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By Carol Austin /

Carol Austin
Carol getting to know the locals!

Over the past 13 seasons I have had the pleasure of working with many guests, helping them choose the adventure that is just right for them. That said, my favorite trips to plan are customs vacations and or exclusive adventures. I love going from A-Z, start to finish with the group, family, or just friends getting together for that special adventure vacation of a lifetime. Nothing gives me a better sense of accomplishment than knowing its another trip well done!

So many times I have heard conversations like this:  “At dinner with the Smith’s last week my husband John mentioned we were looking to take our family to Alaska and then the Smith’s chimed in they too were looking for an Alaskan Adventure. We started talking and mentioned we had such an amazing Family Adventure to Yellowstone with Austin-Lehman Adventures, we offered to make the call. The Smith’s then went on to mention their friends the Jone’s were talking about an Alaska Adventure as well. So I volunteered to call you”.

And there is starts…. You find yourself “chairing” the planning and scheduling of an adventure vacation for 3 families, with lots of different ideas, dreams and expectations. No need to be worried, every great experience starts with that first step….  And that first step doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

In the next few minutes I am going to try and share some simple steps I have learned and used these last dozen plus years. I will try and take away a bit of the anxiety and put in a dose of reality and a pinch of fun! These 12 steps can be used for an extended multigenerational family vacationor corporate retreat, for a singles getaway for that special group of girlfriends or just you and yours wanting something really special.

Without boasting I will take a minute and share just a few of my favorites these last few years….

How about the Grandfather that called wanting help in taking his two grandchildren on a National Parks Vacation. The catch being they wanted to do 5 National Parks in 6 days by private jet…  we made it happen!

Or there was the very special 60th birthday party on the island of Kaui for a dozen friends celebrating this special occasion. The special day and moment came at sunset, standing in the surf, cocktail in hand as the Hawaiian Trio played and a helicopter dropped rose peddles from the sky… (OK that’s one of my favorites and doesn’t happen every day).

One more was a custom Yellowstone National Park adventure for the mother, her sons, their spouses and their children. 3 generations, 20 willing adventurers of all ages and desires. Everything from horseback riding, rafting, hiking, to wine tasting (for the adults while the kids were treated to a poolside pizza party)

The point is, anything and everything for anyone is possible! It just starts with that first step (call) and we will do our part to make it as easy as possible.

Key is information and education…  you first need to determine a rough idea of who the group is and what they may want. So before you get too far into it, try kicking things off with a “get together” of the key decision makers. Be prepared to ask at least the following questions and take copious notes…

1.      Narrow down your destination, its ok to have a couple but not more than three. Keeping it simple really helps when trying to decide. Be sure to agree on domestic or foreign.

2.      When is the best time for everyone (caution here, this can be a big challenge), try and get all to block out at least a few dates.

3.      Budget- Better get what the budget is or can be on the table early in the process.

4.      Wish List- Next up key activities and the wish list of everything you want to do. (Horseback riding, rafting, biking, etc..)

5.      Get an idea (this ties back to budget) on type of accommodations and or camping…  try and get a consensus.  Example: 4 start Lodges.

6.      Length- Also tied to budget is the overall length, be sure to allow a day or two on either end for traveling.

** OK, now armed with the above you are ready to “make a few calls” or emails for that matter (with Custom and Exclusive adventures I prefer).  Pick one or two tour operators (preferably from personal experience and or direct referrals, with googling up on the internet a distant 3rd choice).  Then pick up the phone and give them a call!  (refer to: http://www.austinlehman.com/choosing-a-tour-operator-pages-477.php , for some additional tips and tricks for picking a Tour Operator)

7.      Be up front and let them know you are just the spokesperson for a group and describe the demographics of your party!

8.      Work with your adventure consultant to come up with 2-3 detailed rough and simple itineraries. Do not put endless hours into the details until you have a few sample itineraries to supply your group. No need to flesh out what you are doing on day 3 until you have determined if you are going to Alaska or Belize on your adventure. Get a budget on the 2-3 itineraries and take back to your party.

9.      Almost Ready- Armed with a rough itinerary, budget, destination and dates, you will soon find out how easy it’s going to be…  often this is the case, but occasionally its back to the drawing board. But if you did 1-6 above, you should be dang close and should be able to get everyone to agree on at least the next phase.

10.   Top Pick- Once you have that “top pick” ask for the nuances from the group. What they really like, what might be missing, special events (birthdates, anniversaries, etc.) and take this information back to your adventure consultant. Share all the details…

11.   Remember- With all this in place you should be able to get a final itinerary (remembering it’s a Custom/Exclusive Vacation and can be adjusted at any point, including while on the fly, ask me and I will tell you a few fun ones). With the final itinerary you should be able to lock in dates and pricing.

12.   The last step should be even simpler, now hand it off to your adventure consultant you have been working with and their team to work with all the individuals to get the final details, deposits, paperwork, insurance, etc., all in place. This doesn’t have to be your choir, it’s what they (we) get paid to do.  All we need is the list of participants and contact information.

Now step back.. there will be a lot of back and forth, a lot of Q&A before the actual trip, but relax, you did your part (and a great job you did I might add).

When the day finally arrives and you find yourself heading out to enjoy the adventure of a lifetime with the fellow travelers you help get on their way, you will smile ear to ear with the extra satisfaction that comes with being a key contributor in creating the perfect Custom Vacation!

In closing I will share one of my most memorable compliments, it came from a grandmother that I worked with to arrange a 80th birthday trip for her husband, adult children and grand children to Costa Rica. She called me from the hotel in Gunancaste to tell me how perfect and fantastic everything was. A couple of years later I had the pleasure of working with her again to plan a trip with the family for her 75th birthday. We are already talking about what we are going to do for his 90TH!

your friendly travel expert,

Carol Austin

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