Most of us have fond memories of and feelings for the place -- or places -- where we grew up. But when you come from a spot as ruggedly beautiful as Scotland, sometimes that fondness can go a step further -- and propel you in ways you never could have imagined.
That was certainly the case for Aeneas O’Hara. Growing up in the Western Scottish Highlands, he enjoyed boating and other outdoor sports in the stunning countryside. His family traveled extensively when he was a child, and his eventual career in financial technology also took him around the world. Eventually, O’Hara wound up in New York City. Once clients and friends discovered where he was from, O’Hara found himself constantly giving travel advice -- where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in his beloved Scotland.
“I used to joke that my perfect job would be as a Scottish ambassador,” said O’Hara.
He eventually realized that he needed to follow his passion for helping others make the most of their time in Scotland. He returned to Scotland and in short order founded Away from the Ordinary, a bespoke tour company that works individually with each client to make their time in Scotland truly memorable.
While the career switch was a bit of a process, O’Hara found that it was well worth the leap of faith.
“While working in fintech, I was on the client-facing side,” said O’Hara. “So when I realized I wanted to do something different, I took my knowledge and passion for Scotland, coupled with my client-facing skills, and created my dream job. When I receive feedback from my clients about how great their vacations were, and the bonds they have created with Scotland, then I could not be happier with the choice I made.”
At Away from the Ordinary, vacation planning is elevated to an art form. Much time and care are taken at the onset -- getting to know a client, outlining their goals for their vacation, and making it all happen. The commitment to excellent service shines through every step of the process, from the planning to the actual experiences enjoyed by clients.
“At Away from the Ordinary, everything is completely tailor-made,” said O’Hara. “We plan and book the whole itinerary, including accommodations, hand-picked guides, restaurants, and experiences based on our clients’ preferences. We get as much information as possible from our clients about the kind of things they like to see and do on vacation and in their spare time.”
Once O’Hara and his team have that information, they get to work, reaching out to on-the-ground partners and vendors. After several days, a client is presented with a first draft of their itinerary. Then O’Hara works to refine the draft with the client, and once it’s tweaked to their full satisfaction, the bookings begin. Everything is taken care of, and nothing is left to chance. The only things the client needs to bring to the table are ideas, opinions, and plenty of time.
“Scotland is bigger than people anticipate, and there is more to see and do than they might think,” said O’Hara. “Ideally our clients will travel for two weeks. This way we can show them different parts of the country from our amazing cities to our remotest countryside.”
Encounters with locals and authentic regional experiences are key to Away from the Ordinary’s success.
“We use private guides, so when our clients spend time with them, they are delighted to meet Scottish people that share their genuine love of Scotland," said O'Hara. "We also use guides specific to certain areas and topics rather than one guide for the whole of Scotland. That way, you get local insight specific to that area and can form a fuller picture of Scotland -- its climate, culture, history, and also how we live in Scotland today.”
Beyond the incredible general education O’Hara provides for his clients, he can also serve up customized, luxe, and exclusive experiences. O’Hara is able to leverage his network and contact list to literally unlock places most tourists could only imagine visiting.
“The things that people love most are some of the things we have special access to: a tour with Lord Bruce showing you around Broomhall House, exclusive after-hours tours of various castles and museums, and private distillery tours where you get the chance to taste rare whiskies that you cannot buy anywhere,” he explained.
O’Hara said that one of his favorite parts of the job is squashing preconceived notions visitors might have of his native Scotland. Sometimes, the food -- or the climate -- can get a bad rap, but O’Hara takes great personal and professional satisfaction in dispelling these ideas through exceptional, well-curated, and highly personal experiences.
“Generally, our clients find that the weather is warmer than they expected, and the food is much, much better than what they thought originally,” said O’Hara. “We carefully choose and reserve restaurants based on what our client’s tastes are; that can vary from Michelin-starred restaurants to fantastic pubs to seafood shacks with the freshest catches.”
While private whisky tastings, golf excursions, castle tours and stays, and curated outdoor adventures are always popular with his clients, O’Hara has also been seeing an uptick in ancestry tourism -- people traveling to Scotland with the express purpose of tracking down their roots. This particular segment of travel is one in which bespoke services can really make a visitor’s experience, and O’Hara has genealogy experts at the ready to help with research before a client even sets foot in Scotland.
“For our clients who wish to learn more about their ancestry, we can arrange for a genealogist to trace their family back for them before they even travel,” he explained. “Then when our clients arrive in Scotland, we take them through their family tree and history, and then plan their trip around the areas and villages where their Scottish family came from.”
While this sort of personalized travel is terrific for solo travelers and couples, O’Hara has just as much experience planning and executing dream vacations for larger groups. One of his favorite jobs thus far was planning a bucket-list trip for a multigenerational family -- a trip that included impeccable attention to detail.
“They were celebrating a special birthday. We hired a whole castle for them to stay in for three nights at the end of their trip. They had a private chef for their stay, and on the day of the birthday, they had kilts to wear, traditional musicians, and a feast followed by a ceilidh (a traditional Highland party). All three generations absolutely loved it,” said O'Hara.
When it comes to sharing his love for Scotland with visitors through Away from the Ordinary, O’Hara is quick to point out that the client’s wishes come first. But some of his favorite experiences remain the simplest, the most elegant, and certainly, the most Scottish.
“I am happiest on a boat in the Highlands during the month of May or June, followed by an amazing meal of freshly caught langoustines,” said O’Hara. “In general, though, no matter what time of year it is, if I am outside in the wild Highlands, or inside one of our 2,000-plus castles, then I am delighted.”
Away from the Ordinary’s pricing varies based on client experience. To learn more about what O’Hara and his team can offer you on your vacation to Scotland, inquire directly.