When the fine folks at Monograms approached me about a working on a project together, I honestly wasn’t familiar with the company. I should’ve been though because, after a week of traveling with them in Colombia, I learned that there’s nothing quite like them in the travel world. I have a lot to share from my time experiencing Colombia, a country I quickly grew to love. But first I want to share more information about Monograms, why I traveled with them and why my experience in Colombia was transformed into something truly extraordinary thanks entirely to their unique style of travel. I was compensated for my time with Monograms, but as always all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
What is Monograms?
Good question and it actually took me longer than I’d care to admit to fully understand what they do exactly as a company. It wasn’t until I traveled with them that I finally “got it.” First of all, Monograms is not a travel tour operator. Not really. They call themselves an “un-tour” but first I think it’s important to define what a tour company is in the first place. While it varies, a tour operator creates package trips with everything you’ll need on your travels. This can include flights, but not always, but always does include hotels, tour guides, activities and many meals. They’re one-stop shopping, they ARE your trip. Monograms doesn’t do that. Instead, I really see them as a different kind of resource for the independent traveler.
Essentially, Monograms offers packages all around the world that share common characteristics. They include:
- Specially selected hotels based on service and location
- Transportation to and from the airport as well as transportation throughout the trip
- Limited sightseeing. Usually a half a day or so of sightseeing is included with a local guide, but most of the time is independent and left up to the individual
- Local Host. This is what separates Monograms from everyone else and I’ll go into greater detail in a later point, but it’s an on-site local who is there to help with anything you might need. From knowing where the cleaners are to finding the best spot for dinner, they’re the fix-it people that are priceless to have on a trip.
Even reading through and understanding these bullet points though didn’t help me all that much. No, it wasn’t until I actually traveled with them that I finally understood the incredible benefits they bring to the travel experience.
Organized and Yet Independent
I’m told that many people don’t enjoy planning the nitty-gritty details of the travel experience. Personally, I do, but that’s of course one of many things that makes me a little unusual. Anyway, what Monograms strives to accomplish is to go ahead and plan out those not so interesting details and then leave the rest of the trip up to you. Let’s take my trip to Colombia as an example. I selected the hotels where I wanted to stay based on provided options and then Monograms dealt with: booking the hotels, transfers and coordinating the Local Host. The host is essentially a tour guide, but it’s really much more than that. I had an itinerary that included some time with the Local Hosts as they showed me around the cities, but I also had plenty of time by myself. I loved planning the trip as I would had I organized and booked everything, from discovering what interested me the most to even looking up some other walking tours in both Bogota and Cartagena. I spent hours researching all of the activities and I loved every second of it. Once on the ground, that sense of independent discovery was exactly the same as on personal trips I take, because the time was my own. In Bogota the Local Host spent half a day with me, showing me the highlights, but the rest of the time was independent. The same was true in Cartagena; only the coffee growing region of Colombia was almost entirely led by the Local Host because it has to be, due to the types of activities in the region. So it’s a balance. Things like hotels, airport transfers and so on are automatically taken care of for you so you never have to think about them. Learning about new destinations, exploring them in your own way and at your own pace, that’s the responsibility of the traveler. It sounds a little trite, but it really does accentuate all the great aspects of the travel experience while eliminating some of the minutiae.
Local Host Made All the Difference
In researching the company before my trip I noticed just how often they talk about the role of the Local Hosts, so I knew these were important people. I also didn’t quite know what to expect. Were they tour guides? Were they local people there to help me out? As it turns out, it’s a curious mix of both. The best case study from my trip is Bogota, where the amazing Andres was my Local Host for the duration of my time in the city. Meeting me at the airport, we were in a van heading for the hotel before I realized it. Along the way we chatted about the touristy things to experience in Bogota, but I also asked him about him and his life. We quickly morphed from a tour guide/traveler relationship to a much more casual and friendly one – this only further developed during the three days I was in Bogota. He spent time leading me around town, showing me not only the traditional highlights of the city, but some of his favorite places as well. Even more valuable was the advice he gave me from walking tours to restaurants and more. He validated things I had guessed at and introduced me to experiences I never would have known about on my own. Every travel writer in the world has written about the importance of getting to know locals so that they can show off the “real” version their city. Well, Monograms has accomplished that in a way unlike anything else I’ve seen before.
Why I’m Thrilled Monograms Tailored My First Trip To Colombia
I was a little hesitant before my first trip to Monograms because I just didn’t know what to expect. I’m picky when it comes to the travel experience and I just wanted to make sure that what they provide would be a good fit. Immediately though I could see the clear benefits of their programs and for me I’m so glad that it was the way I decided to first experience this vibrant country. I speak French and German and (I thought) enough Spanish to be able to get around. Yeah, I don’t. I had some issues with the language in Colombia, nothing major and every time easily reconciled (Thank you Google Translate!) but having Andres there at the beginning especially was incredibly helpful. I didn’t have to figure out the taxi or Uber system, those details were already taken care of. And while Andy did spend some time leading me around town, I at no time felt like I was being shepherded and that’s important to me. I do not enjoy feeling like a lemming, just another number in the pack. Monograms trips are individual, so there’s never any group unless you travel with others but more importantly, I felt like Andy and I were having a conversation more than anything else. Most of my time in Bogota though was independent, and walking around, exploring everything from local grocery stores to the city’s famous street art is how I travel wherever I go. Having Monograms there with “fix-it” people to smooth out the wrinkles was ideal, as was having more than enough opportunities to see and experience the country in the way of my own choosing. It’s a great combination in all honesty, and a great fit for travelers who want a little help when they travel, but not too much.
I have a lot to share abut my week exploring Colombia, experiences that were made all the better by access to local insider knowledge as coordinated by Monograms. I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much out of the trip as I did without the help of local insiders and for my money, this unique access makes all the difference.