel like doing, or in our case, do nothing. We tend to alternate indolence with long walks that end only when our feet are in pain. It’s very random, and it produces a notebook’s worth of meandering entries about atmosphere and such. (You feel very clever while you’re writing them, and when you get home and read them you realize they’re all drivel.)
The disadvantage is that you end up not seeing a lot of the sights, you get lost constantly (Which we actually like), and if you’re not careful you wind up staying in a “centrally-located” hotel which is by the airport.
Then there are the package tours or “fam(iliarization) tours” we’ve done on assignment. The objective of these fam tours is to cram as much sightseeing as possible into a few days. Every minute is accounted for, and you spend a lot of time riding a tour bus with the same group of people. So far we’ve had the good luck to travel with people we can stand—imagine if you were trapped on a bus with people who do karaoke all day, don’t shut up, and ask you impertinent questions. At some point you feel like sheep being herded on and off buses. When you’re with a large group you have to follow a tour guide holding up a flag (or a folding umbrella) and rattling off factoids about the thing you’re looking at. Worst case scenario: packed lunches. It’s all very hectic—”On your right is the Colosseum, look there’s a cat, and that’s the Forum and if you crane your head 60 degrees over there are the Baths of Caracalla…”—and at the end you’re exhausted.
We mentioned our travel categories at lunch with Nicholas Lim, regional director of Trafalgar Tours, the international tour operator. Trafalgar offers another option: the insider travel experience. Instead of a harassed tour guide, you get a travel director who has established relationships with local families, artisans, and experts (historians, geologists, etc). You don’t just stand outside a building and listen to a recitation of historical trivia, you get to feel how the locals live. You’re welcomed into private homes, working farms and wineries; you’re immersed in the native culture. Trafalgar tours are arranged so you spend half the day sightseeing and the other half at leisure.
“When your friends from abroad come to Manila, you take them to the places you yourself go to,” Nicholas said, “So they get an authentic insider experience.” Trafalgar tries to do the same for its clients wherever they go. “No herding or packed lunches,” he assured us.
Established 65 years ago, Trafalgar is the world’s leading guided holiday company. Two years ago it opened a regional office in Singapore. “Everybody’s looking East,” Nicholas noted. Trafalgar PR and social media specialist Choy Wan Teh added that last year their Philippine business grew 40 percent. Pinoys do love to travel; we even have a term for the overpowering urge to travel—makakating paa (itchy soles).
For more information on Trafalgar guided holidays, call Pan Pacific Travel at 5231990 or 5361265, or visit Trafalgar Asia’s Facebook page. Check out their booth at the Travel Expo, opening tomorrow at SMX Mall of Asia.