I half-heartedly thumbed through the hostel's booklet, outlining details about what to see and do in Milan. Ostello Bello may be one of the best hostels in Milan, with a variety of information about the city and employees eager to answer all my questions, but I couldn't help but feel a pang of yearning for my days spent exploring Italy with Monograms.
After 10 years, I thought I had mastered the art of travel. I had developed a love for slow travel, a growing movement where travelers spent an elongated time in one place so as to immerse themselves in the local culture and avoid manic sightseeing. However, as I walked through the historical districts of Milan, I longed for the advantage of having a local expert right beside me, explaining the historical and cultural significance of each item I was glancing upon.
Perks of the Tour Bus
I missed Monogram's local hosts, particularly Igor's vast knowledge of Venice and Rafaela's warm and inviting personality. I pined for the safety net that the local hosts provided; there was always someone around that I could rely on. But most of all I yearned for the structure and yet freedom that the Monograms tour offered, allowing us to choose what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. After only five days of wandering the streets of Venice and Stresa, I had inadvertently fallen hook, line and sinker for the Monograms tour experience.
In fact, their pitch is quite tantalizing: Independent travel. Simplified. After all, even the most seasoned traveler can find the first day in an unfamiliar city challenging. But, from the moment that the glass doors parted, welcoming me into the arrivals section of the airport, I was put at ease by the local host who was there to welcome me with an upbeat attitude and a huge smile.
Take the Guess Work out of Travel
Monograms takes the guess work out of everything and from the airport I was whisked away by water taxi to my hotel where another local host, Igor, was waiting to provide me with a handy destination guide full of useful information. With Igor by my side, there was absolutely no need for a Lonely Planet; there was no question that he could not answer. Inside our booklets he scribbled down his phone number and informed us that he was available 24 hours during our stay if we ever had any questions or if we ran into any trouble. Sometimes local hosts can be life-savers, as evidence to my little debacle in Stresa where I found myself stuck at the top of a mountain after missing the last cable car back into town. The host was able to calm us down and arranged for a taxi to come and pick us up and drive us back to the hotel. whew.
Along with a fabulous set of employees, many of which have been with the company for numerous years, Monograms offers something many tours do not: flexibility. Not only do they offer time savings, no lines for popular destinations (such as the Vatican and/or Machu Picchu) and a local expert, but they also provide optional excursions and packages that are designed and personalized based on your tastes. In Venice our optional excursion was a trip to the island of Burano coupled with a scrumptious lunch on the patio. Individuals can choose to go on excursions outside the city, within the city limits or even wander by themselves to places that the local host may have recommended.
The bottom line is that YOU get to decide what you want to do and with each decision comes the promise from Monograms that you will not be alone. They can provide transportation from the hotel, local tips, information and a safety net, just in case you get lost or are in need of help.
With local hosts, hand-selected hotels, meals, VIP sightseeing, transportation and trip personalization, Monograms is the perfect mix of structure and flexibility. I cannot rave enough about it; I'm even considering taking one of their trips to Peru after I was told that individuals not only get to enter Machu Picchu twice during their stay, but they also skip the line and enter before everyone else. Not bad.
Even if you are still skeptically, I recommend that you take a gander at the Monogram's website and see for yourself. You never know, you may be pleasantly surprised.
My trip to Italy was provided by Monograms but the opinions and views expressed in the above article are my own.
Yvonne Ivanescu is the founder of Under the Yew Tree, a resource and community for individuals that are eager to travel to Latin America. She is also an avid scuba diver who dreams of one day relocating to Brazil. But until then she plans on finishing up her travel memoir, continue travel writing and master the world of social media. For vital Latin American travel tips make sure to visit her Facebook page and remember to follow her on Twitter as she explores the world, one country at a time.