Maureen & Bert Wickey | Italy | September 2018
by Regina Bell
Imagine: a romantic 12-day tour of Rome, Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Florence, Tuscany and Venice. Fine wines, amazing meals, breathtaking views and spectacular architecture.
The only thing that makes it better is when you do it for your kids.
That’s what convinced Maureen and Bert Wickey to travel to Italy in September. “Kids now travel like we never did. They’re savvy with a great worldview,” said Maureen. “I’d never been out of the country, so I had no idea of the world beyond the US.”
Just like Instagram, Reddit and Twitter, traveling the globe is a presumed competence of young adults. “Millennials– our own three kids included – are just so far ahead of where we were at their age. Bert and I decided to take our daughters’ advice to travel in Europe . . . not only because we were curious but also so we could relate to the younger generation. We used to live near wine country in California; Italy seemed like an obvious place to start.”
Oh, and it was their 25th wedding anniversary, too. Win-win.
When Maureen and Bert told their friend Plain Dealer writer Mike Norman about their plans, he suggested they contact Sue Becks at Footsteps World Travel. Bert explained, “While I’ve traveled to almost every state in the US, I didn’t know how to navigate another country. I didn’t want to think about how to make it all work, so we trusted Sue to guide us through the process. We told her where we wanted to go, and she made it easy.”
The Wickeys were pleasantly surprised at Sue’s level of expertise and her thoroughness. This included:
- comparing several trip offers to accommodate their wishes
- making all the hotel and travel reservations
- sharing info on local culture
- even printing them out a map of the confusing Paris airport where they had a transfer
Maureen, who is nervous about flying, and Bert, who stands 6’5”, especially appreciated that Sue suggested the Comfort Plus upgrade with the airlines. “The plane rides over and back were almost as enjoyable as our visit in Italy. Sue made it very easy for us to travel,” Bert stated. “I had some high expectations, and they were all met by Sue and Trafalgar Tours. The boat ride to Capri was awesome, and the Amalfi Coast? Well, I could spend all my summers there.”
The Wickeys’ trip was through Footsteps with Trafalgar Tours. It included 12 days of traveling by bus with 36 other tourists comprised of retired teachers, siblings, newlyweds, a family and several singles from all over the globe. “We didn’t want to think about how to travel around or where to go. We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, just find someone who already had that knowledge,” said Bert.
While they were part of a group, the Wickeys also liked the freedom to make choices about the daily optional side trips and time on their own. “Sue took the fear out of travel. It was so easy because all the hard work was already done for us,” he added.
Bert and Maureen were pleasantly surprised by the extra perks as well. Their tour guide for the trip was a retired lawyer who was extremely knowledgeable, and local tour specialists joined their trip at various points. Trafalgar had purchased tickets up to a year in advance (which most of us would never think to do), so their group often had front-of-the-line passes for tours like the Vatican and front row seats to shows.
Their favorite perks, though, were their fellow travelers. “No one was afraid to try anything, and most had been on several trips already. I never would have anticipated the extra benefit of so many different global perspectives,” said Maureen. The tour guide set up a different seating chart every day, so the Wickeys got to know everyone on the bus, especially several couples who were close to their age. Dinners were well planned and left time for extra exploring afterwards with their friends.
Would they have done anything differently? “Just plan more time,” answered Maureen. “I would have loved to visit even more places. The more time you have, the better.”
The Wickey’s Words of Wisdom:
1. Traveling in Europe includes a lot of walking. It helps to be physically in shape in order to enjoy the experience as much as possible. However, there were older adults with health-related issues on their tour; they still had fun but had to curtail some of the optional trips.
2. Have an attitude of adventure. Be open to different cultures and how things are done. Bert: “You will be amazed at what you learn and how much fun it is. Everyone on our trip had a great attitude, and we always had fun.”
3. Set proper expectations and learn the European hotel star system before you go. Some accommodations were different than others, but all were all were charming in their own way.
4. Be willing to try something new. “We went on 15 of the 16 optional trips. If not for that, we would have missed the unexpected pleasure of a fabulous meal at a Tuscan farmhouse set in an olive grove,” said Maureen.
5. Be careful not to overbook each day. There’s a fine line between trying to see everything and being too tired to appreciate it.
6. Just like we’ve always heard, you often get what you pay for. If you can, be flexible to options that will make your trip more enjoyable, like the more comfortable seating on the flights.
Would Maureen and Bert go back to Italy? “Definitely,” they both agreed.
Touring Rome and seeing all of the ancient architecture was astonishing to the neophyte travelers. “We forget how young the United States really is,” said Maureen.
And St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican was breathtaking: “It just blew me away,” said Bert. “What it took to build it . . . the sheer beauty in the design . . . it was beyond any of my expectations.”
While they enjoyed the museums and the traditional tourist hot spots, the couple was drawn to Italy’s natural beauty and its people even more, especially on the Amalfi Coast: “The people were extremely friendly. We told them how lucky they were to live there, while they said how lucky we were to live in the US where jobs are so plentiful. We were caught off-guard by such a different perspective,” said Bert.
Another fortuitous adventure came about when their group was in Maiori on the day of a religious festival. What amazed them most? “All of the seniors out and walking around . . . healthy, laughing, independent, and well-respected by everyone in town. You never see that in the US,” commented Bert. “It was delightful. What a different world perspective.”
And what advice would Maureen and Bert give to someone considering a similar vacation?
“Just do it,” said the Wickeys enthusiastically. “Don’t wait until next year or when you retire or someone else is ready to go with you. Make the time to go on that dream vacation now while you have the health to truly enjoy every minute and every opportunity.”
As a newly seasoned traveler, Maureen realized, “You can never fully recreate such an amazing trip, but you can continue to learn. We have a new global perspective that we never had before. There’s just so much more to the world. It wasn’t just eye-opening . . . it was life-changing.”
Take that, Millennials.