"That is my main rule," Alexander said. "No drama."
It’s a formula with proven results. Her trips have grown legendary for combining a casual, fun atmosphere with enough attention to detail that no one feels unsure about what’s coming next.
Alexander and a group of 28 students, faculty, parents, and alumni from Miami University Regionals – her largest yet – completed her fifth 10-day trip this summer, touring three countries chosen by the group: Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.
The tours are a labor of love for Alexander, who teaches Art History and Classics. She receives no funding from the university for the ventures. Planned every three years, students often save for that long to afford the chance to go, and faculty and alumni come back again and again because they always have fun. Some have been participating since her first tour in 2007. Ages range from 18 to 72.
"We started planning for this trip back in 2020 while we were still in quarantine," she said. "It was a way to cheer ourselves up. We voted on the countries we wanted to see.
"A lot of our students on the trips are first-generation college students," Alexander said. "Almost none of them have been out of the country. At least half had never flown before. Everything is new."
"I had never been on a plane before," Meece said. "The furthest I had been outside of Ohio was South Carolina."
She said she wanted to experience more of the world before she started her first job after graduation.
"I wanted to be able to experience other cultures and see other places," she said. "Now that I’ve been to new places, I want to explore more, which is something I never thought I’d want to do."
Meece only knew a couple of the other student travelers before the trip began, but that did not make her hesitate.
"I had full confidence in Starla," she said. "It felt like it was a safe way to travel, being part of a big group of similar people who came from the same place."
There were many surprises, though. The first was realizing she could walk so much after a nearly sleepless overnight flight into Munich, Germany.
"I didn’t know sleeping on a plane was a real skill," she laughed. "We landed in Munich in the morning and started exploring right away. There was no time to take a nap."
Traveling by bus, the group had a busy schedule, stopping in five cities during their 10 days abroad. Highlights included St. Mark’s Square in Venice, artwork by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo in Milan, Lake Como in Lucerne, and a village in the Swiss Alps.
The Alps were one of the most memorable experiences for many on the trip, Alexander noted. "We were above the clouds. It was so beautiful."
By the end of the trip, everyone had bonded. They were singing together on the bus as they drove to new cities. "People seemed happier this year," Alexander said. "I think everyone was excited to be able to travel after the pandemic."
Caryn Neumann, teaching professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary and Communication Studies and a participant on all five of Alexander’s trips, said the group becomes like one big family.
"As the older folks, we become like the overseas parents for the students," she laughed. "They’re telling dad jokes by the end. The age differences of the travelers makes for interesting perspectives on the history and the culture of the places we visit. We share our impressions, and there are lots of funny stories, like being attacked by pigeons in the cities."
The tour groups even have reunion dinners, Alexander said.
Planning will begin soon for the next European tour. For information about how to join, email Starla Alexander.