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Episode #212: Untold Italy – Our Story

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The story of Untold Italy (so far) is one of ideas, opportunities, a love of Italy, and community.  From humble beginnings, Untold Italy has become a trusted resource for online information, as well as the go-to for unique tours, getting to the heart of Italian life and the helpful new Italy travel consulting services. Starting with just Untold founder Katy Clarke, the team has expanded to create a wonderful team of Italy enthusiasts, keen to share their knowledge and help people plan their perfect trip to Bella Italia.

Show notes

On request from several listeners (and a special nudge from client John), in this episode, we are talking all things Untold Italy – where it started, what it does and all the bits in between. Untold Italy founder Katy shares how an Australian woman started a business all about Italy, with mainly northern American followers and listeners. She tells the story so far of Untold Italy – a small online travel company that evolved to become a trusted resource for travel in Italy, moving more recently onto unique and beloved tours and travel services.

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What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. The Untold Italy resources aim to help as many travelers as possible via many different mediums – our website, travel services, videos, tours, digital products and our podcast
  2. Find information on all aspects of Untold Italy:
  3. Along the way of the Untold Italy story, there have been various highs and lows, and Katy is not too proud to admit to the odd adult tantrums – usually over frustrating technical issues!
  4. Despite current trends in brands putting founders and people at the front and center of businesses, Katy has never wanted Untold Italy to be about her and her personality. It can come as a surprise to people that Katy can actually be quite shy and get a tad embarrassed when the spotlight is turned on her – whether out and about in Italy, in her home city or in the professional arena
  5. Despite loving chatting one-on-one with people on the podcast and in real life, she can sometimes struggle with having put herself out there
  6. Katy’s focus has been on building a community, company, and brand that transcends her as an individual, in the hope of giving it some longevity, so if the time is right sometime in the far future, it can be passed on to the right person to carry forward – though that is a long time off for now!

The background

  • Katy is the first to admit that she has had a lot of opportunities along the way that most people in the world, even in Australia may not get. This is a privilege that she does not take lightly but taking those opportunities is one of the best ways to respect that privilege. Katy believes that she can then give back by passing similar kinds of opportunities on
  • Katy comes from a family that over many generations has traveled far and wide. Her parents (her mum in particular) made sure the family was traveling abroad as soon as they could financially afford it. This fostered a spirit of curiosity that is really important to Katy and Untold Italy. Throughout school, Katy was fascinated by faraway lands and different cultures and had a particular history teacher who made Renaissance Florence and Venice come alive. She had the class dress up in era-appropriate costumes and made them historically accurate feasts in her home here in Australia. What a way to feed a child’s imagination and pique their interest!
  • When Katy first started to explore Europe as a student based in the UK, she headed straight for Italy. She was in the UK, studying and then working for 5 years and would plan trips to the continent whenever she could
  • Katy traveled independently in the 1990s – those days pre-internet days with no online bookings. It was also a time before the Euro and easy EU entry – so you had to contend with multiple currencies and visa requirements for each country
  • Travelers had little to no information back then except a trusty (and often heavy) guidebook. As a side note – Lonely Planet was founded in Melbourne, Australia – in the very same suburb where Katy grew up!
  • When traveling in the days before the internet, you had to be resourceful, creative, and patient. You couldn’t research a lot, you just had to show up and go. Many, many mistakes were made and there was generally not much you could do about it. At the time Katy didn’t care because the thrill of discovering new people and places was always worth it
  • After Katy graduated with a Politics and History major, she headed back to Australia, which at the time was in a recession. While Katy had vague plans of being a journalist, she hadn’t done the right studies and needed an income fast. So she landed a job in the IT industry where the pay was good and opportunities were endless
  • Over the next 15 years, she forged a career and developed skills at big international corporations like HP and IBM, in marketing and business analysis. Skills that she still draws upon every day
  • Opportunities became a theme in Katy’s life. She’s learned along the way that sometimes things come along that are just worth pursuing. Even if you don’t know exactly where they’re leading, sometimes you should just give it a go
  • Katy met her husband, who is from an Italian migrant background and was introduced to daily traditional Italian-style life and his mom’s amazing cooking. Somewhat dormant dreams of Italy re-surfaced, but as they now lived far away in Australia, she figured they’d take some trips one day
  • One dream Katy always had was to become a mom, and along came their beautiful twins to complete the family. Shortly after that, Katy’s husband was offered a role in London, and that was a turning point for their family and her career. It could be considered a little crazy to move halfway around the world with twin babies, but she was familiar with London, having lived there for several years, and knew it was a great chance to be able to travel around Europe
  • She then resigned from IBM, and in her spare time, she started planning travels in Europe and writing a blog, Untold Morsels – about family travel and food experiences. If you’re researching Italy travel, this might still pop up as it was the start of her Italy-focus travel content
  • Over the 4 years that they lived in the UK, they made over 20 trips to Italy, sometimes driving from London via France and stopping in Switzerland to visit Katy’s cousin, Nicky, and her family
  • Spending lots of time in Italy at that time meant the kids grew up learning about their Italian heritage and being spoiled by so many very kind Italians they met along the way
  • Katy enjoyed writing, taking photos, and refining her craft during this time. She will admit that her early attempts were extremely average, bordering on embarrassing. But everyone has to start somewhere, and that’s how you learn and get experience

Untold Italy is born

  • Fast forward to 2018, and the family arrived back home in Australia. Katy knew she wanted to continue working on something to do with the blog. She’d done some freelance marketing for other companies, and she could also have gone back to IT, but after hearing some ideas from other bloggers at a travel meetup, she was inspired
  • She started honing her SEO and affiliate marketing skills with huge thanks to her dear friend, Sharon Gourlay, who taught her everything she knows about those aspects of her business and started the Untold Italy website
  • She was a bit stuck for inspiration, so thought she’d extend the Untold Morsels blog idea to Italy. It turns out it was an excellent decision, but it was a bit of a fluke move
  • The site started building momentum, and Katy then launched our free Italy Travel Planning Community Facebook group where people share their Italy travel tips and adventures and now has over 130,000 members
  • Our members and moderators are always sharing amazing tips and bits of information and of course their beautiful trip photos. We do like to keep it very, very friendly and we have a very strong team of moderators who look after our members and keep things kind

More opportunities and unexpected events

  • Katy was starting to build partnerships and earn advertising/affiliate income from Untold Italy, so she hired a virtual assistant, the other Katie Clarke – as fate would have it. Still a core member of our Untold Italy team, Katie has been with Katy since 2019
  • At the end of 2019, Katy’s friend Josie said she loved what you’re doing with Untold Italy and suggested a podcast. So, the podcast was launched. Momentum was at an all-time high. Katy was having fun, starting to make a meaningful financial contribution to the family and loving life, generally. And then February 2020 came and Covid arrived
  • Those early Covid days were obviously a struggle for everyone on a personal level, and in our Facebook group, travelers were getting stuck in Italy, flights were being canceled and there was a lot of confusion
  • People were becoming very critically ill and dying in their thousands as we know. It was a terrible time. For Untold Italy and everything and everyone else, things changed overnight. Everyone was impacted in different ways, but no one escaped it
  • In Italy, where Covid hit particularly hard, things were pretty grim. Those in the travel industry in Italy who had no government handouts to help them through, and of course the Untold Italy income plummeted to almost nothing. The podcast had just started up, and it seemed a bit weird to be talking about travel when everyone was stuck at home, but for some reason, Katy persevered
  • To this day, she can’t tell you why she kept going. Possibly it was from being in a slight state of shock and needing some regular motivation to keep going
  • She got so many lovely messages of support from people around the world who were grateful to me and Untold Italy for connecting them to a place that they loved when they couldn’t be there
  • Katy kept going with the podcast and the Facebook group turned into a kind of travel assistance forum for people impacted by Covid who were traveling to Italy or having to cancel travel plans and look into refunds etc. This was mostly managed by the other Katie Clarke, who herself was stranded in Southeast Asia
  • Carrying on with the podcast has opened so many unexpected doors and Katy has met some truly amazing people, including some who are now partners of ours and some who are even on our team
  • In particular, Olivia a fellow Australian living in Torino/Turin reached out to Katy. They instantly connected and recorded a podcast episode together and started first a friendship, and now a tour company taking people to their favorite hidden spots in Italy

Expanding the Untold team

  • Katy had been used to working with talented people in her former IT career and loved collaborating with others and bouncing ideas around, so whilst she’d loved building her little business up solo, it was not as fun until she started building a team. Katie has been a fundamental part of the team, keeping the Facebook group on track and our site information up-to-date – no small feat with hundreds of articles and resources
  • Mark came along next to take on the podcast audio editing. He takes out all the ‘ums’ and bloopers. There’s much more going into producing each episode than you might think
  • Tyla manages our social media beautifully and we have Niki in Lake Como doing trip support
  • Capturing Untold Italy is our photographer Rhianna and videography team, Yishyene and Ricardo
  • Our new trip-planning team includes Carrie and Kristen who have also been moderating our community wonderfully for a long time
  • All amazing people, each bringing something unique and special to Untold Italy from places all over the world, and Katy is suitably proud of them. Find out more about the team here
  • Like most businesses, refining and honing our team and partnerships takes time and effort, and it essentially comes down to values. The people that Katy likes working with at Untold Italy share our values of generosity, respect, curiosity, and connection. They are creative and fun, and, crucially, they do what they say they’re going to do
  • Katy loves gathering the team together each year where possible. In a few weeks, they’ll be exploring Venice and last year, they zipped around Rome on Vespas and sidecars

Untold Italy now

  • Untold Italy is a unique business. We have strong media and digital resources via our website, podcast, and new YouTube channel, where travelers can access information to help them plan their trips to Italy for free. That’s all supported by advertising and affiliate partnerships with trusted suppliers
  • We also have services for people who want a bit of extra support and/or access to a list of super special addresses like restaurants, hotels, and activities that we don’t share on our free media. Click here for more on that
  • We have our wonderful small group tours to very special parts of Italy that provide experiences that independent travelers can’t reach. the tours are something Katy is particularly proud of. Whilst they require constant curation and attention, it is totally worth it. We’ve got so many repeat travelers (we’re looking at you Vicky, Kim, Caroline, Rich and Sandy) and we appreciate them so much for believing and trusting in us
  • The Untold Italy business has gone from barely scraping by a couple of years ago to being successful beyond anything Katy could have imagined
  • Katy is incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported Untold Italy over the years and continues to do so. She feels privileged that she’s now able to employ talented creatives and people with soul
  • She appreciates how lucky she is personally. In Australia, being a female business owner has its challenges, but that is nothing compared to her colleagues in Italy. There remains a definite and pervasive culture of misogyny across Italian society. As a result, Untold Italy likes to focus on highlighting female guests and guides on the podcast. Of course, men are fantastic too, but Katy feels strongly that in a position of influence, it is important to give these talented Italian women a boost
  • Only 2 to 4% of the world’s population will travel internationally in any year. Sometimes when you’re in the travel industry, it feels like everyone is on a plane somewhere, but that is not the case. Most people, due to where they were born or their circumstances, will never leave their hometown or village. For those of us who have the privilege of traveling regularly, giving back in whatever way, is  important
  • Everyone deserves to live with dignity and opportunities. Katy is thankful that she can contribute financially to causes that support those values – thanks to Untold Italy and all the support we have from listeners and followers

The story of Untold Italy – so far and in the future

  • In essence, Untold Italy was not something created on purpose but has evolved and changed over time. It’s a story of serendipitous moments, wonderful people coming together, and challenges being overcome
  • Life and business move pretty fast these days. There are endless opportunities and possibilities to be grabbed if you’ve got the energy and motivation. It is also important to know when to let go when something doesn’t feel right (as much as it might hurt)
  • Katy doesn’t know what the future holds, but she and her team are full of ideas ready to be nurtured, tested, and grown, and that means the Untold future feels exciting

Untold Thanks

Katy gives thanks to some key people for making Untold Italy what it is today

  • Her parents –  who started her off on a world of travel and adventure
  • Her wonderful husband and children – for their unwavering support and belief in her (and all her friends and family who do the same!)
  • To the growing Untold Italy team – this is not a one-person job and Katy is delighted to have the team by her side
  • The Untold Italy listeners – for all your support of Untold Italy over these 200-plus episodes and your enthusiastic messages and reviews. It means the absolute world to Katy and her team that so many people from different countries around the world tune in each and every week to listen to the show. If you do enjoy it, we would love it if you took a few moments to write a quick review or give us a rating on your favorite podcast app
  • Here’s to another 200 episodes!

Untold Italy Resources

At Untold Italy we have many podcasts and articles available on our website and on your favorite podcast apps. Our podcast episodes feature guests with many years of experience in many aspects of travel – from those who live in Italy, local experts on the 20 regions of Italy, tour operators and fellow travelers.

Katy has a team of people making sure the information is as up-to-date and correct as possible. There is a huge range of topics and locations – if you want to know the Best place to stay in Rome (one of our most popular posts). We also have articles on How to buy Vatican Museum tickets and the Best agriturismi in Tuscany. Not sure where to start? Our Italy trip planning guide is great for getting you started.

If you’re not a big fan of trawling through information we have some quick-fix options in the form of our digital travel guides and trip and city planners in our shop. These summarise our best tips and recommendations for popular destinations in Italy. They are digital downloads you can access quickly and will give you a head start on all the trawling – restaurants, sights to visit etc and you can take them along on your trip.

Untold Italy Trip Planning Services

For those of you who want personalized assistance and access to our very favorite places to stay and visit, we have just launched our very own Untold Italy trip planning services. Our amazing team of Italy travel experts on the ground in Italy and around the world are ready to help you plan your dream Italian trip. You can choose from a service that helps you refine your itinerary or even help you start if you’re feeling completely overwhelmed.

We can advise on logistics and transport and get you all organized for an amazing time in Italy. We can also help build a complete day-by-day itinerary plan. That would include mapping out a personalized itinerary for you including timing, activities and accommodation.

This set of services has been a long time coming as we only wanted to offer them if we felt travelers could access maximum value for their Italy trips by engaging us. After some great feedback from our Untold Italy Tour guests, we’re now ready and excited to open this up to a larger audience. You can find out more and book a consultation at untolditaly.com/services.

Click for more on our Italy Trip Planning Services

Untold Italy Tours

Ever wondered what it would be like to experience authentic Italy beyond the mainstream tourist sites – finding hidden gems off-the-beaten path in Italy, but were not sure how to go about organizing such a trip? Let Untold Italy Tours take care of it for you and help you discover an Italy that many visitors don’t get to see. Journey to untold regions and discover places, cuisine, histories and people which will create memories of Italy that stay with you forever.

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Transcript

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Disclosure: Untold Italy assists our readers with carefully chosen product and services recommendations that help make travel easier and more fun. If you click through and make a purchase on many of these items we may earn a commission. All opinions are our own – please visit our disclosure page for more information.