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Kathy Scopin fell in love with Italy when she signed up for a 13-day bicycle trip from the Adriatic Sea to the Mediterranean. Since then, she’s returned every year for the last 15 years.  Friends and family know how much Kathy loves it there. And whenever they want to plan a trip to Italy, she’s the first person they call.

Scroll down to find out how Kathy turned her love for Italy into a tour that started in Venice, ended in Rome, and confirmed that she may never have to pay for a trip to Italy again…

— Lori
Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

Leading Tours: Reader Funds Trip to Italy by Creating Travel Tour
An Interview with reader and past attendee Kathy Scopin

BONNIE: Hi Kathy. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you decided to fund your last trip to Italy by creating your own tour?

KATHY: Sure. I’m a registered nurse and Director of Home Care for a hospital-based home health agency. I’ve worked in the healthcare industry for over 30 years. But after 10 years in a hospital environment, I yearned to see the world.

So, upon turning 40, I signed up for a 13-day bicycle trip across Italy, cycling from the Adriatic to the Mediterranean. I was hooked. Since then, I’ve traveled to Italy annually for the past 15 years, expanding my knowledge of the country and its 20 regions.

Then, several years ago, I took my best friend to Italy and taught her everything I knew. She later traveled there by herself, and then again taking her mother-in-law. My first Italy travel “student” was a success — providing testimonials to others. It was then that I realized I had the expertise to share my knowledge of Italy along with the necessary skills to travel there. That’s when I considered leading tours, and I conceived the idea for my “First Trip to Italy” tour.

BONNIE: What was your very first “First Trip to Italy” tour like — where did you go and what did you do with your group?

KATHY: It was an eleven-day Italian Sampler. My goal was to visit the major icons of Italy (Rome, Florence, and Venice) while teaching Italian-specific travel skills to first-time Italy travelers. Along with travel instruction and coaching, I emphasized cultural sensitivity. It makes a world of difference in how travelers are perceived and received in Italy.

The trip started in Venice and concluded in Rome, and we spent the middle of our journey in a luxurious 4-star Tuscan Villa high in the Florentine hills. There we enjoyed olive oil tasting, an afternoon cooking intensive with the resort’s renowned chef, relaxing by the pool overlooking the stunning, verdant valley below, horseback riding, shopping excursions, and other activities.

The tour encompassed the multitude of reasons why travelers choose Italy: art, history, architecture, food, wine, and the pleasures of shopping.  I filled the itinerary with unique specialty tours not typically available to the average traveler. For example, in Florence we visited several artisan workshops. Each artisan demonstrated the ancient techniques of their craft, which included specialty paper products, gold jewelry production, and ceramic painting. While traveling from Venice to Tuscany, we visited a balsamic vinegar producer and experienced an entire lunch based on the vinegar it produced.

BONNIE: Who were your participants, and how did you find them?

KATHY: During the 15 years I’ve traveled to Italy, I’ve shared my experiences with friends and acquaintances while providing informal trip planning for many others. Several people mentioned they wanted to travel with me to Italy, and they were the first to join the tour. A few others joined based on recommendations from their friends.

BONNIE: Did you make enough income from the trip to cover your trip costs?

KATHY: Yes. And I could have made more.

Although I built in a buffer to cover the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the euro, the value of the dollar dropped significantly from the time I launched the tour until I collected the last payment. The exchange rate went from the lowest it’s been in years to the highest. This being my first formal time leading tours in a challenging economy, I was satisfied that the cost of my travel was covered.

BONNIE: You read Cynthia Morris’s Leading Tours for Fun and Profit before designing your own tour. What would you say is the most important thing you learned? Were there any nuggets of truth in her program that saved you at some point?

KATHY: Cynthia suggests using her e-guide like a mini-coaching session, which I did, and it paid off for me. In fact, all of her tips were extremely valuable in planning my Italian Sampler, but one was particularly key…

Cynthia suggests using a “person in the field” to help with planning, and again when you get to your destination. I found someone that I termed my “Italian intermediary.” Having an inside track from someone who knows the area intimately contributed greatly to the success of my first tour. For example, although I have 15 years of experience traveling through Italy, it would have been difficult to uncover the acetaia, or balsamic vinegar producer. The owner, whose family business had been in operation since 1850, was delightful. Don’t be afraid to elicit help in the beginning.

BONNIE: Now that you’ve led your first tour, what are your top three tips for readers who’d like to do the same?

KATHY: When leading tours, first, confirm, reconfirm, and reconfirm again. Especially when a foreign language is involved. Second, always have a backup plan for a rainy day. And third, don’t over-schedule. Be sure to allow adequate time for relaxation and replenishment.

BONNIE: Do you have any new tours in the works right now?

KATHY: I plan to offer First Trip to Italy’s Italian Sampler again in the fall of 2010. And I have a second tour in the works, which will include exploring the hidden gems in lesser-known areas of Italy.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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