“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~ Henry Miller

For most travelers, the journey is the destination; the thrill of being in motion, the savouring of unique sights and sounds, the delight in experiencing different cuisine and culture, and the joy of making new friends in new places.

For many, especially older generations who now enjoy extra time and income, it is the chance to fulfill lifelong dreams, and perhaps check off another item on the “bucket list.”

Judy Lowstuter of Celtic Journeys provides escorted tours to Scotland and Ireland. She says that her business is booming, thanks in large part to Baby Boomers.

“The majority of our clients between the ages of 45 and 80, and are from the USA, Canada and Australia. Almost all of them want to experience the heritage, history, natural beauty, culture and people of the Celtic countries. Because our tours are limited to 16 guests, we are strong on customer service, accommodating special requests to make a tour a personal experience for each. That means a high level of personal care, attention to detail, lots of extras, four-star accommodations, good food, and a strong focus on history and heritage. We must be doing something right, because we enjoy a repeat clientele rate of about 65 per cent, and receive high praise and five-star ratings from guests year after year.”

Like Lowstuter, Stewart Bennett of Stewart Caledonia Tours in Port Perry, Ontario, says that putting together travel experiences is a labour of love.

“I immigrated to Canada in 1957 with my parents. I own a Scottish Shop – The Wee Tartan Shop – and it has been on the main street here for 17 years now. I have become the person in the area to discuss all things Scottish – they call me “The Highlander.” After so many people asked me to help them decide where to go on their holidays in Scotland, I decided that I might be able to take them on a coach tour. So I started Stewart Caledonia Tours and we have been taking travelers to the UK for the last 10 years. I love showing them “My Scotland” and Scotland has never let me down. Some of my friends have now travelled with me, at least once every year, which challenges me to find new adventures and places to visit. We make our coach tours exciting but fun and often stray from the published itineraries to take in something really unique and special. Getting off the motorways is my main goal. The coach tours are really fun with singing and dancing wherever we can. We have danced on the Royal Yacht Brittania, at the gates of Balmoral Castle, in the ruins of Duntulm Castle and in the parking lot at Roslyn Chapel.”

Ivor Henrichsen, owner and operator of Vorscott Tours, agrees that Scotland makes an ideal travel destination.

“Scotland, especially when the weather is kind, has everything to offer; glorious scenery, magic culture and heritage, whisky, unique castles, our Highlands and lochs, friendly hosts, easy travelling with a variety of scenery on offer within relatively short distances, good lodgings, and, of course, fascinating folklore, myths and legends, including landscapes from prehistoric sites, standing stones and circles, the kilt and Highland Dancing, Hogmanay at new year, as well as many other internationally celebrated festivals. Scotland is indeed a “Land for All Seasons.” Even our “Brigadoon” weather has its own delight with the low mist covering the mountain peaks, giving a sense of mystery. We are also fortunate in having so many more folks abroad of Scottish ancestry – who can be more “Scottish” than us at home – keen to visit the old motherland.”

Kathy Writer of Craig Travel shares that the Emerald Isle offers visitors a similar experience for both people of Irish ancestry and those just looking for a relaxed holiday.

“Ireland is historic, scenic, magical and welcoming. The Irish people are simply amazing. You can find a great story, a warm meal and a smile just about everywhere. It is a relatively easy destination to get to, English speaking, affordable and offers so much for the traveler. One can find religion, music, family, culture, food and of course lots of laughter. One is generally sad when leaving and they surely are making plans to return again…whether it’s the stories of Leprechauns and Fairy’s, or historic battles and castles, the intrigue and mystery of Ireland is a big draw for people. That, and the Guinness!”

Gary and Cherill Smith of Ontario have enjoyed exploring their Celtic heritage through Craig Travel.

“We both trace out roots back to England, Scotland, and Ireland,” says Gary. “Cherrill’s paternal ancestors emigrated from Stirling, Scotland, to the United Sates before moving on to the Eastern Townships of Quebec in the 1800s. Some of my ancestors came from Scotland in 1832, and founded the family farm near Merlin, Ontario.

“In Scotland, Cherrill enjoyed the Military Tattoo and the Festival in Edinburgh and walking the bleak hill country. I was intrigued by the sense of stepping back in time in the Outer Hebrides, smelling the peat fires, and hearing Gaelic spoken. In Ireland, we discovered a country that is magical with mysticism, wonderful people, music, delicious food, and fabulous accommodation in farmhouses, small country house hotels, and castles.”

Since 1995, the Smiths have gone on 25 group trips.

“As we get older we have found that it is very enjoyable to travel with a group of compatible, like-minded people. We also appreciate that the cost is all-inclusive, the accommodations are the best available, and the group is escorted by a well-travelled leader and experienced local guides. We have also organized two trips for a group of six friends and then had Craig Travel make the final arrangements with their in-country provider. These trips were half-way between independent and group travel experiences because they were well-organized with a driver/guide and mostly prepaid, but flexible enough to allow for spontaneity.”

As with the Smiths, these experiences can lead to life-long friendships for tour operators also.

“After tours I always follow up and remain in contact with former clients,” says Ivor Henrichsen, “most of who are friends even before we meet as a result of our email or phone contacts prior to the tour. I am pleased to say that I have had wonderful responses back from my fellow-travelers and good recommendations with repeat business by customers or their families and friends. I would estimate that more than 90 per cent of my clients have become our friends with invitations to visit them back at their homes. Normally they have met with my wife Betty at our home or been out with us for a meal during their tour. So I feel very blessed.”

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill