Frequently Asked Questions
I have compiled a list of most frequently asked questions to help you find your answer. If you have other questions or would like further clarification, contact me and I will be glad to discuss with you other aspects of your customized private tour to Europe. Thank you for your interest!
You might be thinking - aren't you just a travel agent? No, I am not a travel agent. Travels with Audrey is not a typical travel agency. Why? I am a tour operator and travel planner who personally designs custom itineraries for our clients and leads small private group tours exclusively in select European destinations.
The short answer is: the business model. At Travels with Audrey, we offer all the services a travel agent can offer, except we don’t book flights. We have an in-depth understanding of the countries we specialize in, while many travel agents book destinations they have never been to. Travel agents receive commissions for booking hotels, cruises, flights, or tours for travelers from their portfolio. From a business perspective, they must spend their time booking things that give them commission, or they won’t be in business for long.
As a travel consultant, I never take commissions, or sell other companies' products to make money. Instead, I charge for my time and expertise. I want to be able to spend my time on the areas that will make your trip absolutely amazing.
Return on your investment is in 3 parts:
1. Time saved during the planning process: To organize a trip to Europe with the level of organization and detail you will need, plan on spending about 8 hours per travel day if you are going to do it yourself. A 10-day trip would therefore take about 80 hours for an average person to plan (including internet and guidebook research, time spent on the phone to your destination country in Europe, booking time, and double-checking everything). By contrast, plan on 2-3 hours spent via phone or email with Audrey. For a 10-day trip, that’s about 77 hours of time saved. How much is your time worth per hour?
2. Time used more efficiently on the trip: when a trip is well-organized ahead of time, you won’t waste time getting lost, showing up at the train station and realizing that train doesn’t run on Sundays, fixing errors due to the language barrier during the booking process, or waiting in line for hours for a museum that could have been pre-booked. We estimate that travelers with customized itineraries can accomplish 20% more in a day. When Audrey is taking care of all the details for you, you are able to accomplish more in a single day, all at a lower stress level, with more enjoyment and time to create memories with loved ones.
Let’s say your 10-day trip to Italy works out to cost $600/day, including everything. Let’s say you have 12 hours per day of “out and about time”, to enjoy, explore, and relax. Each vacation hour essentially costs $50. A 10-day vacation has 120 vacation hours. Therefore being able to do 20% more because of a well-planned vacation equals 24 hours during the vacation which are spent relaxing and enjoying your chosen destination rather than spent problem-solving and stressed in a foreign country. To put a dollar value on it, those 24 hours x $50 per hour is $1200 worth of time that can be used to enjoy Italy instead of lost due to planning mistakes.
3. Avoiding tourist traps: It’s likely that you’ve heard more than a few horror stories about tourists who were blatantly overcharged at popular attractions—Venice is a well-known hotspot for these kinds of activities, for instance. On a Travels with Audrey itinerary, you will always be directed to reputable and trustworthy establishments and likely save more than a few Euros along the way.
Multiply these money and time savings by the number of people on your trip to calculate how much you will actually save by having Travels with Audrey plan your European vacation!
Cost is a legitimate concern for any major purchase. Is this a cheap way to travel around Europe? Absolutely not, but, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. I sell an experience not a tour.
Think of the difference between a frozen TV dinner and one that has been prepared for you by a chef using the finest ingredients. Therefore, the cost is higher than the large bus tours. However, when you think about how much time those on bus tours spend just waiting for other people, plus all of the other cons associated with mass produced travel, I am the right choice for a select group of travelers who want more out of their travel experience. I work with fewer than 65 people per year, so those who choose to travel with me are members of a very exclusive family.
The price you pay is all-inclusive, with no unexpected expenses. Since all tours are customized to your specifications, I do not know the precise cost until I have designed the itinerary. After our initial consultation, I provide you with a very simple draft with a non-binding estimate prior to signing the agreement.
My guests look for quality over quantity and they place knowledge and service ahead of price. A vacation is a very special, important part of my clients' lives—a time to discover and relax, creating memories with loved ones!
This depends a lot on what time of year you want to travel, and how long you plan to be in Europe. For example, if you want to travel to Europe in the summertime (tourist season) contacting us 6 months to a year ahead of time will give you the best chance to reserve your first choice of hotels, restaurants, and activities.
Italy, France and Spain receive millions of visitors each year and even though we can plan in less time, we run the risk of missing out on the availability of our favorite hotels, guides and other providers. We always want the best for our clients and the more time we have the more we can guarantee just that.
If you don't have that much lead time, contact me. If you want to travel during a slower season, 3-4 months ahead of time will be enough.
It takes a lot of work to plan and follow your itinerary. Due to the amount of time involved we prefer to orchestrate the entire itinerary which includes the hotel reservations, and do not accept assignments where only the guides, drivers, and special arrangements are needed
Travels with Audrey does not book air travel. There are several reasons why. My clients are from all over. Therefore, we want to give our travelers the opportunity to choose their own flights. Many people have air miles they want to use or they may choose to upgrade to first and business class.
When crafting your personalized itinerary, I will always recommend which airports to fly in and out of.
If you are planning on using frequent flyer miles, the sooner the better. The longer you wait, the more you will run into black-out dates, seat unavailability, or having to make multiple connections. If instead you are buying your ticket, the typical “ideal window” for best airfare deals is between 5-3 months prior to departure. Please ensure you have travel insurance in case you need to cancel your tour with us for any reason, since Travels with Audrey will not refund airline tickets should you need to cancel your tour.
IMPORTANT: All flights from the U.S.A. and Canada to Europe are overnight flights, so you will arrive the day after your departure. Make sure to book your flight accordingly. When you return, you’ll arrive back in the USA or Canada on the same day you leave Europe.
Example: to arrive in Italy on Sunday (the first day of the tour) you will need to leave Saturday from the US or Canada. On the way back, let’s say the tour ends on a Friday (last day of tour) you will depart that day to arrive in the US or Canada on the same day. Also, keep in mind that most private customized tours start in one city and end in another.
Travels with Audrey strongly recommends that you and all members of your party are adequately insured, protecting against unforeseen circumstances that could otherwise spoil your travels and protect your travel investment. Coverage should include medical expenses and repatriation in the event of accident or illness. In addition, we also strongly recommend that you have coverage for personal belongings, delay at your outward or homeward point of departure, personal liability, overseas legal expenses and cancellation.
Insurance can save you a lot of money in the case of a family emergency popping up, when we have already paid or committed to pay for dozens of services and lodgings.
While Travels with Audrey highly recommends travel insurance to all our guests, for peace of mind, we do not sell travel insurance directly, nor are we experts in this field.
North America's travel insurance providers are:
NOTE: Please ensure that details of your insurance are carried with you at all times. You may be asked to provide details of your medical insurance or a payment guarantee in some counties before medical assistance will be provided.
- For private groups of multi generational families of 8 or more guests, I am the tour manager and arrange luxury mini-buses (10-15 seaters to 19-24 seaters), or 2 vans depending on the size of the group and locations visited.
- For groups 4 to 6 guests I am the driver-guide using in a comfortable van.
Traveling with a tour manager means you have a built-in concierge during your trip. The tour manager makes sure the logistics of your trip go smoothly, helps you with special requests along the way, offers cultural information and travel tips, orients you in each city, walks you to that market or site that might be hard to find on your own, recommends favorite restaurants, and helps you arrange your plans for your free time.
Like traveling with a friend away from home.
Each of our guests may bring one piece of main luggage of a standard size of no more than 158 cm (when the length, width and height is added together) and weighing no more than 20 kg. You may also bring one small carry-on bag per person.
Although oversize bags and wheeled carry-on luggage are acceptable on mainstream airlines, they are often not convenient or appropriate for mini-bus/van travel or for many on-tour flights and train travel. Most of our transportation vehicles offer limited space. Space under seats or in the overhead rack is typically small, and designed to accommodate items like coats, hats, purses and small camera bags.
Space is limited even on our mini-buses and vans so for the comfort and ease for all members of the group, we ask that you please limit your checked luggage to one suitcase per person weighing no more than 50 lbs (23 kg) and with overall dimensions (length + width + height) not exceeding 62 inches (158 cm). When our transportation is a van, luggage allowance is one roller bag (this can be no larger than 26 x 17 x 11 including rollers).
For your day to day travel while on tour, we recommend that you limit your hand luggage to a small, soft-sided carry-on piece, and that you bring only those items you need handy during the day such as make-up, medications, cameras, etc. We must stress that available space in our vans is very limited! On some itineraries, you will be responsible in handling your own luggage, such as traveling by train, loading and unloading the van (if we have a mini-bus this would not apply). In some cases you may have to pull your bags a short distance to your hotel and a possibility of stairs.
If you exceed this limit, there may not be space in the van or mini-bus to transport your excess luggage, and it will need to be stored at your own expense.
Besides complying with the Travels with Audrey restriction noted above, you should also be sure to research and comply with all airline baggage restrictions relating to your flights to and from your destination. Airlines have become much stricter in enforcing size and weight limits in recent years, and luggage exceeding airline standards for size or weight may result in expensive fees.
Airlines are free to revise luggage policies without notice, and certain airlines have different baggage allowances for different classes of service. Researching and complying with airline luggage restrictions is the responsibility of the guest, and Travels with Audrey cannot be held responsible for any costs or disruptions to travel caused by the failure to research and comply with airline policies.
Although every effort is made to handle your luggage carefully, we cannot be responsible, assume liability or accept claims for loss or damage to luggage and personal effects due to breakage, theft, or fair wear and tear through hotel, airline and private transportation handling. It is important for your own self-interest and protection that you make certain you have adequate insurance to cover for these eventualities. Lost luggage is an unfortunate possibility in today's world of airline travel.
We suggest the following:
- You can purchase an inexpensive bag in your final city for all your new purchases or ship them home.
- Pack at least one change of clothing in your carry-on bag.
- Split your items between your suitcase and a traveling companion's suitcase.
- Do not pack any vital medications or valuables in your checked luggage.
- Confirm that your luggage is checked and tagged to your final destination at airport check-in.
- Place your luggage claim tags in a secure place for your flight.
- File a claim for any missing luggage immediately before leaving the baggage claim area at the arrival airport.
- Secure a case number and contact information for follow-up communications. Make certain that the airline has your onward itinerary.
- Your tour manager may assist you with airline and other carrier communications, if there is a language barrier, but he or she has no inside contacts to guarantee or expedite recovery of lost luggage.
- All recovery costs, including communication costs, are your responsibility. Check your travel protection details for covered expenses.
Customized itineraries can include different forms of travel all dependent on location, chosen sites and activities. Forms of transportation can vary from trains and ferries to private vehicles with professional drivers. Travels with Audrey hires licensed professional drivers. Depending on your group size:
- For 2 to 3 people it would be your own driver with a sedan vehicle or SUV
- For 6 to 7 guests a comfortable minivan (i.e. Peugeot Expert Tepee, Renault Espace, Mercedes Viano, Ford Tourneo)
- In some cases a separated dedicated luggage vehicle is chartered for increased comfort (this is included in the quoted tour price)
- With more than 8 guests we operate either 2 vans, a 10-15 seater or mini-bus (19 or 24-seater)
In Italy, Spain and France any vehicles larger than a 9-seater van will not be able to enter small towns or historical centers. So we always choose vehicles as indicated above that allow us to access areas of towns and cities where larger vehicles would be restricted. Choosing smaller vehicles also allows us to travel along local roads and across breathtaking mountain passes to find charming villages and picturesque vistas which lie beyond the well-worn tourist trails. For added convenience, we usually drive into the center of small villages and old towns to park beside charming accommodations and intimate local restaurants.
Private transfers to and from the airport can be arranged as part of your all-inclusive land arrangement.
On some itineraries and dependent on group size you may have Audrey as your personal driver-guide, so you are in good hands!
How much driving depends on your personally chosen activities and locations on your customized itinerary package. Generally, we design our private tours so that there is as little time as possible in the vehicle and plenty to see. We travel along the scenic route wherever possible, meaning you’ll see more of the countryside and local village life. Inevitably, there are days when traveling between locations may involve freeway driving and more mileage. Generally we try to do at least two to three attraction stops and comfort, meal stops. It would be as if you had rented a car, without having to drive or concern yourself with directions, maps and the possibility of getting lost or not speaking the language.
Some of the most memorable sightseeing can only be accomplished on foot. Cities like Venice and Florence, to name a few, are made for walking. You must be able to sustain extended periods of time walking and standing (anywhere from 3 to 4 hours).
Many historic cities and towns prohibit motorized transport, meaning that your driver will need to park some distance out of the center and you will be walking into the town or city center with your driver-guide or tour manager.
Traveling in North America most sites are handicapped-accessible and within easy reach with a car. That is not the case in Europe. European countries do not have stringent disability laws as in the United States/Canada.
All Travels with Audrey’s customized itineraries have planned time on your own, time to enjoy your local guide, a photo op or a gelato, but it has been our experience that most guests would like to see and experience as much as possible while on vacation with us. We're adaptable to any speed, but if you're not used to walking on your own power for three or four blocks at a time without stopping to catch your breath, you may have problems enjoying Europe.
TIP: Also keep in mind, that most European villages, including historical city centers, have cobblestones and uneven surfaces. It is essential that you have good walking shoes with a thick rubber sole, especially in the summer due to the heat coming up through the bottom of your feet. To enjoy your private customized tour to Europe with us, you should be able to walk reasonable distances, often over unpaved and uneven surfaces. The countries we travel to are home to innumerable historic buildings and sites, many dating back to antiquity. Therefore roads, walkways and sightseeing locations may present difficulties for some guests with physical disabilities.
NOTE: If you have a mobility concern, you may not find our private tours suitable. Please contact us if you have any doubts. Please also check our Terms and Conditions for more detail.
We pride ourselves in seeking and selecting unique accommodations, boutique properties with fewer than forty rooms in most cases and mostly small family-owned establishments instead of chain hotels. You can rest assured I have personally selected all our hotels for their quality, cleanliness, comfort and location.
Our accommodations (whether a villa situated in a stunning location in wine country, a boutique hotel, a castle hotel, a property in the historical heart of cities, 'Paradors', charming inns, B&B's, 'agriturismi' or traditional farmhouses) are carefully selected to always reflect the authentic local character and charm of the destination without sacrificing comfort and service. Rather than going by the official grading (based solely on facilities rather than the standard of the accommodation), we base our choices on location, quality and warm hospitality.
In cities, we will select hotels in historical centers and within walking distance of major sights, shopping and museums. Most are historical buildings dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries. On most of our tour itineraries we have also opted to stay in country villas/inns or castles to better appreciate the region and savor the countryside. All of the rooms have private bath and air-conditioning. In some of the country estates, villas or castles, there are spas and swimming pools for you to relax and enjoy.
- At time of booking, please let us know whether you would like a twin room (two single sized beds in a room) or a double room (one standard sized bed for 2 people) or single room. Room sizes in older buildings may vary and each room could have its own unique style and character.
- We do not include porterage as most properties do not offer that service and quite honestly it is actually faster in most cases to bring up your own, even if they have a hotel porter on duty to help you with your luggage.
Additional notes on accommodations:
- In historic buildings that have been converted to hotels, the strongest intent during renovations was to respect and preserve the original structure as much as possible. So we ask for your patience and flexibility as most rooms will be a different size, layout, and view (which is not guaranteed until time of booking) and may be smaller than you might be used to in newer chain hotels. Also, if you are staying in a hotel located within a city center, please know that there may be a certain degree of noise that is higher compared to other accommodations in more remote areas (Cars, pedestrians, mopeds).
- Lifts, if any, are usually very small, due to space constraints in older historical buildings, and your shower may not be as big as the one at home. In many cases this is due to regulations concerning protected buildings, but this will be more than offset by the charm, unique character and history which can be uncovered in these locations.
- Please do not communicate directly with the hotels prior to your vacation, as it could cause misunderstandings. If you have particular requests or concerns, please let me know and I'll make sure to notify the hotels. Thank you for your understanding.
- Most accommodations will have air conditioning, but it will not run as cool as in North America, and may not run all day. Generally, Europe does not adhere to the same spacious rooms that one might be used to in Canada or the United States. They are also, along with some other European countries, some of the most environmentally conscious.
- In regards to bathrooms: sometimes you will have a large bathroom with shower and bathtub, sometimes just a small shower stall that you can barely turn around in. This is just helpful to know in advance, knowing what to expect when traveling to European countries, but that will certainly not take away from your enjoyment.
NOTE ON ACCOMMODATION TAX: Various European countries or cities have what's known as a Tourist Tax Europe. This fee is paid at the hotel reception desk at checkout. Because this tax is charged and collected by your hotel and is payable in cash only when you check out, we are unable to collect this tax in advance or include it in your price when you are traveling independently. This tax is included in the tour price for clients traveling on an escorted tour accompanied by a Tour Manager who is able to pay directly to the hotel on your behalf.
On self-guided private custom tours the only meal included is breakfast. Of course, we can include wine tastings, cooking classes and visits to farms, to name a few. Lunches and dinners are only included based on client's wishes.
Character and Quality: Tasting the local cuisine is an important part of any holiday and Travels with Audrey ensures that an emphasis is placed on local specialties. Our included culinary experiences, only available on guided private tours, enable you to enjoy truly authentic, locally sourced and produced cuisine. Take cooking classes using regional ingredients, visit local farms, enjoy food and wine tastings at local producers. Furthermore, throughout our private tours you’ll dine in small, authentic restaurants, frequented by the locals and guaranteed to give a true reflection of the tastes of the region.
Some of our meals will be in towns we visit along the way, while others are in countryside locations with breathtaking surroundings. The locations we select for your included exclusive culinary experiences are authentic locations, most often family run, farm-to-table establishments, 'agriturismi', Michelin star fine cuisine, upmarket establishments, but also typical cafes and 'auberges'.
Each itinerary will differ on the number of included lunches or dinners based on client's personal wishes.
Most often, you will be able to order from an open menu where you can freely choose 'à la carte', but a number of the restaurants we work with; prefer to have a set menu. In this case, we send you the choices and you will let us know what your preferences are. The 'set menu' will always reflect the cuisine and beverages of the region and not the typical "beef, chicken, veggie or fish" options on mainstream tours. We want you to truly taste the lands you are traveling through. We also feature a handful of unique culinary and chef-prepared dinners that feature specific menus exclusively prepared for our guests. Bottled water, tea or coffee is included with all meals. Wine is included with some meals. Beer, soft drinks and cocktails are not included.
For the optional lunches and dinners, you are free to make your own gastronomic explorations or join your tour manager, driver-guide.
NOTE: One thing to remember is dinner times in Europe are later than you might be used to, 7:30 PM at the earliest and often later in some locations in France and Italy (Spain).
If you have a question that hasn’t been answered here, please feel free to contact me by email! I will happily answer any questions you might have about my services or about how I can help you with your European travel plans.
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