Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

Vacation Goals Tolerance, Biking Fall Colors and a Life-Time Memory in The Hudson Valley.

In travel, as in life, tolerance for things going wrong or tolerance for worrying about things going wrong are closely connected with your goals. If things going wrong or things you are worrying about going wrong will sabotage you from achieving your high priority goals you are much more likely to let it bother you than if that were not the case.
So before I regale you with the story of Yolanda’s and my trip as promised (or perhaps threatened) here are my goals when I travel.
Six months after I return from the end of my vacations for me to say that they were the time of my life I would have:

  1. Spent more intense time with Yolanda than I do when we are at home.
  2. Seen old friends
  3. Have more time and better conditions to bicycle than I do at home.
  4. Had new insights or perspectives.
  5. Met new people
  6. Changed my routine.

Regarding Goal #4 at this point I have relatively little interest in visiting places I have never been to before. On the contrary I find it much more nourishing to return to places and see how they or my take on them has changed.
So in 2004 when Yolanda and I were spending the month of October in Manhattan, these were my goals when I thought about spending a few days in the Hudson Valley fall colors.
My first impulse was to do it on my own. Then I noticed an organized trip on the web. I’d never heard of the company, but I was impressed that not only was the last dinner at the restaurant of the Culinary Institute of America, but they claimed to have reserved the hard to get tables by the window that allows diners to watch what is going on in the kitchen.
Their promotional copy claimed that they could deliver the same quality as the large established bicycle tour companies because they were a one man operation and had very low overhead. That made me a little suspicious, but it was only 5 nights, and I’d always wanted to have a dinner with a window seat at CIA. Besides the price was right.
Amazingly enough the trip went off exactly as advertized. The only problem was that the owner who was also the guide was so obviously stressed out and straining (usually on his cell phone) to make sure everything went smoothly that we were literally amazed when it did. The only thing that the trip did not provide was peace of mind.
At first I thought that I was noticing it because of my trip operators perspective. Whenever I mentioned it to Yolanda she was quick to rightfully point out that I should not bring it up to the other participants who might not have noticed it. But by the middle of the second day other members of the group started to remark on it spontaneously.
By the end how the trip was organized was one of the main topics of conversation, though nothing concrete ever went wrong.
Would it have been worth it to pay the approximatley 25% more that a competently operated trip from one of the more established bike trip company’s would have cost? It depends on what you value and your budget. My recollection is that it would have been for about half of the participants. (Group size was around 12.)
Fortunately, having a seamlessly operated trip was not a high enough priority in anybody’s goal for this holiday to allow the fact that the operation was a little dicey ruin the trip.
In my case the situation was complicated. On the one hand,as the owner of the kind of high over-head company our leader was dissing on his web site, I felt smug every time the organizer’s incompetence showed through. On the other hand, every time I felt smug Yolanda told me to cool it.
Did the trip provide life-time memories? Several. I’ll share the most precious.
Pedaling along Yolanda said out of the blue, “I really love fall colors.” Getting a “really love,” out of Yolanda takes more than pretty colors, so when nothing more was forthcoming I asked why. “Because they show that death can be beautiful.”

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5 Comments and 1 Replies

  • Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest writing a blog article or vice-versa?
    My website covers a lot of the same topics as
    yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you happen to be interested feel free to shoot
    me an email. I look forward to hearing from you!
    Great blog by the way!

    • At February 04, 2010
      10:50:48 pm
      catherine donnell said:

      I have worked both for the most expensive and well establish companies and on my own, flying by the seat of my pants…..there really is no excuse for the clients sensing that things are not going smoothly (even if they aren’t!) the good guide/operator’s main job is the illusion of perfection, and if you achieve this you would be shocked by what you can get away with! the good guide/operator is like a swan–always elegant above the surface, even if they are paddling like hell under the water!

      • At February 04, 2010
        10:46:50 pm
        catherine donnell said:

        I really love Yolanda, and as a jaded tour guide I don’t say that very often!

        • At February 05, 2010
          9:40:41 am
          Michael Kaye replied
          to catherine donnell:

          Catherine as you might have guessed is an old friend. We first met her some 20 years ago when we were clients of a “most expensive” tour company and she was the guide. At some point I’ll probably write in this space how she deftly handled an unusually difficult group. We’ve been friends ever since, though I could not help but notice that she mentioned loving Yolanda and said nothing about me. It’s OK; I’m used to it.

          Come to think of it, the last time we saw her was dinner in Paris the night before the fateful train to Madrid in this weeks post. About time she got herself to Costa Rica.

        • At January 18, 2010
          2:53:02 pm
          Shannon Borrego said:

          What a delightful read, Michael! Your story was very entertaining (and Yolanda sounds like a gem!) but the question you pose is a good one: Is it better to pay more to travel with a tried-and-true operator as opposed to a smaller less well-known one? I have to wonder how many times your tour guide/owner had taken this particular trip? It sounds to me like this was the first one and he was panicked about disaster lurking around every corner. Perhaps the problem might be avoided by ascertaining before signing up whether or not a particular itinerary has been done before by a company. If it’s something they have done successfully a number of times than I think the risk might be worth it, especially if you are somewhat flexible in your attitude. However, whether a company is small and unknown or large and well-known I don’t think I’d want to be paying full price to act as a guinea-pig when a company tries something new.

          • Once again, you’ve touched on some points that related to my recent not-so-successful Argentina trip. We went with a smaller less-publicized outfit mainly for their supposed history working with a successful wildlife photographer, thinking that they could cater a trip to our needs that would run smoothly.

            Unfortunately, things were not smooth. Several times during the trip vendors, hotels and agencies did not have any record that we had already paid for everything. They were used to working with larger outfits that operated on the voucher system (much as CRE does), whereas our small trip planning agency did all their reservations via email. While seemingly more practical in the 21st century, the email method obviously failed on many levels. So would a larger company have been a bit more competent? It’s hard to say, but I have a feeling things would have been a bit better organized and less-stressful to deal with. Nobody wants to performance “maintenance” on their trip arrangements during the actual trip!

            As it turned out, the successful wildlife photographer these people had worked with in the past was the brother of one of the company owners, and ultimately, they failed to suggest and arrange an optimal itinerary for us. Perhaps with a few more tries and after they have more experience under their belts, they’ll be able to work out the kinks and achieve greater success with future clients.