Interview with Joeann Gutowski
We visited with Joeann Gutowski in our Fort Collins office before she heads to our Bicycling Through the Best of Provence tour this fall to ask about her routine and tips to prepare for her cycling trip.
Q. What is the starting point to prepare for an ExperiencePlus! cycling vacation?
We love when people ask “I booked a tour, now what?” Personally, I think they should start by patting themselves on the back for choosing a cycling vacation as their method to explore the world; then they should sit back and read our Travel Planning Information. Our customers receive a wealth of information broken into 3 separate pieces; the Reservation Confirmation, the Trip Planning Information, and the Final Mailing Information. Currently this consists of both electronic and printed materials, but watch for the 2010 season as we provide more electronic and fewer printed documents. We are responding to customers’ preference for less paper and continuing our goals of environmental stewardship.
Q. Is there an order of importance to this travel planning information?
Yes, I consider the following to be top priority and those that should be addressed upon booking. 1) Review the Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance materials we provide. Trip insurance is strongly advised and some provisions are date sensitive based upon the booking date. 2) Complete and return the Customer Information Form. This provides us with dietary and medical concerns and bike fitting measurements. 3) Review the Getting To and Away document for the starting and ending towns and respective hotels, transportation plans, and contact information for our staff specific to each tour. Like your passport, don’t leave home without it! 4) Check your passport expiration date and renew or apply for a passport if necessary.
Q. What and how do you pack to go on tour?
Pack Light! The general rule-of-thumb is if you will not wear something more than once then don’t pack it. Our planning materials provide a detailed packing list that provides great guidance. I also check one of the weather websites to view historical climate data for my destination. When selecting the type of luggage remember that with international travel you will most likely be hopping on and off trains or buses so maneuverability and comfort is important. We recommend a small to medium size rolling luggage, duffel, or internal frame pack; and a daypack or similar type item. I find it convenient to have an arrangement of luggage that allows me to have a free hand.
Q. So, do you have the packing light down to a science?
Oh my, I think I am being set up here, have you been talking to my husband? I do a good job and can pack fairly fast if I have my list. I usually lay out my items then cut anything that does not follow the “more than once” rule. I will admit that my struggle is with footwear. Shoes consume a lot of space so avoid the trap of packing shoes just to make an outfit. I also learned to limit the amount of reading material that I pack. I enjoy perusing a bookstore in a foreign country to check out the selection of books in English. Electronic devices make is easy to have music and reading materials in a compact and lightweight format. Another packing tip – limit the number of toiletry items as they add weight to your luggage fast.
Q. What about the physical demands of a cycling vacation?
I am a recreational cyclist and commute a few miles to work by bike each day. I am lucky as Fort Collins affords the opportunity to ride flats and also the climbs in the foothills. I feel ready to cycle a 101 – 301 level tour and was glad I added some hill training before I cycled our 401 level Andalucia tour. The main thing is for a person to be generally conditioned for physical activity, feel comfortable with bike handling skills, and to select an itinerary with the right level of riding.
Q. What if a family member needs to reach a traveler while they are on tour?
The traveler should leave a copy of the tour’s Hotel Itinerary (sent in the Final Mailing) with a family member. This provides the telephone numbers for each hotel and is a convenient way to contact a traveler. If the traveler has international roaming activated then the family member can simply call the cell phone number. In an emergency, family members can call the ExperiencePlus! U.S. office and we in turn can contact our staff on tour.
Q. Do you speak a foreign language?
I wish that I could answer “Yes”, but I have not successfully attained that goal – yet! I have downloaded some French language podcasts to my I-Pod and will re-learn some basic conversational phrases and words before I head to Provence. At a minimum I wish to be able to offer greetings and good manners. I find it useful to know some numbers for ease in currency and purchases. If you will be taking the train, then learn the basic transportation terms (track number, departure, arrival) so that you can understand the signs at the station. There is little difficulty at hotels because English is typically spoken. Europeans are far more multilingual than folks from the states.
Q. What about currency, how do you exchange money and make purchases?
I get cash in local currency from an ATM using a debit card. The fees assessed for getting cash will vary depending if you use a debit card or a credit card, and by bank. Look for an ATM with the same logo as that on the back of your debit card. For larger item purchases or hotel reservations, I use a credit card. Again, the fees for transactions will vary per credit card company. Currently, Capital One charges no foreign transaction fees. It is best to inform your bank and credit card company of your travel destination so that they do not suspect fraud and deny your transactions. Travelers checks are dinosaurs and most businesses and restaurants will not accept them.
Q. Is there an aspect of a cycling vacation that you do not enjoy?
Only the flight home, the rest I love.