If you’ve been reading this blog over the past few weeks, you know that our trip to Italy and Sicily was a wonderful experience. It introduced me not only to Sicily, which I had never visited before, but also to the concept of “curated travel”–a phrase used by Life Beyond The Room, a business that offers the chance to experience “sensorial travel.”
Life Beyond The Room planned our trip from beginning to end, selected where to stay in Rome and Sicily and the outings we had the opportunity to experience, and made all of the hotel, travel, and outing arrangements. Everything went off without a hitch, which allowed our little band of travelers to focus on enjoying ourselves, without worrying about details. What really distinguishes LBR, however, is the hands-on, personal element that it offers. Karen Hattaway, one of the founders of LBR, had been to every place we stayed, and she applies exacting standards. In addition, Karen, who is a native Italian speaker, and her husband Jett accompanied us on the trip, and for part of the journey we also were joined by the gregarious Jonathan Urbani, a photographer who also speaks Italian as his native language. They handled all of the on-the-ground details as we moved around the island, fit in seamlessly with our group of seven travelers, and added enormously to the general atmosphere of fun, laughs, and relaxation that prevailed during the entire trip. If not for them, I would have missed learning about briscola (which I never quite got the hang of, but enjoyed anyway) and would never have seen some hilarious, ad hoc karaoke.
The concept of curated travel also came through in how LBR responded to various issues that cropped up before and during our trip. As we approached the departure date, the COVID-related requirements seemed to change on a daily basis, but Karen doggedly followed every development and explained all of them and what it meant for us; she also registered all of us for the COVID test that was required to return to the U.S.
And having a native Italian speaker on the trip proved to be invaluable in dealing with the issues that can crop up during travel. For example, one member of our group was stung by a bee and had an allergic reaction that made his index finger swell up like a discolored sausage; Karen personally drove him to the pharmacist and then a local doctor and secured the medication that allowed his finger to be back to normal by the time of our departure. Even though many Sicilians speak some English, and three people in our group are studying Italian, could we have described what happened and obtained the same happy result without Karen along to interpret and provide guidance on how things worked? Similarly, when another member of the group needed eye drops, Karen accompanied her to the pharmacy to assist in reading the labels and finding the right product. And I doubt that we would have successfully located the grave of a grandfather if Karen had not been there to explain what we were looking for to the cemetery attendant in Mazara del Vallo, who spoke no English at all.
These are the kind of personal touches that can tip the balance and move a trip into the “exceptional” category. And I should add that LBR provided some great swag, some of which is shown in the photo above, including passport holders, a fine map of Sicily, an excellent (and frequently used) water bottle, beach towels, and a nifty straw purse with a bell on it that allowed me to keep track of Kish as she shopped.
Thank you, Karen, Jett, Jonathan, and LBR, for a great vacation!