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Tour Directing – A Labor of Love

Passengers often ask me the same question again and again… “Do you work full-time?”

I explain that being a Tour Director for Starr is not a full-time job. (Although some times it feels like it is – while I on tour I am working 24/7!)  As much as I like to think I could escort bus trips every day, in reality, there is no way I could.  I travel with Starr about 50 days a year; sometimes more, sometimes less.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  Before I even leave on a trip, there is information to be gathered, especially if I’ve never done the itinerary before or it’s been a long time since I’ve done it.  I have to check on all the stops we’ll be making – whether they are restaurants, hotels, attractions or even rest stops.  I call ahead to ask questions so I know what to expect. And even if I have been there before, I need to find out if there have been any changes since the last time I was there.  I also talk to the driver who will be driving the trip.  A Driver’s input is very important and helpful since we work as a team while on tour.

USS Constitution, Photo Courtesy of Greater Boston CVB

The history of a destination is also important and some require more study than others. For example, I enjoy going to Boston because I love the early history of our country. Seeing its historic places, such as The Old North Church and USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), gives me a thrill. I want to share that feeling with my passengers.  American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” is one of the things I entertain tour guests with on the bus ride north.  I only memorized half of it as a kid, so I have to read the rest!

Starr Tour Directors like to play games that have to do with the destination on trips to help the time pass by, and those games need preparation.

Preparation for a trip can take many days before we depart but it’s not done by day one. You’ve probably seen your Tour Director doing paperwork on the bus and there is also a paperwork and reports to be completed after the trip ends.  In approximation, as a rule of thumb, it takes as much time to prepare for a trip as the actual trip itself!

For other trips, such as the 9/11 Museum and Memorial, a favorite of mine, I already have a lot of information that I readily share with my passengers on the way into the city because I escort this trip so often. But, I am always reading and learning more about the history as well as finding out what is new in the area… and there is always something new in downtown New York City!

Oh, and one more thing I have to do before I leave on a multi-day trip: be sure that there is food in the house and go over meal suggestions for my husband, who will be home with our dog. “Who’s babysitting who?” I often ask!

Laurentian Mountains, Montreal

I started preparing for this year’s trips in the beginning of the year by going through my files from years past and going over the planned itineraries of any new trips I am escorting this year.  Montreal and the Laurentian Mountains, October 7-10, is new this year. I love the mountains, so I am really looking forward to this bus trip. I will be spending lots of time preparing by reading up on everything we will be seeing there.

Now that you know a little about what’s behind the average trip, perhaps you’ll see your Tour Director a little differently.

I would love to know what things you do before you depart on your Starr bus trip!

 

See you on the bus!
Bette Barr
Starr Tour Director

Join Bette in the Hudson Valley in August, Savannah in September, Atlantic City in October, and more. Click here to see a listing of where your favorite Tour Directors are heading.

Ways to Go Green on Your Next Vacation

Ways to Go Green on Your Next Vacation

Contrary to what Vogue may tell you, green really is the new black. With Earth Day coming up, many of us are in the environmental spirit, but it can be hard to stay eco-friendly away from home.

The next time you’re exploring this beautiful planet, keep in mind these awesome travel tips:

1. Use Alternative Transportation
Forget trains, planes and automobiles. Did you know…

  • A couple traveling by bus will cut their carbon footprint nearly in half compared with driving even a hybrid car.
  • And if they take a bus rather than a plane, they will cut their emissions by 55 to 75 percent, depending on the distance they travel.
  • Buses emit the least carbon dioxide per passenger mile compared to other vehicles, and are 7 times more energy and fuel-efficient than single occupancy automobiles.
  • Buses are 3 times more efficient in reducing carbon dioxide output compared to commuter rail.
  • Buses are the most fuel-efficient transportation mode in North America when measured in terms of passenger miles per gallon of fuel providing 206.6 passenger mpg compared to commuter rail (92.4 passenger mpg), airlines (44 passenger mpg), and single occupancy automobiles (27.2 passenger mpg).

Switch up your usual style of travel and take a vacation by bus. It cuts down on emissions, making for a more fun trip with much cleaner air. Take a deep breath and enjoy the cool, clean clear air free of emissions and pollution.

2. Don’t Litter
Nothing wrecks a scene quite like a Coke can blowing in the wind. No matter where you are, it is awful to have a pretty picture ruined by some stray pieces of trash. Next time you have a wrapper, take the extra four seconds and toss it in a waste bin. You’re saving the view for others. Better yet…take care of someone else’s litter and improve the view for the next person.

3. Carry Your Own Trash
On a related note, sometimes you just can’t find a trash can. Whether you’re in a canoe, or on a long hike, it’s a good idea to bring a reusable bag to carry your trash. Whether it’s a bubble gum wrapper or your lunch debris, carrying a little extra trash can be annoying, but is worth it in the end. The earth and your fellow travelers will thank you.

4. Reuse Old Containers or Recycle Them
Reduce the clutter in your cabinets and reuse containers for other things. Old ketchup bottle? Clean it and use it for spare sunscreen! Recycle the ones you can’t use, but be sure to check to see what is recyclable in your area. Get to know your local Waste Management company to find out what is accepted in your recycling bin and what isn’t. For example, Mercer County, NJ only recycles #1 and #2 plastics and too much other plastic mixed into the batch could result in the entire batch getting tossed. “Understanding the seven plastic codes will make it easier to choose plastics and to know which plastics to recycle.”

5. Bring Your Own Water Bottle
In landfills, plastic bottles are everywhere. Cut down on your own personal waste, and save money by investing in a reusable water bottle. With countless colors and prints, you can even choose a pretty one. Stylish and environmentally friendly? Now that’s something I can get behind.

6. Pack Light
As anyone who has ever carried a heavy backpack knows, it can be a struggle. With sore shoulders, it can be a huge pain. But it is also a pain for the environment. The more weight on a vehicle (car, bus, plane, etc), the more fuel it uses. Every ounce counts, so save your back and your buck and forgo that extra four pairs of pants. The earth thanks you.

7. Bring Your Own Shopping Bag for Souvenirs
At the grocery store, we often hear the phrase, “paper or plastic?” Now, introduce a new option when you’re on the go. Bring your own reusable bags for souvenirs, and save the shop some money, and the world a few extra trees.

8. Go Digital Instead of Disposable
When it comes to capturing the perfect memory, there are a lot of strategies. Although many people are attracted to the convenience of a disposable camera, try a digital one on for size. It’s a long term option with great settings and HD. It can save the earth, and save your pictures – no print shop visit required.

9. Support Local Businesses
When out and about, it’s easy to go the Wendy’s or McDonald’s route rather than the local place. After all, we love something predictable. But trying out a local place is a new experience, it also helps support local businesses, and local farms. Take a bite out of the local agriculture and try Joe’s Grill for a change instead of Jack in the Box.

10. Leave the Aerosol at Home
Everyone loves the ease and quickness of an aerosol sunscreen or hairspray. It’s quick and effective, but it’s also torture on the ozone layer. Now, don’t forget the sunscreen, but protect your skin with a cream-based option instead. Every little bit helps. Even better, invest in biodegradable sunscreen to protect our oceans!

11. Avoid Paper Maps
In the wonderful age of technology we live in, there’s no excuse to waste money on heavy and wasteful paper maps. Print them out at home on recycled paper, or better yet, keep the information on your phone. Save a tree while exploring the forest.

This Earth Day, don’t leave the celebrations at home – take them on the go! Keeping it green at home or away!

What are your favorite ways to Go Green?

 

P.S. Go Greener with Starr!

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and… Roaming!

In school, we heard a lot about the three R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic. But according to Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, that old saying needs a modern reboot: “For my kids, I made roaming the fourth R. We live in a global society, and if you don’t see outside the neighborhood you grow up in, the world will pass you by. Traveling has opened my kids’ eyes; it’s made them more confident and inspired them to reach outside their normal environment to learn and obtain skills to bring them to the next level.”

Here are some reasons why a trip is exactly what students need to invigorate the learning environment:

Scientifically Proven Benefits
A recent study done by that same U.S. Travel Association took a survey of a large group of adults, some who had a class trip in their youth and some who never had. This pool had people from all incredibly diverse backgrounds and had explosive results. Regardless of race, gender or economic background, the students who had taken trips were more engaged in class, more likely to graduate with better grades, and more stimulated, both in and out of school. Class trips often act as a way for students to recharge their learning batteries: they remind them why they’re working so hard, and energize them for more learning ahead. Take a look at Starr’s lineup of school bus trip suggestions.

Learning with a Porpoise Purpose
Now more than ever class trips are needed. In a world filled with screens, it is more crucial than ever to connect the next generation with real-world examples. With many schools focusing on standardized testing, students need to be reminded of the larger purpose of what they’re learning. When in a long science class inside the classroom, it is easy to say that none of the information learned is useful. But suddenly, when the entire class is in an aquarium, science comes to life, invigorating a passion in students that textbooks just can’t capture. As great as reading a reprint may be, it cannot truly capture the joy of observing marine life, right in front of your very eyes.

The Power of Mentors
As children, who did we look up to? Rock stars, singers, maybe athletes? As great as those role models are, chances are they are people that students cannot see in real life and get advice from. Field trips give students an opportunity to see adult professionals in real life that aren’t their parents. Meeting a real person succeeding at their job inspires students and gives them a strong role model that isn’t on a screen. It can also help them make connections and plant the seeds to create a passion for a subject later in life.

Hands-on Experience
In the real world, there are no textbooks. If you’re having difficulty with a problem, there is no teacher you can ask. Real life activities like field trips offer students ways to observe as well as perform. Outside of the classroom, they are given the freedom to problem solve and explore on their own, at their own speed. By getting out of the classroom, students can encounter real-life issues, allowing them to finally use those skills they have been fine tuning at their desks.

With all of the benefits of field trips, it’s easy to see why it is essential for the student to have real-life experiences out of the classroom. Thanks to Starr, it is more wonderful than ever for parents and administrators to organize one of these terrific outings. With Starr, it is easy to be transported by bus; quickly, safely, and conveniently. With onboard comforts and amenities, students will have the time of their lives safely coasting to their destinations.

If you just want transportation on one of our fabulous coaches, Starr is here for you. But if you want to sit back and relax, let Starr take the wheel. We can plan and organize an entire trip for you, from food to transportation. Let us take care of everything, or just relax with the security of knowing that the transportation for your school group is taken care of. No matter what option you choose you can be guaranteed a safe ride. Starr holds its drivers to rigorous standards ensuring a safe and memorable journey.

If there’s one thing Starr values, it’s students. With seventy years of bus transportation experience, we’re rooting for your trip, whether you just need transportation or would like us to coordinate and plan the trip, Starr is at your side (and behind the wheel) of your education expedition. Talk to Starr today to tackle your next trip. We’re here to ensure your school trip is a resounding success.

Contact Starr and start planning your trip today!

Make Your Bus Trip Better with a Book

Make Your Bus Trip Better with a Book

While traveling around the country as a Tour Director on many of Starr’s bus vacations, I am always thrilled when I stumble upon historical fiction titles dealing with people, cultures, and events that showcase the places we are visiting.  Sometimes, I find a book while on tour as I did in Chicago. I purchased Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson in the gift shop of the Willis Building—the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.  It is a great read detailing the building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair while unraveling a sinister killer luring young victims to his hotel.

Book recommendations from friends, tourism folks and fellow travelers rank high on my reading list.  So, I couldn’t pass up reading Follow the River” by James Alexander Thom after our local guide in West Virginia presented me her paperback copy on our last day in town.  A real page turner chronicling the capture of Mary Draper Ingles by the Shawnee Indians and her 1,000 mile journey on foot back to her family.  Having read multiple books by Sue Monk Kidd, I was happy to pick up The Invention of Wings” when I found out the plot centers in Charleston, SC—one of Starr’s best-selling bus tours!  It takes place at the beginning of the 19th Century when a young slave girl is given to a young wealthy girl as a birthday present.  Although their birthrights were significantly different, their loyalty propels them towards liberation and empowerment.  Then there is “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil” by John Berendt.  This novel was on the New York Times Best Sellers List longer than any other non-fiction narrative.  The true story is traced to Savannah, GA. Starr passengers, while on a trolley tour, will stop in front of the infamous house where the murder of a well-known male prostitute took place.  Passengers can also see the famous Bird Girl Statue featured on the cover of the book and premiered in the movie of the same name at the Telfair Museum.

While doing my research for the Cross Country tour, there were two books that caught my attention.  I was intrigued by The 19th Wife” by David Ebershoff.  Expelled from the Mormon Church as an outcast after separating from Brigham Young, the Church’s leader, Ann Eliza Young, his 19th wife begins a crusade exposing polygamy in the United States.  While visiting Salt Lake City Utah, Starr passengers can stroll Temple Square, the entrance to the Church of the Latter Day Saints—the Mormon Church.  Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline takes the reader from Maine to Minnesota on trains carrying thousands of orphaned children from 1854-1929.  The premise of such a journey was to have children adopted into loving homes needing help on farms during the Westward Expansion.  Unfortunately, many children were adopted into a life of servitude and endured many hardships.

As this new travel season approaches, I am on the hunt for additional historical fiction titles that will expand my knowledge as well as enhance our bus tour guests’ travel experiences.  So, if you have any book suggestions for our upcoming Starr bus tours going to Dublin, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; or Block Island, Rhode Island, I’d love to add them to my reading list!  See you on the road and don’t forget to bring your favorite book with you on the bus!

 

Christine Durling,
Starr Tour Director

Great Expectations! (NOT written by Charles Dickens)

Everyone looks forward to a vacation and many of us expect that our travels will be absolutely perfect and without a care in the world. We envision the destination, often disregarding the journey required to reach it. While no amount of preparation, planning or detail-checking can ensure a seamless travel experience, here are a few tips to help you maximize your travel enjoyment:

 

Know where you are going. This may sound simple, but some people choose a destination without much thought, research, or investigation. This can lead to disappointment. For example, I once had a tour guest on a Vermont fall foliage bus tour who asked me, “When will we get to the casino?” I explained that there are no casinos in Vermont to which she responded, “Well, I can’t stand to look at any more trees!” Unfortunately, my passenger was not happy with her experience on the trip. In this case, the situation could have been avoided if she had simply read the itinerary.

 

Put down the camera. Once in a while, put down the camera and actually sightsee. You may think that taking a picture of that spectacular view, attraction, or sunset will preserve the moment forever. However, did you know a recent study found that people had more trouble remembering details of a scene if they photographed it? Those who just looked at it remembered 90% of the details; the ones who took a picture remembered only 78%.

 

Getting to know you! As society has become more fast-paced, and electronic equipment has taken over our communications, conversation between strangers has dwindled. But you never know who you may meet while traveling. On a recent bus tour, two couples reluctantly shared a table at lunchtime. During their conversation, the women discovered that they had been childhood friends, attended the same elementary school, and grew up in the same Philadelphia neighborhood! They had a wonderful time on the rest of the trip, reliving old memories and making new ones.

 

Expect the best; but prepare for the worst. Just because it is sunny on the morning your tour departs, that does not mean it cannot rain later. Basic essentials like an umbrella (I prefer disposable raincoats from the dollar store), sunscreen, a hat, bug spray, Band-Aids, aspirin, etc. are important items to pack and can easily prevent small annoyances from ruining your day.

 

Be flexible. While driving in Hawaii (before GPS was available), we missed a turn and ended up lost for quite some time. On the surface, this seemed like something “bad” had happened. But we ended up viewing the most beautiful scenery on Oahu’s northern coastline due to our unintentional detour. We all agreed it was the most breath-taking view of the entire trip!

Embrace optimism; it is your best travel companion! The definition of “optimism” – A cheerful frame of mind that enables a tea kettle to sing though it’s in hot water up to its nose!

 

Happy travels and I hope to see you on the bus this year!
Jane Peters Estes, Tour Director