Travel has always been one of my greatest pleasures, and together with my love of photography and writing, it is part of a perfect trifecta. There are so many wonders awaiting discovery, as well as personal and spiritual connections waiting to be made.

How one travels, however, can make the difference between experiencing a life-changing journey and just-an-OK-visit. I learned early that I am not the type who enjoys large-group travel, whether by land or sea. I like the closeness of a small group; you get to bond with your fellow travelers as well as your guide(s), increasing the fun of the experience. There are no long lines, no squishing to get close to the guide to hear what he/she is saying, no scramble to see a particular viewpoint.

Group in Alaska

But which small group fits best? There are some well-respected tour companies that offer small-group travel, and I have joined a few on some memorable experiences. However, even with special access to sites, fine accommodations and food, I have come away feeling I am missing something.

That something is the “intrinsic wholeness” that brings me back to Classic Journeys. As their headlines say: “You’re a traveler. Not a tourist.” What does this mean?

When I travel with Classic Journeys, I just don’t go to a destination; I take an adventure that is fully immersive. All of my senses are activated – I see, feel, taste, smell and hear. Wherever possible, the mode of travel is hiking/walking rather than viewing the world through the windows of a vehicle.

Machu Picchu

There are physical and emotional challenges that take me beyond my comfort zone, but these are personally set. There are always options so that each traveler can decide their immersion level, and Classic Journeys manages to satisfy all, which I think is no easy feat! 

I have also had some unique experiences that have touched my soul and changed me forever. One of my favorites occurred during my Peruvian adventure, when I got an opportunity to interact with some beautiful Quechua children in a remote mountain village.

Our guide, Edgard, provided the translation, and I learned later that he jokingly told them to behave because I had been a tough teacher in the States (I had told him earlier about being an early childhood educator teacher before switching to advertising). I frankly had tears after this moving experience.

Quechua children

It’s also important for me to have a balance between explorations and time to relax, reflect and recharge, which Classic Journeys seamlessly provides. There is a no-rush feel to the itineraries, which act more as guidelines than written-in-stone rules to follow. This last point is important because many fabulous things that happen on a journey ARE NOT PLANNED. Like this:

Pictured here is our delightful guide, Giampiero, whose joie de vivre so overtook him that he chose this lovely lady sitting with a companion – not part of our group – for a dance.

Dancing with a stranger

It turns out that the woman and her companion each represented one-half of two married couples, and had been fast friends over the years. The somber origin of their friendship was that the husband of this woman and the wife of her companion both had passed away. Through common sorrow and healing they turned to each other and are now blissfully together; not married, but having a wonderful time. Viva amore!Dancing with a stranger, Northern Lakes, Italy

So many moments like this are possible on a Classic Journeys trip. While other companies offer a bit here and there, Classic Journeys provides a means NOT to feel like a tourist doing an “if this is Thursday it must be Belgium” tour. Instead, we explore and are a part of the places we visit. These destinations, people and experiences become a part of us forever.