People & Stories

30+ years of memories: Longest-serving Trafalgar Travel Directors reveal all

In the 75 years since Trafalgar’s conception, it’s been our incredible Trafalgar Travel Directors who have taken our guests around the world and introduced them to so many amazing destinations, memorable sights and gracious hosts. Our Travel Directors have travel diaries full of wonderful stories to tell and here, for the first time ever, we’re chatting to five of our longest-serving Trafalgar Travel Directors who each have over 30 years of memories to share.

Ellen Rombouts has been a Trafalgar Travel Director for 34 years

Tell us your favourite memory from your 34 years as a Travel Director

In the nineties we started the trips in London. Last pick up was at 6.30am at reception. One of the guests was called James. I shook his hand and introduced myself. He said: ‘I am James…’ and his teeth dropped out of his mouth and fell in the gutter!

He stepped onto the coach. I looked at his back, and then at his teeth, and thought: ‘This is going to be a long 24 days!’

I picked up his teeth and bought plastic gloves. He dropped them everywhere. Even some guests (women) had gloves in their handbags for this purpose.

In Nice, we had a free afternoon. At 4.00 pm I was walking along the Boulevard des Anglais and saw something was going on in the sea. Part of my group was stamping the sand and then a Frenchman dived down and came up with James’ teeth in his hand!

What is the best part of your job?

Having a job I really like, making people laugh and showing them interesting places.

What have you learnt about travel and yourself over the last 30 years?

What you give out is what you get back and there is always a story behind everybody. So, I try not to judge. I have certainly learned how to react in difficult situations. Humour helps.

Travel has certainly changed. People come now with more expectations. And with a head already full of information. They want to see the things they have heard about instead of totally unknown places. There was more time 30 years ago.

GET INSPIRED: Travel with Trafalgar on the Best of Britain tour

Catrin Griffiths has been a Trafalgar Travel Director in Scandinavia for 34 years

Tell us your favourite memory from the last 34 years

So many stories… this could take some time. Years ago a quiet, rather shy woman came on our trip to the far north to see the Midnight Sun, reindeer and the little Swedish town where her late husband had been born. In Jokkmokk we talked late into the night and her happiness and the bittersweet memories of the man she loved taught me a lot about how important a holiday can be.

I did once sit 28 Trafalgar guests on the knees of 28 ‘relaxed’ singing Finns to get across the Russian border, but that’s another story.

The best part of your job?

Is it obvious to say I want guests to fall in love with the Nordic countries? When they do my heart sings. These countries are less visited, a path less trodden, with histories and culture unlike so much of Europe. Fewer castles and fancy churches but traditions, folk art, waterfalls, trolls, music and delicious food. Who can resist a smorgasbord?

The worst part of your job?

That will be smörgåsbords, scrumptious open sandwiches with Brunost, Swedish Maribou Dajm chocolate, rommegrøt with melted butter and cinnamon, warm Danish pastries… 

I’m no longer young and thin. Can’t imagine why. 

What have you learnt about travel and yourself over the last 30 years?

Not to judge too quickly: if it’s raining the city can still be beautiful, look again. Not to rush too blindly:  sitting in a cafe chatting is as good, sometimes, as a fancy castle. Not to take without returning. Spread kindness. 

How travel and touring has changed in the past 33 years?

Mobile phone magic. Terrible delays, frustrated arrangements, lost ferries, lost Travel Directors and funny stories, but I don’t want those years back. Coaches are luxurious [now], I used to have a shammy leather to wipe down the condensation inside the bus, never mind the ice. Now I can show guests little films, local maps and photos on screens. We have so many more individual experiences like Be My Guest where guests chat with wonderful locals and get a real insight into places, rather than just sail past. 

Why you have stuck with Trafalgar all this time? 

This is the crème de la crème of travel companies. Nobody does it better. Expectations for a Trafalgar Travel Director are very high – but that’s good, we all want happy contented guests. Plus, I can read a map, eat Swedish chocolate and chat at the same time – does that count?

What makes Trafalgar different to other tour companies?

We have guests coming back again and again, that’s a winner isn’t it. So many families have returned just with me, and we ALWAYS have well-travelled guests onboard returning to Trafalgar as they explore this gorgeous, delicate, fragile world of ours. Trafalgar is part of the Treadright Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation to help us remember that travel is an incredible gift but with this gift comes responsibility. We need to protect, have a positive impact on the people and communities we visit and care for the planet we call home.

If you would ever consider doing anything else – if so, what?

I’m trying to learn the piano so I can play Edvard Grieg’s Morning Mood by a fjord, so clearly I’ve never really considered any other job. Sadly, my piano playing is absolutely ghastly – I seem to have too many fingers. Better to stick to the job I was made for and love.

GET INSPIRED: Explore Scenic Scandinavia and its Fjords with Trafalgar

Paolo Consoli has been a Trafalgar Travel Director in Italy for 33 years

Can you share your favourite memory from your years as a Trafalgar Travel Director?

I searched in my memory for one particular story to share, but hundreds of them emerged as every single guest I’ve met throughout all these years had their personal story to tell.

The one that I still vividly remember is a about a middle-aged woman who specifically purchased a trip going to Pompei in order to fulfil her recently deceased father’s desire to return to the archaeological site a small stone he had subtracted and taken home as a souvenir 40 years earlier.

When we explained the lady’s intention to one of the guardians, the poor man burst into tears, overwhelmed with gratitude.

What is the best part of your job?

It would be too obvious to reply, ‘because I love to travel’. A Trafalgar Travel Director must be an historian, a chef, a wine connoisseur, a botanist, a psychologist, a butler, a marriage counsellor, a male nurse, an influencer, a digital master and much, much more. I like to be all those things, it makes me feel like a Renaissance man, a little Leonardo da Vinci.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The worst part of my job as a Trafalgar Travel Director is when I cannot be a Trafalgar Travel Director (due to Covid).

Seriously, frustration reaches its peak when, despite every effort, often due to events beyond my control, I am unable to fulfil the guest expectations.

What have you learnt about travel over the last 33 years?

I will try to reply to this question with one single quote: “Travelling is the only time when paying money makes you richer”. To me it says it all.

How has travel changed over the last 33 years?

Travel has changed so much that writing about the touring of 33 years ago is like writing about another life.

The standard of coaches has drastically improved. Now guests enjoy much more comfortable vehicles equipped with all kinds of modern technology. WIFI, videos on board, efficient air-conditioning were all just a dream 33 years ago.

People travel more now – historical sites are busier, therefore organised touring has become pivotal in terms of time saving and line skipping. The use of the audio system has incredibly improved the quality of sightseeing. The advent of social media has changed guests’ awareness of the places we visit therefore we are now facing, as Travel Directors, much more demanding customers.

Why have you stuck with Trafalgar all these years?

Trafalgar has shown a vision I have always shared. It has been able to adapt to new scenarios and often able to predict them. I love the way that those working with other companies look at us as the fearsome competitor. Trafalgar offers an excellent product and involves its employees in the making of this product. I’m also proud to work for a company so much involved in environmental issues and sustainability

Have you ever considered doing anything else?

I have often thought about what else I could have done instead of being a Trafalgar Travel Director and in all honesty, I came up with nothing else. I love this job and I hope to continue as far as I will be allowed.

GET INSPIRED: Experience the Best of Italy with Trafalgar

Antonella Fedeli has been a Trafalgar Travel Director in Italy for 32 years

My favourite story is probably something that happened more than 30 years ago when we were still visiting the Blu Grotto in Capri. This lady jumped from the motorboat to the rowboat for entering the grotto, missed it and fell in the sea. I was scared to death because I was younger and with less experience, but all the sailors jumped into the sea to help her get back on the boat, but she was laughing and laughing. Finally, when she was back on the boat and I spoke to her, she told me that it was the best experience she had ever had as there were so many boys touching her!

What’s the best thing about being a Travel Director?

It’s meeting so many people with so many different needs and expectations and trying to fulfil them all. The best thing is making dreams come true 

What have you learnt about travel over the last 32 years?

You never finish learning, traveling needs continuous studies and updates.

How has travel changed during your time as a Trafalgar Travel Director?

Tourism and tourists have changed a lot, especially within the last few years with all the technology and tools they have. [Travellers] are more and more independent, they are looking for less busy places and willing to see more out of the crowds or off the beaten track.

Why have you stuck with Trafalgar for so long?

Why should I change? I am working with the best travel company and I am so proud of it. I am very faithful, it’s like a marriage, if you are happy and satisfied why should you change your partner?

My grandma, my nonna, used to say: “Chi lascia la via vecchia per la nuova, sa quel che lascia ma non sa quel che trova.” That means you might leave the old road for a new one, but you know exactly what you are leaving and you don’t know what you might find along the new one. So, I keep walking along this old long road that I like the most if they still like me.

What makes Trafalgar different to other touring companies?

I can only say what I see. Trafalgar is number one in this business and there’s a reason. [Trafalgar] is constantly updating their way to work, searching for new itineraries and new ways, supporting the countries we travel to with TreadRight, paying attention to the environment with green features. Attention to the people, the guests and even the staff…. This makes a great difference!

Have you ever considered doing anything else?  

I tried many years ago to work on the other side, in the booking office in New York for another company, but I am like a gypsy, I cannot sit for too many hours. My office is the beauty of this amazing world.

Now I’ve turned 60 I might consider doing something else, always in the same field, I might help in discovering new itineraries or writing a book as many of our past guests suggested… who knows!

GET INSPIRED: Enjoy a Europe with Trafalgar on the European Traveller tour

Letizia Taddeo has been a Trafalgar Travel Director for 30 years

Tell us your favourite story from your 30 years as a Trafalgar Travel Director

During a Best of Italy tour, in the evening of our first day in Rome, a young lady from our group approached me and asked me if I could help her with a rather delicate mission.

In a quiet corner of the hotel lobby, she reached into her handbag and presented to me a little decorated ceramic box and said: ‘This box contains the ashes of my dear grandmother who had emigrated from Italy as a child to New York and had expressed, on her death bed, the wish to be back where she came from 90 years ago!’

The lady had thought that since we were visiting the Vatican the next day it would be the best place on Italian soil for her grandmother to be – near the Pope!

I explained to her that the Vatican was not Italy and, apart from that, it might cause a dispute with the Swiss guards! At first she was confused, but before she became frustrated I came up with another idea.

Why not bring her grandmother to the beautiful and sacred town of Assisi which we were going to visit next and where I knew all the Franciscan brothers?

She loved my suggestion and was looking forward to our next destination. Upon arrival in Assisi, the young lady was overwhelmed, as were all our guests, by the beauty and the serenity of the place. Her grandmother could have not selected a better place to be buried.

After she had met the Franciscan priest, I asked her for the outcome of her meeting. This was her answer:

‘I am extremely happy that my grandmother can rest in such a special place in Italy. I am thankful for all your help and I understand that travelling with Trafalgar the most unusual request can be made possible! The priest could not tell me though, where within the sacred walls my grandmother would be buried.’

And with a blink of her eyes and a smile on her face, she added: ‘To be on the safe side we kept half of our grandmother in New York!’

What has been a pivotal moment in your career?

The year when I started using a mobile phone a new life began!

The best part of your job as a Trafalgar Travel Director

To make people, coming from different parts of the world, happy and to help them make their lifelong dreams come true.

What is the worst part of your job as a Travel Director?

When a guest becomes unwell and I have to leave them behind and they cannot anymore re-join the tour.

GET INSPIRED: Visit the Vatican with Trafalgar on our Italian Holiday tour

Have you met any of our Trafalgar Travel Directors? Tell us about your favourite memories of them in the comments below.

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