Sunday, September 16, 2012

Take an Active Vacation

On Friday evening, I had the opportunity to help out at an event for VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations, recently named the No. 3 tour operator in the world by Travel & Leisure. The company has been around since 1971, when a Middlebury college professor became the provider of America's first ever organized biking tours. Located in Bristol, Vermont, VBT has grown to become a global travel company, with a family that spans across five continents.

At the event, I met owners Gregg and Caroline Marston, who greeted everyone as they entered the room. And most guests knew exactly who they were, either because they recognized their pictures from the website or travel guide, or because they had gone on an actual trip with them. I also met a couple of the seasoned travelers who have done numerous biking and hiking tours with VBT, and one man who participated in nearly 20 trips--the most of anyone else in the room. It was certainly an interesting crowd, but all of them were avid bikers and walkers with a love for travel and experiencing dynamic areas around the world. Many had met on tours together, a true bonding experience for any group, no matter their backgrounds.

And all of them had nothing but praise for the company, a rarity in the hospitality and tour industry.

So what makes VBT different? It's the personal touch they bring to each trip, making a group tour feel anything but mass-produced. It's about the individual experience, and each itinerary feels personalized. The website reads: "It starts with our seasoned trip planners, who carefully design unique itineraries in the world’s most interesting places. They work with our Trip Leaders to map out the most scenic and exhilarating routes. Then, they leverage our long-term group buying power with suppliers around the world, securing wonderful lodgings in top quality hotels where charm and character are complemented by comfort and convenience. Our air specialists do the same, working with major carriers to provide the best flight options at prices you could never match on your own."

During the event, Gregg and Caroline talked about all the new tours they were offering, as well as their foray into nordic ski trips. All the images, the stories, the destinations and the bonds made me want to book a trip right then and there. The first problem, though, is that I'm not much of a biker, so I would have to choose one of the walking tours. Of those, I would definitely sign up for the Amalfi Coast & Capri tour or the Italian Lakes. However, the Peru tour is certainly tempting, and since I've never been to South America, I might have to pick this tour first.

As much as I would love to go on one of these trips, it's not quite in my budget right now, despite the prices being incredibly reasonable for what you get. But maybe I can reach out to my new friends and negotiate a discount...they are a great connection to have, after all. But I'll most likely stay in touch because of how amazingly friendly and outgoing they are, and those are the kinds of people who know how to run a successful tour company.