Pack lightly and consider logistics

We spend the first 30 minutes or so of every client call going over basic logistics. Everyone wants to dream about that cappuccino in a cafe or that perfect plate of spaghetti carbonara, but the truth is, you won’t enjoy it if you are stressed out of your mind due to a crazy travel schedule or can’t find a table because you are in a bustling, high-tourist area. It’s always worth taking the time to think through the logistics to make sure you are physically and mentally able to enjoy the places you have worked so hard to get to. And packing lightly? We can’t say enough about that. Having to slog around with two heavy suitcases is the #1 way to turn that dream trip into a nightmare.

As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Walker and Zeneba Bowers.

In 2019, American classical musicians Zeneba Bowers and Matt Walker quit their 20-year symphony jobs, obtained work visas, sold their house in Nashville TN, and moved to a small town north of Rome (with four cats!) to live and work as musicians — just three months before the pandemic lockdowns.

They wrote about the whole crazy experience in a recently published memoir: I Can’t Believe We Live Here: The Wild But True Story of How We Dropped Everything in the States and Moved to Italy, Right Before the End of the World. They also operate Little Roads Europe, crafting customized itineraries for travelers in Italy and Ireland; they also authored four award-winning guidebooks to small-town Italy and Ireland.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thanks for having us here with you! We came to this business at first simply by traveling — our first trip to Italy together was our honeymoon in 2006, and we traveled from Rome to Venice. We really got overwhelmed by the crowds in those big tourist cities; but in the course of traveling in between them, we discovered so many magical places — charming and peaceful small towns, with real people and authentic experiences. We returned again and again over many years — always to out of the way places — until we had amassed a body of knowledge and experience. Some business-savvy friends then pointed out that this skill set was a valuable commodity, so we started our travel consulting business to help people travel the way we do.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting story we can think of is our actual move from the US to Italy in 2019, right before the global pandemic — it’s why we wrote a book about it!

We were counting on working in the travel arena (as well as performing as musicians) in Italy. Then three months after moving here, everything ground to a halt, and the long pandemic lockdowns began. Not knowing how long that would last, we had to come up with ways to write and perform that were actually allowed by law!

When things started to reopen — first just by town, then by region — we started finding ways to travel and write about travel in a responsible way: Visiting special outdoor sites (like the many beautiful tiny towns in our area in the countryside north of Rome), and lesser-known or hidden places. For example: Just a few miles from our home, hidden in the woods, is a recently-discovered “pyramide” built by the Etruscans, the thriving society that lived in this area before the rise of the Roman Empire.

We tried to impart the idea to our readers and would-be travelers that special or hidden places are all over the place (like parks) — you don’t have to take a European trip to find them in our own area.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At the beginning of our business, we offered to our clients that we’d be available by text pretty much “24–7” while they were traveling. We meant this for handling changes on the fly, like contacting a restaurant when the travelers decided they couldn’t eat another big meal (this happens a lot!) or notifying a B&B owner that the clients would be arriving later than they’d hoped.

But sometimes we’d get questions like: “Can I park here?” or “How do I flush this toilet?” or, at midnight, “Is it going to be hot in Modena tomorrow?”

We still answer any and all questions from our travelers (via email), but we had to lay out parameters as to when/how/why to contact us — office hours, so to speak.

We had one client who in one day visited all the sites we had suggested for a 3-day trip; then she called us from an island in the middle of a lake, upset because there was no boat to return her to the mainland at that hour. According to our planned itinerary, she wasn’t supposed to visit that island until the next day, at a time when we knew the boats would still be running! But she had gone “off-book” without consulting us. We spent an hour on the phone on the side of the road (we were traveling at the time as well) to try to get her sorted out.

This was not really what we had in mind when we offered our service — we’re not Alexa! — so we refined the description and parameters of our service. Our itineraries are still chock full of information, pictures, links, and tons of information; and we make all the meal reservations and organize certain activities (e.g., wine tastings, visits to a thermal bath or a cashmere goat farm). But we count on the travelers having responsibility to navigate from one thing to the next — and not to wake us in the middle of the night to ask about tomorrow’s weather forecast!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

We mentioned our business-savvy friends, who encouraged us to recognize the value of what we were doing as travelers. One night years ago, we had them over for cocktails and snacks at our house in Nashville. We were telling them about the traveling that we’d been doing, which had been gaining some significant attention from friends and acquaintances. We related how we’d been spending something like a dozen hours a week helping random acquaintances plan their trips. Our friends sort of laughed at us — we are primarily professional musicians after all, not business people — and they pointed out that what we were doing was a service; our information and insights were valuable, and people would pay for access to such knowledge and planning skills. They encouraged us to create a business out of it — and we did. They really helped us conceive and then implement the basic business model on which we based our travel consulting work.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

We’re not sure if you’d call it an innovation, but we are trying to get people to look at visiting Italy or Ireland, or anywhere really, in a new way: Go to a place to really immerse and experience it, rather than just scrambling from site to site, checking each place or experience off before running off to the next thing on the list. We really believe that this creates the most memorable travel experiences.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

The “pain point” we are trying to address is breaking away from the general idea that travel means that you need to fulfill a checklist of things — “must see” places that you “cannot miss”. Ultimately, that almost always means spending a ton of money, only to be stuck in lines and buses with other tourists, who are fulfilling the same checklist. We try to avoid stress in a trip — if you wanted to be stressed on a tight schedule, you could just go to work! This means understanding what a place will *actually* be like in advance as much as possible, not how it is presented in magazine articles, and setting things up to be as stress-free as possible.

The “secret” that many travel articles seem to miss, in our opinion, is that travel does not need to be expensive or only center around the same popular places. There is so much more to see off the beaten track: exquisite art, stunning architecture, quirky museums… and always, for us, delicious and authentic food and drink.

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

We know very well, as we moved to Italy just a few months before the pandemic started! And then of course we all had to deal with the subsequent lockdowns and travel bans.

From our perspective, travel has returned to more or less normal now. What has changed? Prices, for one — lodgings and food and transportation costs have become noticeably more expensive.

The biggest change is that there are even more people traveling than ever before, especially to the most popular destinations — so it’s even more important to think about how to approach a trip if travelers want to avoid huge crowds.

We think that the pandemic restrictions (and the many problems that came with them) made a lot of people reassess what is important in life, and one big conclusion is that “experiences” are more important than “stuff” — so people’s urge to travel is much stronger than it used to be.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

We design for our clients the types of trips we like to take ourselves. This includes: Staying in a place for 2–3 nights minimum before moving on; ranging out during the day either on foot or by car, but not too far; learning about the place you are visiting via historical sites, art, and food; having time each day to talk with or just observe local people; allowing time in every day’s schedule to linger if one wishes. At the end of the trip, the feeling should be “I can’t wait to come back and learn (and EAT) more,” not “I’m so exhausted, I can’t wait to get home.”

Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.

We think our approach to travel already creates a more “wellness-driven experience,” because it is aimed at creating connections — between our travelers and the people they meet, and amongst the travelers themselves. When we craft a trip for a couple on a romantic getaway, we are careful to think about things that we know are important to them personally, then work those things into the trip, to create a romantic environment. When we craft a trip for families with young kids, we offer suggestions for pre-trip learning or study that might make the trip more meaningful and educational to the young ones (e.g., We’ll be visiting this medieval castle, with a particular history). The “wellness” we are seeking is harmony and fulfillment in those who choose to engage us, a sense of balance and peace, and hopefully, wonder and amazement at the incredible places they are getting to visit or experience.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Pack lightly and consider logistics

We spend the first 30 minutes or so of every client call going over basic logistics. Everyone wants to dream about that cappuccino in a cafe or that perfect plate of spaghetti carbonara, but the truth is, you won’t enjoy it if you are stressed out of your mind due to a crazy travel schedule or can’t find a table because you are in a bustling, high-tourist area. It’s always worth taking the time to think through the logistics to make sure you are physically and mentally able to enjoy the places you have worked so hard to get to. And packing lightly? We can’t say enough about that. Having to slog around with two heavy suitcases is the #1 way to turn that dream trip into a nightmare.

2. Learn a bit about the place you are visiting

When do people usually eat? When are stores open? Are there unfamiliar traffic laws, or customs, that are good for you to know about before you incur a big fine, or embarrass yourself? What are the best dishes to look for, and where can you find good examples? Are there festivals going on during the time you will be there, and what do those festivals represent? Learning just a little about a place you are going helps answer those questions, and opens the door to creating a trip that is fulfilling and fun… and delicious.

3. Respect your own limitations and let yourself relax

One of the hardest things for our clients to embrace is the idea of slowing down a little. On paper, an itinerary often only looks “full” if it is packed with activity from dawn to bedtime. But a truly rewarding trip includes time to wander, to have another cappuccino at a great bar, to sit over a pint at fireside pub and have a chat, to stop to take pictures of a quickly passing rainbow… The best thing you can do is put yourself in a place that is beautiful and interesting, and then allow yourself the time to actually explore it. As for “limitations”, it is so important to consider things like mobility, energy, and temperament when crafting a trip. Personally, we have a lot of anxiety about being immersed in big crowds, or in tons of traffic, so we spend a lot of time crafting our own personal trips in a way that limits our exposure to those things — this comports with our temperaments. The same applies to walking or hiking: long walks can be fun if you enjoy them, and not so much if you don’t. It is always worth the time to consider those issues for every traveler while crafting a trip.

4. Embrace the differences

Things will always be different when you travel — that is really the whole point! But some of those differences might be surprising, so set your mind to “flexible” before you leave home. Take stock of what is truly important to you: Do you need Dr. Pepper every day, or do you just like it? If you NEED it, you need to determine if you can get it, and if the answer is no, bring it yourself. Apply that standard to every ‘thing’ you need in advance, and that will help you set your expectations for the place you are visiting, and your expectations for yourself.

Personally, we like to read and learn about the places we will go before we get there, and then seek out the things that are particular to that area. We are traveling exactly for this reason! For a small example: In Ireland, we drink tea, and eat (sometimes very large) breakfast. In Italy, we skip breakfast (or just have a cornetto, like Italians do), and drink espresso or macchiato. Trying to find tea and a scone in most places in Italy would not result in a very fun morning.

5. Put your phone down and take time let your brain do the “photo-taking”

Having access to a camera and a videocamera 24/7 is a great boon, but it can also be a bit of an albatross. Everyone is susceptible to the feeling that we need to record every minute, in still shots or in video. But no matter how great your camera is, it is still not as great as your senses. Put that phone down (most of the time), and take a minute to smell the air, and remember the scent of the ocean breeze. Look closely at the grass waving in the field, and the sheep running across it. Savor that bite of seafood chowder, or that puffy pillowy ravioli. Notice the feeling as your feet sink into the wet sand on your walk on the shoreline. Those are the memories you will call upon later, but you need to have time to imprint them in your brain so you can remember them later on and smile at the thought of them. The phone just can’t replicate what you can create in your own mind.

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We’re not sure we could cast it as anything as lofty as “bringing goodness” to the world, but we do hope to encourage responsible and informed traveling; and we hope we’re helping to create stronger bonds among our clients because of the (hopefully stress-free) experience they have shared in their travels. We want to spark their interest in continuing to travel in that way, wherever they may choose to wander.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We spend a lot of time thinking about this exact thing. There is no short answer; it is the question of a lifetime. We think the best answer is to learn as much as you can about people and places around you, and try to imagine yourself in their shoes. Reading the “headline” only can quickly lead to judgment and a false sense of comprehension; but taking the time to read the “full story”, to be open and learn a little, and to get a sense of the context — this can deepen one’s understanding, and hopefully, compassion. That is part of what we are hoping to accomplish in travel… a greater understanding, a larger context, to get outside of a bubble.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find us at — but we publish daily stories and photos on Facebook. We are constantly on the road, and we’ve gotten used to using Facebook, so we post our experiences and insights there every day.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.