Meet Ezette and Herman van der Merwe, a couple from South Africa who treated themselves to two Expat Explore tours in two years after consciously deciding to make travel a priority in their lives. Here’s what the couple learned about Europe coach travel (and themselves) after completing the Croatian & Western Delight tour in June 2016, and the Best of UK & Ireland tour in May 2017. Ezette shares the story of their journeys with Expat Explore.
My husband Herman and I first started to travel abroad about 7 years ago, after our eldest son moved to China. We went to visit them twice, and were completely transformed by what we experienced in the East – new cultures, religions, food, everything. Next, our youngest son left home and we decided to forgo the empty nest syndrome in favour of shaking things up. I decided it was time to find out what makes me happy, and travelling was very high on my list. This is when we made the decision to go and explore Europe! We recently completed our second trip to Europe and here’s what we’ve learned…
Coach travel is extremely cost-efficient
I’ve always wanted to go to Europe to experience iconic destinations like Rome, Paris, Croatia, Venice, Switzerland and the Alps! When I started to look at all the options I realised that our South African money doesn’t go too far in Europe. I had to find the best way to get value for my money. My good friend Google once again came to my rescue. I realised coach touring was the way to go. I searched far and wide for the best Europe coach tour companies, and Expat Explore popped up! They were by far the best value for money, and for us the fact that the co-founders are South African was just the cherry on top.
Guided tours work for all sorts of people
At first I was very sceptical about coach travel, mainly because people (many of whom haven’t even tried it themselves) can be quite negative about it. Luckily I like to form my own opinion, and I now know that coach travel is actually a versatile mode of exploration that works for all kinds of people. One of my biggest concerns before embarking on our first Expat Explore adventure was whether both Herman and myself would enjoy it. He is an engineer and I am an artist, so we are totally different people with very little in common (besides our love for each other and our kids, of course!). For the two of us, travelling alone as a couple can actually be quite stressful – I want to see everything and go with the flow; Herman is a planner. He ends up just getting me where I want to go and keeping me from getting lost, run over by a car or missing our train. On a coach tour, all he has to do is make sure that we get to the Expat bus on time.
On our first tour I actually found out how much he loves to chat to everybody, about everything, all the time! He turned out to be a complete different person on these tours – full of fun and jokes. I, on the other hand, love to take off on my own to take photos and look at things in every little shop and alley. So even though we were on the same tour, we could both do what we really enjoy!
Pre-organised tours are a lifesaver for busy travellers
My favourite aspect of Expat Explore coach tours is that I don’t have to plan (or cook!) anything. I am not a planner, or a researcher for that matter. I do not know beforehand where I’d like to go, what I’d like to do, or how I am going to feel, so how can anyone expect of me to plan a whole trip? My husband, on the other hand, is just way too busy with work to plan anything. In fact, he barely knows where we’re going before we board the first plane. He always says he does not want to make any decisions, because he makes enough at work. By going on an organised tour, we ensure that all the day-to-day planning is taken care off.
Travel isn’t always comfortable, but is always worth your while
People always look at my photos and stories and say, “Oh we are so jealous! You had so much fun!” I always tell them that travel isn’t always easy or even nice. You can get tired or irritated with fellow travellers; you may not enjoy some of the scheduled activities, and you could even get in a spat with your spouse. Being confronted with strange people and situations can be quite stressful. The trick is to have a positive outlook and get a little silly to cut the tension. Some days on tour can get tough – on our UK tour it was really cold and we had to choose whether we were staying on the bus or getting out there to have some fun despite the stormy weather. Guess what we chose? It’s up to you to make your own fun.
To grow you need to keep pushing your boundaries
I like to be challenged and confronted with people and situations that I won’t usually encounter in my ordinary day-to-day life. What I learned on my travel is that this is necessary to change, grow and expand as a person. For me, there is nothing worse than staying the same year in and year out. Even if all the people on tour aren’t necessarily the people I would usually befriend, I enjoy being challenged by them. Being confronted with different belief systems, traditions and personalities shifts your boundaries. To a certain extend, we all grow up in a particular ‘box’ – our culture, people and way of life, and we see these things as the baseline of normality. Traveling gets you out of that box, and coach travel even more so.
Ziplining, punting & jaunting are legitimate things (and LOTS of fun!)
Another awesome thing about Expat Explore tours is that you are introduced to all sorts of activities in which you wouldn’t normally participate. You get introduced to new things – things that you did not even know existed or never thought you would like. On the Alps I went ziplining! In Ireland we went on a horse carriage ride through the Killarney National Park (an activity I learned is called ‘jaunting’). In Cambridge we went punting! I did not even know those things existed before we arrived.
You’ll make friends for life & it changes your worldview
Another huge plus? You get to meet new people, and some even become lifelong friends. Both our tours were about 14 days long, and during that time you really get to know people. You get inspired by the life stories of these people that start out as strangers. A good example is Maria, a 84-year-old lady who joined our UK tour, and afterwards went on to do another three-week Europe tour – all on her own! I was truly inspired by her energy, and love for life. We met people from Australia, USA, Singapore, South Africa, Malaysia, New Zealand, Canada and the Philippines. The funny thing is that after a while your differences become inconsequential and you realise that, deep down, we are all the same.
We’re hooked on travelling!
So where to next? Another Expat Explore tour? Hell yeah! (Something I learned to say thanks to all the American friends we’ve made on the tours!) But, first we are off to Thailand next month because our children have decided to move there! If you really want to be challenged, get to know the real you and be changed for the better while seeing the world in a cost-efficient way, book a trip. I dare you!