On the difficulties of tour groups

Jessica is hanging over my left shoulder. “Are you buying the tickets?” she asks. “The airline tickets to Italy.”

“Mmm,” I say, not quite clicking “buy now.” I have checked the bank balance, and I have checked the dates, but the idea of dealing with luggage and trains and Jessica and I don’t speak the language paralyzes me for minute.

“Mom,” she says, and it isn’t her teenage voice, it’s her scared voice, like something is going to be taken away from her again and she has had so much taken away from her that I cannot stand it and so I click “buy now” and promise myself the luxury of worrying about it later.

“There,” I say. “All done.”

She peers at the screen. “That’s the confirmation number?”


Her whole body relaxes and for a very brief moment she rests her head on my shoulder. “We are going to Italy.” Then: “Now you have to tell the hotels we are coming.”

“I don’t even know what hotels,” I say. “I’ll have to –”

“We will ask a travel agent. Or Mrs. V went on a tour once. We could go on a tour.”

I stare at her. A tour is not a bad idea. I have never gone on one before, because as a solo traveler, they have never appealed to me, but I have Jessica to think about, and a tour guide would take care of trains and speak the language.

“That is very smart,” I say. “But I don’t know what tour –”

She takes the laptop from me and types in “Italy tour” in the Google search bar, and I take the laptop back and look at the results. We read them for a while, and eventually I find a company that offers package tours that include Venice, Verona, and Rome, and I email the company with our dates of travel and ask if they could pop us in.

Not long later I get a response from Giorgio, who says that he is so very sorry but they do not run package tours at that time of year – right after Christmas – but he would be happy to create a custom tour for us, we need only say the word.

“I bet he’d like to create a custom tour,” I say from the depths of my shriveled, cynical soul. “That won’t cost ten million dollars.”

“Then what are we going to do?” Jessica asks, and she sounds scared again, and I say cheerfully, “We will find someone offering tours of Italy at that time of year!” but my optimism is unfounded; no one is, or if they are, I can’t find them. They have pre-Christmas tours, they have Christmas tours, but they do not have post-Christmas tours. Apparently Italy closes between Christmas and New Year’s.

In desperation, I email Giorgio. “We are a little worried that perhaps we have picked a bad time of year to visit Italy. Will we have difficulty with accommodations, trains, etc. at that time of year?”

And Giorgio, clearly scenting my desperation, responds, “There will be no difficulty at all! I will arrange everything!”

I am somewhat doubtful. For all I know, Giorgio is a golden retriever on the other end of the Internet, but Jessica is very encouraged.

“There!” she says triumphantly. “Giorgio will arrange everything.”

“For ten million dollars,” I say.

“I do not think it will be ten million dollars,” she says seriously. “I think it will be less than that.”

I kiss her cheek. “I think so, too. We will ask.”

“And then what?”

“And then I better get busy writing books so we can afford this adventure.”


  1. I think Jessica is on to something. I suggest you send Giorgio an email and explain your situation and budget, I bet he can come up with a great personalized tour that will fit your budget. I sure hope so. My husband has been two Italy twice and he can’t wait to go back. Your going to have a magical trip! And I feel like I get to tag along!

  2. You know if Giorgio disappoints, I can put together a custom itinerary with groups, free time, just someone in the background to turn to if you are overwhelmed, and within a budget.

  3. Such organization! Unless I’m traveling with young children, I travel by a wing and a prayer that I’ll be able to find a hotel room come nightfall. This led to the wonderful experience of sleeping in a convent in Venice when my mom and I arrived the day prior to Palm Sunday. Whether you plot or pants this trip, it will be wonderful.

  4. We used Avanti for our upcoming trip. We were able to customize it completely. We didn’t want to be stuck on some bus all day with a million people so we have it set up so that they get us at the airport and take us to the hotel and then leave us alone until a scheduled tour of a certain place then take us back to the hotel and leave us alone. They take us to the train station and meet us there in the next city.

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