Seeing the world, as you may have already picked up on here, is very important to us. Every spare minute, day, or week we have, we seem to be on the road or on our way to Europe or Asia. Sometimes, we don’t even realize HOW MUCH we’ve been gone…like now. As I sat down to type this post, I was reminded on Facebook where I was a brief year ago today. (Turns out, we had just arrived from Morocco into Budapest.) But that got me to thinking. Where all have we been in just the past year?
In one year.
That’s a lot of not sitting still, kids.
For the most part, I have always been an FIT. FIT, in the tourism world, stands for Fully Independent Traveler. An FIT books their own flight, hotel, car service, train, opera, dinner, museum ticket, and so on. Fully Independent. It’s what we do. I like the idea of being in charge of my own fate, I like research, I like feeling as though the hours I spend online waiting on ridiculous airfares to pop up are my reward for diligence. In other words, I have OCD about travel and I want to be in charge of every detail. I enjoy it, but it’s not for everyone. (Actually most people hate this.)
On the other end of the spectrum are Group Travelers. There are lots of reasons people choose to take the Group route. My grandparents, for example, would fall into this category. Once upon a time, after years of saving, they had me book them a group adventure to Australia and New Zealand. The airfare, a cruise, all transfers, meals, sightseeing – all wrapped up in one big package. All they had to do was get to the airport, and voila, they never had to think again. This is a comforting way for lots of people to travel, especially in countries that are foreign, where you don’t speak the local language. You know you are taken care of, you have an itinerary, you have a guide to rely on, and you know you aren’t going to miss a thing, because EVERYTHING is mapped out for you.
But what about the in-betweeners? What about those people who like the idea of having someone help them out in foreign cities, but still want to be able to choose their own Parisian Café for lunch, who don’t like the idea of wandering through the Louvre with 50 other people in tow? Is there an option for these travelers?
As it turns out – yes, there is. And I have just experienced this phenomenon myself.
A few months ago I was approached by Monograms, a vacation and travel package company that is owned by Globus. Most everyone has heard of Globus – they are one of the elite group tour companies catering to thousands upon thousands of travelers every year across the globe. Monograms is NOT a group tour, however. Instead, they are a hybrid that strives to be everything good about both a group tour and an independent tour.
I’ll be honest…at first, the idea of being on a “tour” of any kind was not something I was terribly excited about. I am a blogger for a reason – real life person to person interaction just isn’t my forte. Yet, I knew the brand, Globus, was top notch, and that Monograms was supposedly something entirely different. Plus, who really turns down a chance to visit London, Paris, and Amsterdam?
Not me, that’s for sure.
So, we booked. Of course we booked! For 10 days we toured around Europe with Monograms, and got to experience first hand what their product really has to offer. Could someone like me, a proud, die-hard FIT, enjoy a “package” vacation? What does Monograms even offer that makes it so special? Are there benefits to joining a group, are there benefits to avoiding a group?
Well, the quick answers are yes, a lot, yes, and yes. Here’s why.
At the Airport
I can’t tell you how many flights we take a year, but it’s a lot, and usually, the place we land has signs in languages we don’t stand a chance of reading. We’ve followed pictures of stairwells and luggage to get out of the airports, and hoped and prayed the driver of any taxi we found would one, understand us, two, take a credit card, and three, not completely rob us with some ridiculous fare. It’s a real issue, and not one that unseasoned travelers even stop to think about.
It should be.
The very first thing you are confronted with once you land is How Do I Get Where I Am Going. Your mom isn’t there to help you, and neither is your French Teacher who brought you and the rest of the French Club to Paris. It’s on you now, Mister Grown Up. You. You’re tired. Your French is poor. You have luggage and you need a nap and your wife is not being very nice. How do you get to your quaint little inn in Montmartre? You don’t really even know how to pronounce it!
Had you booked with Monograms, you’d be covered.
Stepping off the plane, all we had to do was get through Passport Control, and to the Arrivals Hall. A lovely woman was awaiting us with a sign, she had a van all lined up, the driver scooped up our bags, and bam, we were off. No fussing, no negotiating, no mispronouncing the hotel. Just in the van and away we went. Every landing should be this easy. Not only that, they’ll get you BACK. And, if you’ve booked multiple destinations with them? They include getting you to each one, be it train, plane, or ferry. Someone will see you off, someone will pick you up. It really couldn’t be any better.
I know, I know. Hotels can be hard. I’ve been known to spend over 30 hours researching hotels in different cities. I compare location, price, access to public transportation, reviews, amenities, and décor. It’s a time consuming job, though one I love, but not everyone finds their joy in online hotel pursuits the way that I do.
Again, Monograms steps in to save you ALL the hassle.
They have pre-selected hotels in each city, based on what you, the traveler, want, need, and expect. If you’ve not traveled to Europe before, for example, you may not realize that most hotel rooms are very small, often just big enough for one double bed, the bathrooms are tiny, or retro-fit to even HAVE a bathroom, and if there is a lift, it may just hold you and one of your suitcases. Heck, you might even have a toilet in a little closet, and a shower at the foot of your bed. (Yes, I have had this happen.)
Europe is quirky, I tell ya.
Monograms doesn’t offer those hotels. They know you expect more, and with their expertise, you GET more. Each of our Monograms hotels had very nice, large modern rooms, well equipped bathrooms, full sized lifts, and excellent locations. We could easily walk out the front door of any of our hotels and be in the heart of each city, surrounded by restaurants and cafes. To me, this is HUGE. In an unfamiliar city, it can be daunting at night to have to find your way around, when all you want is just a quick bite. I love that Monograms takes this into account and has chosen such convenient accommodations for its travelers.
A Friend of a Friend
I haven’t even mentioned the best part yet. Your Local Host. That perfectly placed hotel you’re staying in? Monograms has a Local Host there for you, on site, whenever you need. For example, in London, our Host, Gita, was at her dedicated Host Desk from 7am-7pm. Anytime we came in from a tour or walk, she talked to us and made sure we were comfortable. Had we wanted to book a Pub Crawl across the Thames, Gita would have set it up. A trip out of town to Stonehenge? Yep, she did that for us, too. Anything we wanted or needed, she was there to arrange it. I liken it to having a friend of a friend share their local expertise with you while you are in their town. The best part is, you don’t even need to have a friend that has a friend…Monograms just takes care of you.
Don’t Forget to Eat
One of the best parts, for me, of our hotel stays were the incredible buffet breakfasts. You’re on vacation, you have about 256 things to see, and breakfast may not be high up on your list. It should be! An included breakfast, especially breakfasts as delicious and filling as the ones we were offered, should be paramount. Fill up and fuel that body for a day of siteseeing! We never skipped our breakfast, despite being late-sleepers…they were just too good! Hot cocoa, teas, fresh pressed juices, local favorites, pastries, waffles, you name it, we had it. As a typical FIT, I almost always overlook breakfast. After traveling with Monograms, I certainly see the benefit!
Monograms doesn’t want you to feel contained, and that’s the beauty of their product. It’s up to YOU to decide what you want to do…even if it’s NOTHING. Yes, they know you are a tourist – you booked a trip to a foreign country, after all – and they know you have an idea of what YOU want to do. So, they offer you an included City Tour to kick off your stay. In London, for example, our included tour whizzed us around to St. Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace, past Big Ben and Parliament, down cobbled London streets, by the Tower of London, and more. For those couple of hours, we got to see the highlights of the city, and could leave knowing that yes, we DID see London even if that’s the ONLY thing we did. However, they offered a bevy of optional tours in case we wanted them. One afternoon, we boarded an inflatable speed boat on the Thames for an hour of sightseeing, followed by fast action river fun…a tour we would have never considered had Monograms not told us about it. One evening we stepped out for dinner, followed by the musical, Wicked, all arranged by our Monograms Host. We never had to stand in line for tickets, or worry about how to get there – Gita arranged it all. And Stonehenge? Yes, Monograms carted us all the way to Stonehenge, with a guide, and then included an amazing lunch in a thatch roofed tavern on our return, something we would have never done on our own. They just made it all SO easy, and it never felt like a pre-packaged tour. We loved the flexibility, as well as the comfort knowing we were being taken care of. Truly the best of both worlds!
Big Group Drawbacks
For me, the idea of a big group is just, well, not pleasant. We’ve all seen these groups. We see them pull in to our restaurant, and all 51 of them spill out, stand in line for the bathroom, and order off the somewhat limited, pre-arranged menu. We’ve seen them waddling behind their guide, headsets on, looking up at cathedrals or countless works of art. I think it is this experience that turns too many would-be travelers off, and into NON-travelers.
Luckily, Mongrams solves this, too. Your local host can set you up with PRIVATE tickets, often jump-the-line tickets, to most every attraction in any city. We took a tour to Versailles on a rainy Tuesday, and outside the gates, the line looped and meandered 5 people wide for 70 yards. In the rain. Our group of 5 waited a mere 4 or 5 minutes, headed through a separated entrance, and away we went with our own tour guide. Many of the people I saw in line when we got there were STILL in line when we were leaving.
Going back to the groups at restaurants…this is something I really enjoy about our travels.
I want to be able to taste what I want, when I want, and as much as I want. (One look at me and my jeans and you’ll know it’s true.) Having the luxury of being on a “tour” with the option of eating anywhere I want, versus where the group is going to eat, makes a huge difference! While I do lots of research and mapping, and know many of the cafes I want to visit ahead of time, I also took full advantage of my Local Hosts. Take Wendy, in Amsterdam, for example. Wendy knew we had a long tour to Brugge booked one day, and that we would be missing dinner. However, right across from our hotel was the most bizarre floating pagoda restaurant. After her telling us that it was outstanding Chinese cuisine, and that the pagoda was actually built in Hong Kong and then brought to the Netherlands, and a few funny bits of trivia about the restaurant, we knew we had to give it a try after our Brugge adventure. It was one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time, and so unexpected. And, all thanks to our Local Monograms Host!
Monograms was a huge surprise. As an FIT, I came in with a bit of bias to overcome…and boy did Monograms ever overcome it. In fact, upon leaving London, Rusty was convinced there should never be any other way to travel. I can certainly see us using Monograms for future trips, especially in countries where we have limited knowledge, or places that are a little more daunting. South America and Africa, for example, aren’t places I feel entirely comfortable, so Monograms taking the wheel would be very welcome! Did you know they even offer tours to Antarctica?? I didn’t, but do now, so they may never get rid of us!
One should be so lucky, lol.
If you have ANY questions at all about Monograms, or our trip, please let us know! We want everyone to get to experience the world, and in the way that best suits them. We think Monograms is a great solution for so many! So ask!