Why This Might Be the Best-Kept Secret in Travel
Even as a veteran traveler and vacation planner, I wish there were an easier way to get all my trip planning done -- whether a magic button or just a friend who always knows everything to see/do/eat in any given city. Then I tried Monograms -- a style of travel that promises stress-free days and an authentic local experience. And, after taking my own Monograms trip to Rome and Venice, I think I may have uncovered the best-kept secret in travel.
What is Monograms exactly? It's not an escorted tour -- you won't find yourself squeezing onto a bus at 7 a.m. every day with lots of strangers. Nor is it a solo trip where you're totally on your own. It's the truest kind of happy medium -- an "untour," if you will.
And here are four reasons I'll be booking another one ASAP:
1. No Need for a Vacation after Your Vacation
Nothing makes me feel like I need a vacation more than planning the nitty-gritty of a vacation. By contrast, the "stress-free getaway" Monograms promise kicked in as soon as I booked. I clicked "Confirm," and everything I dislike figuring out was automatically figured out for me: airport transfers, train tickets, train station transfers, plus tours of can't-miss sites.
During the resulting trip, on the rare occasion that my brain did begin to switch into "Ok, where do I go now" mode, someone seemed to instantly appear with a sign and a smile, ready to help me get to the next place. And if you've ever tried to catch a train abroad, you know how helpful this is. Finding your platform, deciphering foreign signage and knowing whether or not (and where and how) to validate your ticket all factor into whether you wind up spending too much time at the station, or worse, missing your train.
As for my transfers: private black cars in Rome and private water taxis in Venice, each waiting for me as soon as I arrived. I could get dangerously accustomed to this version of la bella vita.
2. Local Hosts
Picture a concierge, guide, friend, Siri and Google rolled into one and you'll start to get an idea of a Monograms Local Host. In Rome, my host was Yolanda, a 30-year resident of the city with a warm smile and quick wit. She greeted me at the hotel with a packet full of maps, her recommendations and personalized logistical info -- most important, the times I needed to be ready for my scheduled activities and transfers. She also gave me her personal cell phone number so if I needed directions, a restaurant recommendation or someone to translate with a cab driver, she was available.
In fact, Yolanda had a dedicated desk in the hotel lobby for Monograms travelers and was there nearly all day to answer questions, arrange transfers and make sure things ran smoothly.
Case in point: One morning, I returned to the hotel famished from biking through the city. With only two hours before my next activity, I told Yolanda I was really hoping to find some amazing carbonara nearby. She walked with me to a restaurant -- one I never would have noticed -- introduced me to the owner and procured the best-tasting carbonara I've ever had. And with that one pasta dish, she proved the old travelism: You have to "go where the locals go" to really experience a place.
3. Sightseeing sans Flag-Following
My Local Hosts also coordinated the can't-miss sightseeing that's included in every Monograms trip. In Rome, that meant a tour of the Vatican and Colosseum, while in Venice, we explored St. Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace. Typically, you're with other Monograms travelers while sightseeing, but these are tours you'd likely book anyway -- and the Monograms groups were much smaller than others I saw, plus included our own expert local guide.
The best part, though? The skip-the-line access (which meant saving hours in Rome and Venice) and other VIP perks. For example, I definitely wanted to see the Vatican, but didn't want to figure out how to make a reservation, where to buy tickets, or when and where to get in line. Nor did I have the dual Masters in art and history I would have needed to fully appreciate the Vatican. So Monograms was the perfect solution on all counts. My guide both got me where I needed to be and schooled me on its amazingness.
There are also optional Monograms tours ranging from the touristy (if you go to Venice and don't ride a gondola, did you even go?) to the trendy (think foodie walking tours of hot neighborhoods). Many of these tours are designed around the idea of "sidestreets" -- getting off the beaten path and doing something immersive and local. Your Local Host can help tailor your experiences to your interests. For my part, I can't stop talking about the organic picnic I had in a gorgeous, secluded Roman park. The views were incredible, the food fantastic and the relaxation priceless. Had I been on my own -- again -- I never would have found this park.
4. Curated & Planned by Experts
As part of the larger Globus family of brands, a travel company with more than 90 years' experience, Monograms trips were born of the feedback of thousands of travelers and decades of local expertise. So how does that translate on a trip? Well, on my sightseeing tour of Venice, I joked with my Local Host Graziella that we seemed to be perpetually 10 minutes ahead of the huge crowds wherever we went. She told me that was no accident: She knew exactly when to hit St. Mark's Square to see it without throngs of people in the way. Similarly, my guide in Rome planned our Vatican visit so we had plenty of time to appreciate the Sistine Chapel, unlike other groups I saw sprinting through the museums.
The hotels are chosen equally thoughtfully, with an eye to quality and location. They also tend to be locally owned to give you a truer sense of place. For example, my Venetian hotel was in a historic building right along a small canal that somehow managed to be away from the bulk of the tourist traffic, but still a three-minute walk to St. Mark's Square. In most destinations, you can choose from a couple of hotels, so you can pick the one that suits you best. But be warned: Given how at-home you'll feel thanks to your Local Host, having to check out can come as something of a shock.
So Who's This For (and How Much Does It Cost)?
- It's your first time in the destination: You can get your bearings in a new place more quickly, and go beyond the guidebook with the local resources and contacts at your disposal.
- You're tight on time: Monograms plans away a lot of the stress and wasted time in a destination -- so you can see and do more.
- You love local travel: The Local Host adds a personal "locals-only" touch, helping you find the secret spots that boilerplate tours will miss.
- Traveling with family or a large groups of friends: No one has to be in charge of planning every single detail of the trip or be the point person while you travel, so everyone can relax.
- Extended travelers: You can plan a two- or three-week trip across multiple cities or countries all at once without ever having to research how to get from points A to B to C to D.
Booking a trip through Monograms will cost a bit more than booking the flights and hotels on your own (but less than booking a fully escorted tour.) Still, in my experience, the expertise of the Local Hosts, the time and stress I saved -- and yes, the posh perks -- were worth every penny. In fact, when I was recapping my trip to my fellow well-traveled Deal Experts, over and over, I heard "Man, I could've used that when I went to ________."