A popular new holiday choice
The old saying that it is better to travel than arrive dates to the days before laborious security checks and cramped airline seats and hotels.
Not that arriving to find a poor hotel is a great delight, either. The Internet was supposed to make all this easier but, while it has helped to lower prices, it also seems to have lowered standards as well.
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Signing up for a touring holiday won’t necessarily help with security delays but it does makes the booking process quicker and more efficient, and everything else once you arrive at your destination should certainly be easier.
Besides the real convenience of knowing everything is paid for, nothing beats the relaxation of having someone else organise your airport shuttle, hotels and even itinerary.
To arrive at a strange airport, tired and disorientated, and be met by the smiles of someone who whisks your luggage away and guides you to your transport is a great experience
We have all taken enough bad airport taxis to never want to take one anywhere again.
To then arrive at a hotel and have a smooth check-in, perhaps jumping the line of other independent arrivals, is the sort of convenience that really makes me appreciate the benefits of a tour.
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A flexible friend
Of course everything has a price and you can give up a certain amount of freedom on a tour.
Even though there is usually plenty of free time, it’s more difficult to lie in or do things spontaneously when everything has already been pre-planned for you.
However, you might be surprised how much a good touring company responds to the demands of its clients, provided you don’t have a plane to catch or opening time to make.
On one tour to Tunisia, my group decided we had had enough of Star Wars sites and were able to head off to see some World War II battlefields instead.
Our local guide was as delighted to do something new as we were to get off the beaten tourist track.
We ended up being given a private tour of a closed Tunisian Army Museum, where a young Lieutenant proudly showed off some German and British artefacts of the WWII era
Of course, sticking to the plan is a good idea. No one wants to be the person who keeps the bus waiting on an organised tour or who leaves everyone else smouldering by ignoring the instructions from a guide.
I’ve seen people wander off the path in a minefield in Cambodia, sending the rest of us scrambling for cover.
Less dangerous, but equally thoughtless, were the photographers who started annoying animals in the Galápagos to try and get a more dramatic picture.
It’s your choice
The key is to pick the right tour. You can find one customised to you alone, or you and a partner, but you’ll obviously pay more than joining a larger group, with more risk of disruption.
A group of strangers also has its advantages, though. If you are travelling solo, or even as a couple, it’s a good way to meet other people of similar interests. They can often surprise you with the value they bring.
In one escorted tour of India, one of the other clients was a bird expert who knew more than the official guide, who specialised in tigers.
When you are sending hours waiting for a tiger, you might be surprised how interested to become in birds or any other signs of natural life.
A touring holiday involves moving around, rather than staying in one place. You can move by plane, train or automobile, not forgetting ships, bikes, horses or on foot.
Your luggage might go with you, or be sent on ahead to be there when you arrive at your hotel, guesthouse or tent. Moves might be every day or every few days.
All such details depend on the length, location and content of the holiday, or your budget, and it’s up to you to choose what you are comfortable with.
I’ve done tours that involved riding from camp to camp in the Rockies, enjoying nights under the stars with a cowboy cook, toasting marshmallows and singing songs.
I’ve also sipped Champagne at the Captain’s table on a cruise along the coast of Thailand, from Phuket to Singapore. Whether you pack jeans or a dinner jacket, there is a tour to suit your needs and wants.
What’s your taste?
Changing bedroom every night can be disorientating, which is a good reason to settle for a holiday with fewer moves, and a great reason to choose a river or seaborne cruise.
One of the most surreal experiences I’ve had was a tour of Ethiopia where we stayed every night in Identik government hotels.
The room layout and furnishings were exactly the same but every morning I opened my window to a completely different view: desert, town, mountain, forest…
Even the meals were the same every day, although one feels churlish to complain about the food in Ethiopia.
At the opposite end of the scale was a tour through Canada, staying at luxurious hotels where each chef seemed to be vying with the last for quality and quantity.
Gastronomic tours of Italy or France offer similar experiences for those who enjoy their food and drink.
Tours have taken me on tiger safaris in India, elephant safaris in Sri Lanka and to swim with sealions off the Galápagos Islands.
Luxurious tents in Namibia, rough hostels in Guatemala and suites overlooking the Vegas skyline have been among the places I’ve stayed. There really is a tour for everyone.
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Taking a tour is an enjoyable and efficient way to see a lot of places and meet a wide range of people. If you do find a hotel or place to fall in love with, you can always return at another time.
In fact, I often just add a week’s extension to a holiday so I can do exactly that. It’s the best of both worlds.
The tour acts as a kind of scouting arrangement, with some extra time afterwards to relax and do my own thing.
By that time I’ve had some expert guidance in the local culture and have a much better idea of what I want to do and see in a place I might have been totally unfamiliar with a short time before.
But even a place I think I know well can benefit from being seen through the eyes of others, whether they are a new guide or a group of new friends who all bring their own perspective and skills.
Visiting the “River Kwai” war cemetery, one member of our group recalled stories told her by an uncle who had survived the experience. It became a highlight of the entire trip, bringing home almost more than anything else the reality endured by those forced to work on the railway.
I’m still friends with many people I have met on tours, often fellow guests but also some of the guides in far-flung places.
The Internet might not have solved all the problems of travel yet but it has certainly made such long-range friendships much easier.
Tours are a great way to experience the world and remind you that travel is really all about the people, whether those you met or those you travel with.
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