When our Fiat bottomed out on the sharp boulder embedded in the middle of the so-called road, the day’s excursion officially became the Frog of All Frogs. No amount of kissing would turn this foray into a prince. The straight-shot drive from the Italian villa/inn (wonderful!) to the village with the small private museum in a hilltop castle (sounded like a perfect Classic Journeys place!) went up over a mountain…and downhill fast. At least the rumble of our ruptured muffler shooed the sheep out of the way. Cross another bright idea off the scouting list.
You’ve been there and done that, right? Circled a roundabout endlessly looking for the exit that just isn’t there? Knocked on the door of the inn/restaurant/church that appears to have been abandoned since ‘62? Heck, those are sometimes the stories you have the most fun telling – but only afterward. In the moment, the lost time and the frustration are just too much.
That’s why we scout. Obsessively. If you only have eight or nine days of vacation, you don’t want to spend any of it scrambling to Plan B (or C). So we bite the bullet and do the work for you. Admittedly, it’s not all lumpy mattresses and street food with suspicious tentacles. Scouting trips have landed us in some of the best hotels on earth (who will forget Hotel Sahrai in Morocco?). Along the way, we’ve met a colorful cast of llama-herding, ruins-digging, butterfly-mad, clay-bedaubed, pasta-rolling people who have changed our lives in countless happy ways.
But did I tell you about that walk on the Grand Luberon in Provence? The one where the forestry service had altered the trail—so that our hot two-hour walk lasted for five…and we ended up at the ruined castle of the Marquis de Sade? Call it poetic injustice. We laugh still about the local guide who showed up for an “audition stroll” dressed head-to-toe in Chanel that spoke well of her personal flair but said not much about her agility on cobblestone streets.
All in fun, we call scouting frog-kissing, but we encourage you to think of it as “intensive curatorial reconnaissance.” You won’t pity us, we know, for the weeks we get to spend with our local guides, handcrafting our itineraries in Vietnam or Iceland or the Galápagos. But we like to believe that you’ll thank us when your trip goes off without a hitch, and the only frogs are of the Red-Eyed Leaf variety that we know just where to find in a Costa Rican cloud forest.
GREATEST SCOUTING HITS
Bummed by Soviet-era beach hotels, we stop for lunch with friends of friends Tony and Mailin. Before it’s over, they invite us to bring our groups to their private finca on a custom-cut trail that overlooks waterfalls and coffee plantations.
We remember the day we lucked onto Lela. She snagged us a speedboat to Hvar when the ferries weren’t running and cured a migraine with a massage. No wonder the President of Croatia and our guests say that she’s their favorite guide.
Everyone since Darwin visited the islands by ship, but when we went scouting the constant Zodiac trips bored us to tears. Hearing our frustration, the locals introduced to the owners of a new boutique hotel—and our island-based trip was born.