GTO Carol Swiecicka received a BEM for and more recently was invited to the Coronation – we talk about her role of 20 plus years.

How did your role as a GTO first come about?

I ran a few trips for colleagues and friends and then when I retired from tourism (I worked for the tourist information centre in the area), my friends said “you can still organise the trips can’t you?” It snowballed from there. Now more than 20 years later we have over 500 members and do between 50-70 trips a year! My husband Richard helps me out which is great.

I spend time every day on group organising – I don’t like housework very much! It was something to keep the grey cells ticking over and now they’re in overdrive.

GTO Carol Swiecicka

Carol’s group at a glance…

Group name: Newton Abbot Travel Club
No. of members: 500+
Time organising: 20+ years
Based: Newton Abbot, Devon

Who are the people in your group?

They’re mainly retired but they’re all very much young at heart. The majority are single people, I get people referred to me from bereavement groups to help give them confidence to go out again. People on their own feel happy going out with others of the same age, they feel safe and they tell me they would never have done the type of trips or had the experiences we’ve had without the group.

Do certain types of trips sell out quicker than others?

Overnight trips are always popular along with garden visits and my favourite, mystery tours. People want something different. For example, I emailed members about tickets to go and see the Tall Ships in Falmouth this summer about six months ago and they were gone within a few hours.

Carol Swiecicka, Newton Abbot Travel Club

Carol and her group on a trip to the European Parliament building in Brussels.

How would your group describe you?

As the mother hen, but you have to be. We went to a sheepdog demonstration during our holiday to Ireland recently and the group were joking about taking notes about how to do that – it’s more like herding cats though I think! I absolutely love it though and I’ve developed life-long friendships with people over the years. It’s like a family outing now whenever we go anywhere.

How do you ensure you’re on top of organising?

It’s all about the preparation. I make sure I phone the places we’re going a few days before to check about everything, then I call them when we’re quarter of an hour away so they know exactly when to expect us. It’s the little things that make trips run smoothly – a lot of planning goes on behind the scenes.

And when things happen unexpectedly, we call them an ‘adventure’ like when were in London on a theatre outing and the trains weren’t running or when an attraction we were about to arrive at phoned to tell us that the coach wouldn’t fit through the entrance, even though I’d asked that question – it’s all part of the fun.

“I spend time every day on group organising – I don’t like housework very much!”

What would help your role as a GTO?

If places could get their pricing worked out in advance. We had somewhere this year that said if we book in November, we’ll honour the prices for next May but for lot of the attractions, you can’t get information in advance which makes it challenging. You have to work out your pricing and when they’re going to be open. Attractions don’t always recognise groups, and the work we do as GTOs.

Why do you love travelling with your group?

You’ve always got somebody to talk to and can share your experience of where you travel to. There are different people all the time to talk to. You don’t realise what interesting lives some people have had before they’ve retired and what they’ve done.

Newton Abbot Travel Club's group trip to the Royal Mint

Carol (second left) with members of her group at The Royal Mint in Wales.

What do you love most about what you do?

Meeting people and the variety. I love doing things that we would never have done ourselves. We’ve been to Maastricht to André Rieu concerts, places like Holland and Belgium for their parades and gardens. Back in 2015 we went to the reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium which was brilliant.

It’s all such good fun. One of the standout trips was when I hired the Undercroft at Warwick Castle and we all dressed up for a medieval banquet. It was so much fun that one of our members actually had a heart attack that night! She was absolutely fine and was actually very grateful that it happened how it did because otherwise she may not have known there was an issue.

Where’s still on the list?

We’d still like to do some river cruises and I’d love to go to Borneo for the orangutans. There are so many places to go in the UK too. We’ve had great fun along the way so far with the group so I’m sure there’s plenty more to come and I don’t think my members would let me slow down any time soon!

You’ve also received a British Empire Medal for your role, you must have felt so proud?

I did, but I didn’t recognise what they were saying about me to be honest. When you think about what other people do, I can’t say I deserve that. I am very proud that we raise a few thousand pounds each year for charities in our area through different events.

Would you like to tell us about your work as a group organiser? Get in touch by emailing