Around the world in 25 years

Date Posted: 29/08/2017

Group travel organiser, Valerie Courage

Group name: Friends National Museum Wales
No. of members: 850
Time organising: 25 years
Favourite holiday destination: Italy (has visited over 50 times)

Val, tell us a bit about your group.

I organise trips for a group called Friends National Museum Wales. The members of this group are all supporters of the National Museum Wales (an association that encompasses seven Welsh museums), and pay a yearly fee that helps to care for the museums. The group ranges in age from 55 to 80, and anyone can join. Most of the members are interested in art, history and architecture.

How did you become the group travel organiser? 

It all started 25 years ago, and came from my involvement with the committee for the National Museum Wales. A friend of mine asked if I would go on a holiday with her to Munich, Vienna and Schärding (Austria), but on trying to book it, found out the trip was only suitable for groups. And I thought, you know what, I can sort this out. I put out a notice to the ‘friends’ of the museum, and had 46 people interested. I took them all, and it was wonderful. Organising just escalated from there.

What sort of trips do you put on?

I run the overseas trips for the group. Other committee members run the day trips or short UK breaks. I’ve had involvement in UK trips, like Scotland, but mainly I organise holidays abroad – usually about three a year.

Astoria Hotel in Udine

Pictured: Val's group at the Astoria Hotel in Udine.

What trips have you organised this year?

I ran a holiday to Trieste in the north of Italy, stayed in a place called Udine, and visited several different places in that region, which is called Friuli-Venezia Giulia. We’re going to Rome later  this year – I’ve been there twice before, but that was a long time ago, so it will be lovely to go back. Looking further ahead, I’m thinking about Italy again next year, and also the Czech Republic.

What other countries have you been too?

Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Peru, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Syria, Jordan, Petra, Turkey, Prague, Poland, Malta, Costa Rica, and parts of America. My favourite place I’ve visited is the Italian island of Sicily. I’ve been there three times.

And do you always fly when you go abroad?

Yes, apart from the occasional coach trip over to France. I sometimes run a winter coach trip where we visit all the small towns and villages in an area like Reims or Amiens.

Is it stressful taking a group through an airport?

No, not really. I’m fortunate in that my group is very intelligent. Many of them come from different places, like Bath, Oxford, and the south east. We’ll all meet at the airport, or even sometimes at the airport at the holiday destination.

How do you deal with a disaster when you’re the organiser?

You just have to get on with things and be calm. I don’t worry too much and try to turn mishaps into something funny. We were on holiday in Jordan when the Icelandic ash cloud came down in 2010 and were stuck there for four extra days because no planes were flying out. I didn’t consider it a disaster and more a joy because we got to stay a few more days. People can get uptight about these things but I’m ok at calming them down.

Some of Vals group members on holiday in Italy

Pictured: Some of Val's group members on holiday in Italy.

Has anything else ever happened on a trip that has proved challenging?

We were on holiday in Syria when the war first broke out, but managed to leave before anything truly awful happened. We were meant to go through Homs but this was deemed a war zone and we had to bypass it by 40 miles. We were lucky to leave the country when we did.

Has the travel industry changed over the last 25 years?

It has certainly got more expensive, that’s one of the biggest things. Terrorism is affecting people’s travel plans too, although I can’t say it has put our group off at all. Brexit and the exchange rate is also a current issue, with not knowing what’s going to happen – and of course, the pound is now worth less, although that might change in the future.

You’re passionate about travel – where does this stem from?

I attended university classes on art history and Medieval art and architecture, and it really whet my appetite to see these things in real life. I became very interested in art and its history and I was able to absorb quite a lot, which helps the group now because I have a good understanding of what we see. Not that it matters – you can know nothing and still enjoy it. I always organise guides anyway, who help bring things to life.

Do you think it is important to travel the world?

Yes, it broadens your mind, and stands a person in good stead for life when they’ve had a brush with something cultural. I believe that broadening your love for beautiful things and travel is significant, and that the world would be a better place if more people went abroad to experience other cultures.

Val’s top tip for other organisers:

“Hold a tea party prior to each trip to welcome new people to the group. I hold a tea party at the National Museum Cardiff before every holiday so we can all talk about where we’re going and what can be expected. It helps newcomers get to know the group and feel relaxed about the trip. The feedback I’ve had has been marvellous.”

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