Tips & Trips Podcast Episode 10: Top Places to Visit This Winter

Last updated on 01/14/2020

Top Places to Visit This Winter? With Collette Tours Diana Ditto

In this episode of "Tips and Trips" Collette Tours Product Director Diana Ditto gives a preview on what to expect while traveling abroad this winter.

JULIE: You’re listening to ‎Tips & Trips, the podcast for travelers brought to you by InsureMyTrip. Julie Loffredi here, and we are chatting this morning with Diana Ditto. She's the Director of Product Design for Collette based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. And Collette, Diana, you can talk about, it's been around for a while. How many tours you think have Collette put on over the years?

DIANA: Oh my gosh, I couldn't even tell you. That's a great question. One I should probably have an answer to. But yeah, we are in our 101st travel season, so we've been doing this for quite some time. So a large number definitely.

JULIE: And the big tagline "find the trip of a lifetime through Collette Tours." So I want to talk to you about this time of year. We're heading into the busy holiday travel season and vacations are top of mind. So what are you seeing as far as trending destinations, where people are going this time of year, and just some general advice on what to look for when planning your next getaway?

DIANA: Absolutely. So this time of year as we head into the holiday season, we actually have a large number of travelers that head overseas to Europe to explore the Christmas markets. So it's really a special time of year and season, particularly in Germany, Austria where the little town squares just fill up with these chalets selling handcrafted gifts and ornaments and beautiful things for the holiday season.

JULIE: And so I suppose you can't find those items on Amazon, right?

DIANA: No, probably can't find those things on Amazon, and it's just a special time of year to be there. It may be a little chilly outside, but there's really a warmth in the atmosphere. There's always live music playing and you get a cup of mulled cider and just stroll through these medieval towns that are centuries old and it's really something. If you haven't done it, it's definitely a bucket list item. And getting over to Europe now, particularly in the winter months, is so easy and so affordable.

JULIE: And these Christmas markets obviously are a big attraction. Is it the shopping, the experience, the food? What tends to draw in tourists to visit?

DIANA: Really all of the above. A lot of it is kind of the culture around it, the history around it. And you're still seeing some of the most iconic sites of Europe just in a different light, all decorated for the Christmas season. And it's actually a great time to be there because even though a lot of people go for the Christmas markets, it's still the off-season. So you can get into a lot of the best restaurants. You can go to the attractions and you're not queuing up, waiting in these long lines, you're surrounded by a horde of tourists. You still have the destination to yourself and you have more of an opportunity to interact with the local people because they're actually around at that time of year. In the summertime in Europe, a lot of the locals tend to go on vacation. So what makes traveling so special in my opinion is when you get to interact with the people that live in the destination on a consistent basis, and traveling off season really affords that opportunity.

JULIE: And if you went alone and tried to figure out where the Christmas markets are and where to go, that puts a lot of stress on travelers. With the tour, I suppose Collette's done the research, knows the best time to go, gets you there, gets you wherever, and just makes it so much easier?

DIANA: Exactly. And my team that I manage spends about 120 days on the road every year, and so we want to find the places to bring our travelers that yes are the must sees but also not the tourist traps. We want to avoid those. We want to get you into the restaurants, into the local attractions, meeting with the artisans that are actually crafting these different ornaments and trinkets and things like that so that you have an authentic local experience and not one that is just out of a guidebook or out of TripAdvisor where everyone is heading to the number one attraction.

JULIE: Right.

DIANA: Because that probably isn't where the locals are going and that's where we like to go.

JULIE: Yeah, that's a sweet spot. So we know Christmas markets, Europe is hot. Are there any other kind of up and coming destinations that seem to be drawing in some interest this time of year?

DIANA: Absolutely. So a lot of people actually want to avoid the cold, and you can't blame them, right? So you head down to the Southern Hemisphere, so South Pacific Central and Southeast Asia, and also South America are great destinations for the winter months. So South Pacific you're looking at Australia and New Zealand, that's a bucket list destination. Getting to Ayers Rock, Sydney Opera House. New Zealand is just breathtaking, beautiful scenic drives there. And then you have other great destinations like India. I mean if you haven't been to India and seeing the Taj Mahal. I'm fortunate and blessed to travel all around the world 120 days a year going on seven years now. And when I saw the Taj Mahal tears welled in my eyes, I lost my breath. It was so impactful and so moving. So India is another great spot. And yeah, top trending I would have to say is Southeast Asia as well. Vietnam is just on fire right now.

JULIE: So, Diana, obviously we're talking to you who has been around the world a few times. Where are you headed next? I'm just curious.

DIANA: I'm going to the Balkans.

JULIE: Oh.

DIANA: Yeah, I'm really excited. Yeah. I haven't been there and about 10 years. So yeah, flying right into Sarajevo.

JULIE: Wow. And when it comes to putting all these tours together, where do you guys begin? You obviously pinpoint a destination and then you have to kind of build an itinerary based off the travelers that are going to participate. Where do you kind of begin? Is it a little bit of a song and dance on how to put these things together?

DIANA: It is, yeah. It is. The most important thing we do at Collette is getting in-destination. So before I travel with my team out to Bosnia, we spend hours on the phone with various local experts, everyone from history professors at the university to local guides to restaurant owners to hotels. And we'll spend weeks out there vetting all of these different vendors and finding the one that really aligns with our core values and we feel we'll provide our travelers with the best experience. If you're going to do a home hosted dinner in anywhere in the world or a cooking class anywhere in the world, and that may be your only time visiting that destination, it's our job to make sure that we've found the vendor that's going to provide the best experience to our guests.

JULIE: Yeah. And that's something that crosses my mind too. A trip that I planned by myself, go to one of the booking sites and just kind of figure it out. And there's always that risk of wasting your time on cherry picking, and like you said an attraction or something to do. And then it maybe falls short. Where the nice thing about going on a tour is that everything has been really vetted, which is, it's part of the experience.

DIANA: Absolutely. And time is your most precious resource, but you need to make sure that you're spending it wisely. And that's where we come in and make sure that all of our experiences are ones that we would want for our own family.

JULIE: And if somebody is considering, maybe the first time considering a tour, what's your recommendation as far as figuring that out? How far in advance to book? How to pick the right place for you and your family?

DIANA: Absolutely, great question. So I mean first you have to find a destination that's of interest to you and your family. And then when you're trying to find a travel provider, really aligning what you value most with what that company values most. So Collette is a four and a half star tour operator that has highly inclusive products. You may be more aligned with a five star tour operator that doesn't include a lot or a three star tour operator that is completely inclusive. So just finding the provider that's going to ... Do you want a lot of free time, do you not want a lot of free time? And really understanding that, taking the time to pick up the phone, call and talk to a representative and just identify does this company provide the value that I'm looking for? And then once you identify what that company is, I always love to crack out your old history books and pretend you're in high school again studying for a test. What makes this country or the city special? Are there certain places that I absolutely need to see and restaurants or foods that I really must try? And starting to just get excited about those.

JULIE: Yeah. Great suggestions. And as we're getting into the busy peak season and a lot of people are starting to think about their 2020 travel plans. How far out in advance should you book a tour and get all that organized?

DIANA: We suggest 12 to six months, and that really has to do with the optimal time to secure your airfare. If you wait too close in or if you book too far out sometimes the pricing can be higher than what it should cost to get to that destination.

JULIE: Got it. All right. Well, Diana, thank you so much for joining us on the call. I feel I could just talk to you all day long. But the big takeaways here - Christmas markets, that's a big driver and a great thing to do if you're considering a tour this season. Also remember about some of the great destinations available like India where Collette's been running tours and it's, Diana's, one of her favorites. And then of course if you're considering a tour, think way in advance, the better off you'll be as far as airfare pricing. Anything else I'm missing, Diana?

DIANA: No, I think you got it all. Thank you so much for inviting me onto the program to chat and yeah, get out there and see the world. It's never been easier, which is a really exciting thing.

JULIE: And have fun in the Balkans.

DIANA: Thank you so much.

JULIE: Okay. Bye, bye.

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