By June Mathews
When Andrea Traina first came to the United States, starting a business was not part of his plan.
A graphic designer by trade, he originally intended to work at a relative’s construction company for a year or two before returning home to Italy.
Then he began teaching an Italian language class in Samford University’s evening program, Samford After Sundown, and his plans changed.
“Much of the time in the class was taken up with questions about Italy,” said Traina. “I was talking one day to the director of the program about how the class was going, and she suggested a workshop on weekends about getting ready for an Italian trip.”
The first workshop took place in March 2010, and 22 people attended. Two couples in the class already were planning trips to Italy later that year, but Traina’s workshop changed their minds about where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do on their trip. They eventually came to him with a request: “If we pay your expenses, will you take us?”
“At that time, I was still working for the construction company. But, fortunately, the person running the company was my great-uncle,” said Traina, “so I asked him, and he said, ‘Sure, that’s not a problem. Do it.’”
So, in September 2011, Traina headed to Italy with his first tour group, and his career as a travel guide was born.
“I never thought it was going to be a job,” he said. “I remember when we came back, two of the gentlemen said, ‘You should do this all the time. We would probably use you again.’”
So Traina started telling people he was going to plan another trip, and many of them said, “Let us know when. We’d like to go,” Traina said.
Since then, he’s taken numerous groups to his native Italy, gradually increasing the number of trips from two in 2012 to 13 in 2016. Even more are planned for 2017, and he’s already booked through June 2018.
Word of mouth has been his best advertising, pulling in clients from 17 states, including Missouri, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, New York, Texas and California. Since the groups have gotten bigger, Traina now has two assistants to help manage the trips and share guide duties.
“When you’ve got 11 people wanting to do 11 different things, it’s impossible for one person to handle everything,” he said. “It helps to split the groups and take them different places.”
No stranger to travel – from age 17 to 28 he traveled all over Italy and Eastern Europe as a member of a rowing team – Traina has become adept at shuttling his groups from place to place and giving them an insider’s view of his native country.
Thanks to his grandfather, a retired Italian Army general, Traina knows Italy like the back of his hand. The two often spent part of the summer traveling together.
“My grandfather was an inspiration to me, and he knew all of Italy really well,” said Traina. “He told me, ‘You have the rest of your life to see the world, but it’s my duty to show you your country.’”
When leading a tour, Traina is with his clients the whole time, customizing their Italian experience according to their wishes and taking them to operas, historic sites, wineries and other points of interest.
Before a trip even gets underway, he’s already put in a lot of work booking flights, arranging for travel insurance and helping clients get the most from any rewards programs or frequent flyer miles they might have.
“There’s a lot of stuff that has to be done, but they don’t have to worry about anything,” he said. “My prices are really good, and that’s probably because I do everything myself.”
And though he bases his efforts on what clients ask for, Traina does have one overall rule of his own that he tries to follow.
“We try not to go into ‘touristy’ areas too much,” he said. “You’ve got to see the tourist spots, no doubt, but if you only go to those places, you won’t experience the country.”
Another critical part of the job is to stay in tune with each group and adjust the pace accordingly.
“If somebody’s tired, you have to slow down; if it’s been a long day, we don’t do anything the next morning,” he said. “You don’t want a person to get cranky. If they get cranky, you have not done your job. You don’t want them to have bad memories of their trip.”
For more information on Andrea Traina, his language classes and travel services, visit myitalianvacay.com.