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No one can stop you if you have the sudden urge to buy a carpet in Istanbul or a gold necklace in Dubai, but tours do allow you to control other expenditure.
With all your travel and hotels paid for upfront, and possibly your main meals as well as most admission fees to attractions, your budget is well under control.
Joining a pre-planned tour group also means the company can find better deals for all aspects of the trip, from the flight and hotels to meals and entry fees. You don’t just save money, but also time, the most precious commodity of all.
Not to mention that an experienced tour guide can help you find the best place to buy that carpet for a good price, even – or especially – if it is from their cousin.
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We’ve all had the experience of looking online for a hotel and being confronted with hundreds if not thousands of choices. How good is the hotel, how close is it to where you want to be?
Is the Hotel Acropolis in Athens actually anywhere near the Acropolis?
Even if you find a good hotel, the options still come at you: what size of suite or room, what size of bed, what meals to include?
Do they have Wi-Fi, proper disabled access, a gym or a vegetarian option? What are the check in/out times? Can they store luggage?
The questions continue even after you book, right into your holiday time. Will it be anything like the photos you based your booking on? Will they even have your reservation?
Then, after you’ve booked your flights and hotels, you have to make decisions about what to see on your trip. What are the must-sees and the maybes? Can you fit it all in?
How do you get from A to C, via B? What are the opening times of all those places anyway? Finding reliable sources for the right answers can sometimes seem impossible and it’s certainly often frustratingly difficult.
You need a holiday just to recover from planning the holiday!
Picking the right tour takes most of those decisions out of your hands, removing lots of stresses and allowing you to relax and just enjoy a good time.
Freedom of choice seems like a good idea until you have to exercise it.
As noted above, it can be a real headache to plan a holiday but a tour has already done all the work for you and ironed out the bugs as well, allowing you to pack more in.
The tour company has learned through experience what a group of people much like you enjoy or, more importantly, don’t enjoy. Is the time in a coach too long, is the departure too early?
Feedback from clients allows them to tweak the itinerary to reach a good set of compromises that pleases as many people as possible.
Of course, as an individual, you might have to make some compromises yourself. However, plenty of free time is usually built in and a tour can also be surprisingly flexible within the basic framework.
Want to stay longer somewhere, or take a side trip to see something special? Provided the group agrees and time allows, it is often possible.
The tour manager will enjoy doing something new and might even add it to the tour for the next group. That’s how tours stay fresh and become better and better.
You benefit from that process having happened in all the groups that have gone before.
With tours that range from river cruises along through Europe to horseback treks across the Andes, there is no shortage of options for everyone to choose from.
For even greater freedom, choose a self-guided tour that allows you more flexibility to follow an itinerary at your own pace.
With a planned tour, you often enjoy access and experiences that would be denied to you if travelling alone.
The group makes it possible to skip lines at popular attractions, or practical to open private ones just for you.
A restaurant might prepare a special meal, perhaps something local they don’t offer on the menu as it takes too long to prepare for an unknown number of customers.
And your tour guide knows so many people and places along the route that he or she can often spring surprises as the opportunity arises.
Whether it’s meeting some relatives in the market and hearing about their lives, or enjoying a behind-the-scenes tour of a safari camp, such moments can often be the highlights of your entire trip.
Holding your hand
Travelling alone, or even with a partner, to an unknown destination can bring a host of pitfalls. These range from embarrassing cultural mistakes to the danger of wandering into the wrong area at night.
Joining a tour brings peace of mind as well as a greater understanding of the place you are experiencing.
If it is your first time to a destination, a planned tour is the perfect introduction in many ways, especially if language is a barrier.
You can enjoy a guided oversight and find the places you might want to return to on your own.
With many tours, you can even add a few days or a week or more to the end of the trip to explore a bit more once you’ve found your feet. Either way, if you ever want to come back alone, you have learned enough to get by on your own.
You might travel with a dedicated escort, or you might travel alone, following a set of instructions. But somewhere in the planning of a tour is a manager who has trodden the path before you many times and ironed out all the pitfalls and problems.
They will be on call to sort out any difficulties that arise, ranging from sudden illness to lost luggage.
No matter how experienced a traveller you are, it merely adds to the enjoyment to be able to hand off all the annoying side of travelling to someone else to look after.
And if the escort travels with you, you have a local expert to add their knowledge to the trip.
They often bring in other dedicated experts for specialised sections, such as a safari or gallery tour, but they acquire more and more of that knowledge themselves with every group they take care of. In short, they are mine of useful information on every subject related to your holiday.
What is your first thought when you see something new? It’s to share the moment with the person next to you. If that is a loved one or good friend, so much the better. But part of the fun of a group tour is sharing such moments with a larger pool of people.
Their reactions, perhaps surprisingly different to your own, will add to the moment.
The wisdom of the crowd comes into play in the questions other people might ask of your guide, for example, drawing out information you might not have thought of.
They will also have skills of their own, such as the expert photographer able to share tips to photographing the nightscape of Hong Kong or the Aurora Borealis.
Or they might have a memory of the place that will add to your own enjoyment and future memories.
When we travel the world, it is so often the people that make travel most precious, and that can include the people who travel with you.
In any group, there may well be people you don’t get on with but equally there will also be others you do enjoy spending time with. Many lifelong friendships – and even marriages – have resulted from a first meeting on a tour.