White’s Away Days and GTOA Central Branch

WHAT’S THE BEST GROUP TRIP YOU’VE BEEN ON AND WHY?

One group trip that stands out is a three-week holiday my husband Gordon and I took some years ago. Gordon had always wanted to have a “DIY” holiday, so we took off for a tour of the Baltic’s using local trains and buses.

It was an interesting experience, but not without problems. It gave us the idea to take a group from the Warwickshire Federation of WI’s with husbands and friends – with whom I have been organizing day trips and holidays for over 30 years.

We hired a coach from Johnsons Coaches in Henley-in-Arden, which would accompany us the whole holiday. Conferring with Regent Travel of Bristol (experts on the Baltic’s) and with our own knowledge, we arranged a holiday that involved taking the coach on ferries and cargo boats, whilst the rest of the group traveled by air and met up with the coach the following day.

Enjoying the sun on the DFDS Ferry

Enjoying the sun on the DFDS Ferry

Some of the places we visited had only just become aware of the tourism trade, so we were comparatively unspoiled and allowed to enjoy the pleasures of various countries in their ‘natural’ state.

We had the added pleasure of dealing with different local currencies – Lits in Lithuania, Lats in Latvia, Kroons in Estonia, Krona in Sweden and the Euro in Finland. One memorable drive between countries, we spied a collection of buildings on the horizon across barren countryside. We diverted and after several miles, our driver pulled up outside the clubhouse of a small aerodrome.

The members welcomed us with open arms, served us drinks and toured outside, near where many Russian helicopters and fighter planes lay rusting. The locals were friendly, helpful and somewhat amazed to meet a group of English people traveling in an English coach.

At one hotel, the porter came out to collect the luggage and exclaimed, “The steering wheel is on the wrong side!” We explained that we were from England to which he replied, “We have never had an English coach, they all come from Germany.”

WHAT’S THE WORST GROUP TRIP YOU HAVE BEEN ON AND WHY?

Boarding the bus at Vilnius

Boarding the bus at Vilnius

I’ve had a couple of worrying experiences, like the time a lady went missing in Caen, and unbeknown to me she had Dementia. The driver and I went round the town in opposite directions and eventually found her. Another time, I had to leave a lady behind because she had her bag stolen. It contained all her money, cards, medication and passport.

We were due to depart to another country the next morning. I was unable to sort out the passport, as the Embassy was closed until Monday morning.

I booked her into the hotel for another night and arranged a train (once she had obtained a temporary passport) so she could cross the border to meet up with us again.

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A GOOD GROUP EXPERIENCE?

Good advance planning and knowledge. Knowing what your group members like and ensuring that they arrive fully armed with itinerary, maps and details about places visited on the trip.

Making sure that you stop at places of interest to break up a long journey and ensuring on the way home – when everyone is feeling a bit down – that there are plenty of quizzes and fun and interesting prizes.

WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS PACK?

Several black marker pens, sticky labels and safety pins. The latter for labelling items bought on holiday that are stored in the luggage hold, to prevent anyone from claiming the wrong item. This is especially important if we have visited a vineyard.

WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS LEAVE OUT?

My umbrella. I’m an eternal optimist.

WHAT WAS YOUR MOST RECENT GROUP TRIP?

I also run a theatre outings group. We went to the Malvern Theatre before Christmas to see the pantomime Aladdin starring Robert Powell. This is an annual trip. I am also in the process of planning two trips – one to Melton Mowbray and another to Shrewsbury.