Our version of "Groundhog Day" involves having the same phone conversations repeatedly with prospective clients. We’ve created itineraries for dozens of clients, and with a few exceptions, they've all come to us with the same travel goals:
1. “I want to see real, authentic places; experience the real Italy without the tourist crowds; and do it affordably.”
2. “I want to visit Rome, Florence, Amalfi, and Venice. And I have 9 days.”
Spoiler alert: Those goals are in direct conflict with one another.
Is it possible to visit those famous places and see them in an authentic way?
But not in 9 days.
We have spent hours on the phone with clients, trying to convince them that they really would enjoy small towns. Some travelers insisted on sticking with their plan to hit all the big tourist sites; and those clients we’ve turned away, since that's not a "Little Roads" type of trip.
Small towns in Italy are different than those in the US, in part because big-box stores in the US have had a devastating effect on small businesses. In Italy, people still shop at their local butcher, baker, cheese shop, fishmonger; they still buy clothes and shoes at the weekly markets; they don’t eat at big chain restaurants that are the same all over the country. (One notable exception to this is Autogrill, a chain found on the highways.)
Over the years, we’ve stopped asking clients *where* they want to visit, and instead starting asking them *why*. What are their goals? To see museums, to see ancient ruins, to eat incredible food, to people-watch, a combination of all these? Then we help craft a trip that fits those desires.
We are often met with deep skepticism when we send an itinerary to a client. How could it possibly be that they can stay in a four-poster bed in a walled castle for $90? Is there really enough to keep them occupied in this Small Town or that Little Village for a WHOLE DAY? Don’t we know that the Cinque Terre is only a 4-hour drive away? Shouldn't they check out Verona or Lake Como on their way from Venice to Florence?
It’s almost always a tough sell, but clients that trust us change their tune once they get to these places. The emails we get back are pretty funny, and usually pretty endearing too. These small town places really are as magical, as special, as affordable, and as “undiscovered” as we told them they would be.
If you are thinking about planning a trip, do yourself a favor and throw away that standard check-list of big-name sites on your “must-see” list. There is often a small town alternative you can explore that will satisfy your desire to see art/castles/Roman ruins/Michelin-star restaurants, and you won’t be surrounded by tourists while you take it all in.
(And, of course, if you want to save yourself the dozens or hundreds of hours of research to find them, just ask us to do it for you!)