Less than a year after finishing my undergraduate degree, I had moved to London and was guiding educational tours around Europe. This was a dream come true and probably prevented me from carrying on to law school. What a break!
Since then I have guided or managed somewhere around 200 tours to over 30 countries. Of course some nations can be discovered as a lunch stop (reference Liechtenstein, a small banking outpost, wedged majestically in the Alps between Switzerland and Austria), whereas in five trips to Russia, I have barely scratched the surface of the world’s largest country.
Quite fortunately I have guided tours in English, French and Spanish and have had clients of almost all ages, economic backgrounds and interests. As a general rule I have travelled in Europe and points further east with people from the Americas – principally, though not exclusively – Americans and Canadians. Throughout the Americas and points west my larger groups have been British, American and increasingly from Asia.
From all of this travel I have learned there are good and bad companies and a few people who really should stay at home! Overall I can happily say I have returned again and again to leading trips because I love travel, I love imparting information, planning days and I most genuinely enjoy the passengers. Again and again I have been politely asked by majority-senior groups “What is it like travelling with us wrinklies (their word not mine)?” And the answer always is; “I love it!” This is not promotion, charm or politics, it is true. I have even had the honour of travelling through far-flung places such as inland Alaska/Yukon and Tierra del Fuego with people in their 90’s. What a treat – and those intrepid travellers are almost always the most enthusiastic and the easiest to please.
I do have many contributions to make about specific adventures while on tour; this includes emergency landings (Argentina), group theft while sleeping (hotel in Rome) and changing coach tires under the midnight sun (Yukon), but in a general sense, it is because of leading so many tours I insist there is no one right way to travel (but there can be a wrong way). I have led very budget tours and I have been spoiled on 5-star products. Each has its merits, its time and its place. In cities, location is often more important than standard, whereas in the country a nicer hotel will be better appreciated.
Generally I rate a tour product first by the itinerary and second (or third) by standards. Price is incredibly important and should relate directly to hotel standards, meals and included activities! To this point, I will draw the reader’s attention to cruising. Often this offers the best up-front value, but land excursions can easily double the cost of the trip and some ports have little to do with the famous attraction. No where highlights this better than Civitavecchia – the port of Rome! Even by train the port is over an hour away from Rome and excursions into the Eternal City can cost hundreds of dollars. No one cruises to Rome and doesn’t go to Rome.
In discussing group travel I try to keep budgets in mind. If you have the money to spend on either very high-end products or very custom trip – well done! Most people do save money by taking a tour and certainly they can pack more into a finite amount of time than by going-alone.
By taking a group tour, you enter a tacit contract to conform to the rules of the group. It is possible to generalize about group styles based on nationality, destinations, costs, activities, etc, but as with all generalizations, this is risky. Essentially, if the company you have booked with fulfills the itinerary as outlined, you get the vacation you have chosen. So choose well. As a plug, we do offer a tour / vacation / holiday service: I (or someone in our team more qualified for the destination) can talk you through your options. If you are comparing products AND certainly if you are looking into cruises or other all-inclusive packages, we can help you through the small print and also save you serious amounts of money looking at optional excursions, meals and activities.
I still guide because I love it and I very intentionally work for a variety of companies. I do design my own tours – normally 3-4 a year and guide a few private trips each year. Group travel is a wonderful way to discover new destinations with security, knowledge and the entertainment of sharing your experience with others.