One of the greatest joys of traveling by bike is not only making friends along the way, but having those friends turn into lifelong travel companions. Many an EP tour is composed of folks who fit this description. Some prefer to book advertised trips, while others schedule private departures, or even create custom itineraries.
Joan Kearney, who has been traveling with ExperiencePlus! since 2001, has amassed an impressive group of riding companions over the years. She is pictured above (from left to right) with Vince Murphy, Dave Gans, Dave Forester and Sonny Lange on a 2014 Costa Brava trip. We recently spoke with Joan about the history of their friendship and the benefits of traveling with friends.
EP: What inspired you to begin traveling by bicycle/taking organized bike trips?
Joan: In 2000, I was 46 and had been bike riding regularly for about ten years. I met a women at my work who told me that she and her husband had gone to Tuscany on a bike trip for their honeymoon. She gave me information about ExperiencePlus! and I signed up!
EP: Venice to Florence was your first trip with ExperiencePlus! in 2001. What do you remember about that trip?
Joan: Rick and Paola were with our group on that tour. I will never forget leaving the Lido of Venice and riding south to Comacchio. I had goosebumps trying to get my head around what I was actually doing. That tour was a life changing experience. That was May 2001. Upon returning home, I immediately booked a second trip to Provence in September 2001. Next was Bike and Cruise the Greek Islands in May 2002. Needless to say, I got the travel bug pretty bad!!
EP: Had you traveled to Europe before?
Joan: It was my first trip to Europe and my first trip to Italy. Being from Italian descent (50%) I longed to visit Italy. My great grandparents came from northern Italy and I had so many memories of the classic Italian dinners at their home. My great grandfather made wine in his basement on the south side of Chicago. Great grandparents, Josephine and Pasquale Celani, were married in northern Italy and came to the US in the 1920’s.
EP: How did you meet the group the group of folks you mostly travel with now on EP tours?
Joan: In 2003, I signed up for the spring training in Tuscany as a single. My assigned roommate and I were in adjoining rooms to Dave, Sonny and Stew, all from Denver area. The hotel had patios attached and we started a long running tradition of wine and cheese happy hours on those balconies. In 2002 I met Vince (and wife Kathy) in Costa Rica. In 2008, Marty joined the group. I believe we met David in 2009 in Tuscany and Sheila came on board on the Lakes District in 2012. In 2012, I purchased a condo in Fort Myers, Florida, for a vacation spot and we all would go down there to get out of the cold weather, ride bikes and enjoy life, further bolstering our friendships.
EP: Does your group of friends organize private departures and/or custom tours, or do you mostly book listed departures?
Joan: Mostly listed departures.
EP: What are the benefits to you of traveling in a group, and better yet – traveling with people you have gotten to know from previous tours?
Joan: We have discussed this many times. Because I went as a single on several trips prior to traveling with friends, I’ve learned it is infinitely easier and more fun to have friends to travel with. All people in groups have different strengths and each contributes to enhancing the experience. I think our cohesiveness of strengths is symbolized in how many trips we have taken together because our team dynamic is so successful.
EP: How do you go about planning trips together?
Joan: Usually, at the end of each trip, we begin discussing the next year and where we want to go. Generally there is a consensus, but more recently, given age and other factors, the trips have been more about fun rather than difficulty. The “frequent traveler” (Recycle) program definitely incentivized us to keep planning trips!
EP: Parting thoughts?
I said before that my first trip in 2001 was a life changing experience. It made my love of travel and adventure come to the forefront in my life. Getting to know people that have become dear friends for life was such an unexpected bonus.