By Patricia Guth
Traveling may be the furthest thing from your mind right now. Or it may be at the forefront of your thinking. If you’re like me – an extrovert with a fantastic case of wanderlust – you’ve probably figured out that in your spare time (and there’s plenty of it) you’ve had time to research some locations for your bucket list and have no doubt lamented all the lost opportunities for travel this year.
Personally, my husband and I missed out on a Mediterranean cruise with our son and family and my daughter and I had to cancel our girl getaway to Paris, carefully designed to celebrate our 25th and 60th birthdays.
Professionally, my choir was four weeks away from getting on a plane heading to Athens and the Greek Islands. We were so close. So close. And then everything came to a screeching halt. There would be no magical Mykonos nights. No Santorini sunsets. No early morning breakfasts on the rooftop of our hotel, which was to provide us with an amazing view of the Acropolis. We were crushed.
The reason for our immense sadness was not only because we wouldn’t see Greece and all of its beauty and history. That was certainly a big part of it. But the extreme disappointment stemmed from the fact that our choir travels have been among the most amazing moments in our nine years of singing together. Our trips to Italy, Hungary, Austria, Finland, Estonia, and Sweden have produced incredible musical highs and have strengthened the bonds of friendship in a way that can only come from the sharing of the amazing musical and cultural experiences we encounter on our choir tours, put together by a company that really gets us – a non-auditioned but immensely talented and enthusiastic group of singers that place fun and fellowship on par with singing.
Recently, I got up the nerve to start talking to my choir about travel again. Though we won’t go anywhere until spring 2022 – provided there’s a vaccine – it seemed like a good idea to bring up something to which we could look forward during this time when the uncertainty of the upcoming holidays – a time of joy for most – looms heavy on our hearts. I recognize that there are many like me who will jump on the bandwagon and sign up for a trip to just about anywhere, while there are others who will fear travel for some time. How sad! But I understand their hesitancies and respect their decisions.
Nonetheless, I’ve decided to go ahead with planning and will soon announce the dates and destination for our next trip. (Greece is iffy because part of the tour includes 5 days on a cruise ship, which makes many uncomfortable.) I’m doing this with guidance from my trip-planning friends at our concert tour company – who I trust and adore – and hope that my enthusiasm wears off on my singers.
While post-COVID travel may be a little different than travel of the past, I’m still approaching this 2022 tour using the same parameters I always do. Traveling with a non-auditioned group of adult singers – mostly over 55 – is a bit of a different animal than touring with high school or college kids, and over the years a number of things have emerged as factors that are of the utmost importance when making decisions about these tours.
Finding the right tour company
We learned the hard way that interviewing several tour companies before saying “yes” is the way to go. Mea culpa! I was so excited about our first performance tour that I booked the first company that presented me with an exciting tour at a seemingly good price.
What we discovered, however, was that they hadn’t listened to me at all regarding the make-up of the choir as well as the potential limitations of the members. Though we are a group that ranges in age from about 25-85, most of our travelers are NOT our young members, who are busy with children or just don’t have the money to pay for a tour. As such, most of our travelers are over 55 – many considerably older – and aren’t up for 12 hours of non-stop activity and tons of walking with little rest in between.
In addition, many of my singers are well-traveled and expecting a little more than stays at 3-star hotels on the outskirts of a city and eating lunch at highway rest stops. They want nice hotels, delicious meals, and free time to explore on their own . . . or just to rest. We didn’t get that the first time. It was all go-go-go, there was too much crowded into eight days, and the exhaustion often outweighed the experiences. While we still had a memorable time, a lot was lacking.
My current tour company – KI Concerts – truly listened to me before they even attempted to sell me on an itinerary. This included a personal visit to meet me and the choir, hours of chats and emails about my expectations and that of my travelers, and the willingness to create something special outside of their normal itineraries. The result has been two – and almost three – trips that were absolutely superb and fit my choir perfectly.
Choosing the ideal destination
Not all destinations are suitable for a choir like mine and it’s a lesson I learned after the first trip as well. I only wish that our first tour company had perhaps suggested I reconsider my choice and my wish list when I first approached them about going to Italy, which includes terrain that’s pretty tough on older singers, especially those with some mobility issues. Venice, while beautiful, was not our friend, so to speak, and trekking over a mile on cobblestones and over bridges from the Grand Canal area to our concert destination nearly did us in. While my choir did a bang-up job of singing for our guests, I know they dreaded the trip back to the area where we’d catch our boat back to our hotel. It put a damper on the experience.
In addition, we tried to fit too much into a limited number of days, which meant we were in constant movement with little rest except during drives on the motorcoach. It would have been nice if that tour company had suggested that maybe I reconsider my wishes. Perhaps 2 or 3 stops instead of 5 or 6 would have been more suitable.
So, when it was time to consider the next tour, I was more careful about choosing the right place for my choir members. The staff at KI and I had long talks about destination: places where the terrain was easy to navigate, concert locations that could be reached by bus or just a short walk, the ability to book hotels in the city center or near public transportation, and ways to immerse ourselves in the local culture, which is paramount for us.
So, while I’d love to go to Iceland, for example, I recognize that it’s more of a “natural” destination that probably wouldn’t fit the needs and wants of our group. Rather, the selection of a location with good museums, excellent hotel choices, delicious food, and wonderful singing venues is much more important to us. And while the choices we deem to be the optimal destinations might not be everyone’s dream destination, we’ve discovered that as long as we’re there together, making music for and with those who reside in those wonderful places, it doesn’t much matter where we end up.
In my next blog: Crafting an itinerary, special activities and events, and immersing your choir in the local culture.