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As a travel journalist, I often travel alone. It’s hard to bring a partner along because work and leisure don’t really mix. They want a lie-in, you need to get up at dawn to organise a photo shoot.
That doesn’t mean I travel by myself all the time. Sometimes I have to take a photographer along but more often I’ll join a group of other journalists, or even a group of other travellers on an organised tour.
Such an arrangement makes it easier for a tourist board to organise the trip and means I can concentrate on the story without worrying about hotels and connections.
"Why create an itinerary from scratch that just reinvents the wheel?"
After all, tour companies already have readymade holidays to every corner of the globe, from Ecuador to Antarctica and from Alberta to Zimbabwe. /p>
Tour companies can organise cruise or rail tours, luxury safaris, or coach tours of the Lake District. Specialties can be catered for as well.
From fishing in the Caribbean, to sailing among the Greek islands or walking the battlefields of Zululand, there is a tour and a knowledgeable guide to look after me and the rest of the group.
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Time for a group hug
I must admit I also enjoy travelling with a group. More people usually means more fun and their perspective adds an extra dimension to my overall picture of the destination.
From someone who has studied the history, or the birdlife, or the language, a group has often surprised me.
"I’ve made some good friends and often gained lots of useful knowledge about the destination."
On one trip to Finland, on member of our group had lived there for a while many years earlier and still spoke good Finnish. He was also a very useful guide to etiquette in Finnish saunas.
There is a downside to any group holiday, of course. If you have ever tried to organise some friends to go out to a restaurant, you know what a nightmare it can be.
What type of food, what day, what time, who’s going to drive, how do we split the bill?
The great thing about a group tour is that so many of those decisions have already been made. The destination, the pricing and the itinerary are all agreed and it’s only a matter of following the schedule.
There’s always one - and it might be you
Of course, people do sleep in – I’ve been guilty of it myself – or disappear into a shopping mall and arrive back an hour late for the bus.
I’ve seen people miss a cruise ship sailing and fall seriously ill in the middle of the Jordanian desert.The tour company has seen it all before, however, and know how to cope.
In the desert, an ambulance appeared after 45 minutes and the client was flown home after recovering for a week in hospital – we were all kept updated.
With the cruise, a passport was left on the dock and a speedboat hired to catch us up – at the passenger’s cost.
I admire the staff who have to cope with these quirks of human behaviour. Everyone’s needs are usually catered for seamlessly.
Need twin beds? Check. Vegetarian menu? Check. Need a birthday cake? Sorted.
The pampering can even start at the front door, with a pick-up to take me – and my luggage – to the airport.
Walking out of the destination airport to be met by a tour leader and transport to your hotel, particularly after a long flight into a far-distant time zone, is a great feeling.
Any problems at check-in can be handed off to someone who is fully awake and knows all the details as well as being backed by the power of the tour company.
It’s lovely to know there is someone on hand for any request, even those well short of a full-blown emergency.
Get along to get along
I’ve been on group tours everywhere from Lapland to Tasmania and from Atacama to Zimbabwe. My very first was to Mexico City and my latest was to see tigers in India.
My favourite was a camping trip to Botswana but there have been none I did not like.
Botswana involved packing up a camp every morning and then setting it up at night. Although our guide was there to do it all by himself, a few of us pitched in to help. It meant we got on the road sooner and to bed earlier.
We started competing to see who could break down a camp bed quicker, or put it up the fastest. The novelty started to wear off towards the end of the eight-day trip but there was never any pressure to do it if it stopped being fun.
Some members of the group just used the time to write their diary or read their book. No one thought any the worse of them.
There have been people I did not like, although rarely. You develop an instinct as a social being that someone might rub you up the wrong way and in the closed setting of a holiday tour you know it’s best to avoid conflict.
That works both ways as I guess there might even be people who do not get along with me.
There is safety in numbers in the sense that for every person you do not like there is one you really do like, as well as a majority you get along with well enough to have a good time with.
I went to Dominican Republic with a group that bonded so well we are still in touch, years later.
We had a great time and remain friends, meeting up from time to time as we all live near London. Facebook allows me to stay in touch with international friends I have met on other trips.
Phone a friend
It’s worth bearing in mind that you can book your own group of friends and/or family on a tour.
Rather than struggle through the nightmare of getting everyone to agree to all the details, most of the decisions are taken out of your hands once you’ve decided on a destination.
"Point your friends at the itinerary, have them agree to sign up (and pay), and then hand off the responsibility to the professionals."
Pricing is taken care of, as everything can be covered up front. Everyone knows what it will cost, including flights and even food and drink if you decide to price that in.
Even better, one of you will often go free once you reach a certain number of participants. You can either split that saving between you all, or allow the person who did all the organising to travel for free.
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