Websites and YouTube allow us to vicariously explore distant lands from the comfort of the couch, but how hard is it to make them a reality? The answer depends in large part on how picky you may be about travel. There is absolutely nothing wrong with “canned” vacations during which every step is laid out for you. These allow you to go whale watching, climb mountains, or visit exotic ports simply by showing up and stepping aboard a bus or cruise ship.
But what if you long to venture far off the beaten path? Perhaps you want to visit the isolated islands of the South Pacific, trek across Mongolia, or explore the tiny village in northern Italy where your great-grandmother was born. You could simply show up and take it a step at a time, but that’s a recipe for misadventure, as too many things can go wrong. All this is especially true when you venture far from home or abroad.
Happily, there is a process for making your custom dream trip a reality. The secret is to either spend an enormous amount of time planning and researching, or take the easy route by choosing a firm that will do all the work for you.
Developing a bespoke vacation is not unlike the process of commissioning a bespoke suit. Just as a tailor asks for fabric and style preferences, a well-connected tour planner will start by determining your expectations and budget based upon where you want to go and what you want to see. This information will allow them to craft the framework of the experience, arranging transportation, visas, packing lists, required inoculations, and advising you of the costs.
Your preferences and budget will determine the scope of the trip; chartering a private jet rather than flying commercial, the need to book a small plane or small craft to reach the destination, and the need for local guides will be reflected in the overall cost. One way to keep expenses low is to plan a hybrid trip, in which you may start on a pre-planned journey, such as exploring England via canal boat, but then veering off to follow your own path exploring the charming Cotswolds. This method has the benefit of getting you to a jumping-off point. You’d still need to arrange for transportation, lodging, meals, and a guide, but a good touring company can assist with all of those details.
Not all dream trips can be realized; a knowledgeable tour planner will be able to gauge the viability of your plan. If the itinerary involves traveling abroad, the planner can check information from the U.S. State Department for travel advisories due to political unrest and health-related issues such as COVID, research currency exchange rates, and ask their local contacts for expected weather conditions.
In the same vein, year-round weather conditions need to be taken into account, with the planner suggesting the best time to visit. A trip to Antarctica is always going to involve exposure to seriously cold conditions, but rescheduling a trip to see Peru’s Machu Picchu ruins to coincide with the dry season can greatly improve the experience.
After the first step of the perfect personalized trip—choosing a destination—comes the need to find the perfect planner. An internet search of the terms “custom travel” or “bespoke travel” will produce many pages to review; fine-tuning the search by using specific destination-related keywords, such as “bespoke travel Morocco” greatly improves the results. Look for a tour planner that includes client reviews on their website and conduct an internet search of the planner to uncover bad reviews or other issues that could lead to you looking for another company. Anyone who has seen the movie “Captain Ron” knows the family would have experienced a more relaxing vacation had they done a bit of googling beforehand. Conversely, you may find great reviews.
The appeal of well-connected tour planners is their ability to not only plan a trip to the finest detail, but to be able to assist in the case of an emergency. The best tour planners will have “local fixers” on retainer to make sure permits are in order and lodgings accurately reflect the photos on the website. Actor Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman have embarked on some of the most arduous adventure vacations conceivable as they rode motorcycles from the tip of Scotland to the southernmost tip of Africa, and from London to New York, as captured on film in their “Long Way Down” and “Long Way Around” documentaries. A team of planners worked with an army of local fixers to ensure smooth transit across borders by motorcycle, aircraft, trains, and boats. A smaller team will make your dream trip a reality as well.
Pre-planning is the key to success
Where to Go
Once you’ve chosen a destination, find a tour planner who is up to date on the local laws, customs, and has well-established connections for lodging, transportation, meals, and guides.
When to Go
Research to determine the best time of year to go, considering when high season or wet season occur and whether it will be summer or winter when you arrive at your destination.
Find a Local Expert
Make sure the tour planner has local fixers and trusted guides who know the routes to follow and special spots to see such as cave paintings, waterfalls, castles, and more.