There are some distinct benefits in joining a group tour. Firstly, there’s the knowledge that somebody else is going to be responsible for doing all the hard work. Concerns around currency, language, transportation, where to eat, dress code and so much more basically dissolve, as they are handled for you on a group tour.
I’ve been on several tours and it’s amazing how quickly you can relax into the group tour scenario, allowing you the ability to almost ‘switch off’ from constant planning and Googling mode. Someone will tell you what time to be at reception; or what time breakfast finishes; or to remember to pack your head scarf for visiting the mosque.
More importantly, taking part in a well-organised group tour allows you to explore the history and culture of a destination with the aid of a locally-based expert. It’s one thing to visit a gothic cathedral on your own and marvel at the architecture, but quite another to have a local historian point out the layers of the building’s history, the year it was damaged by fire, or to point out the symbolism in the ceiling frescos. To my amusement, there’s always at least one person who is not part of the tour group but boldly shadows the guide, lurking around corners, in order to eavesdrop on the tutelage!
It’s fair to say that perhaps group tours are not for everyone. Equally, they can be suitable for some travellers some of the time, while on other trips you may wish to have the freedom to dine, visit, stay and linger wherever the mood takes you.
But if the thought of being one of a coach-load of tourists and following around a lady with an umbrella (or a baseball cap on a stick) gives you palpitations, maybe it’s time to get acquainted with the new breed of small group tours.
More than ever before, tour operators in the premium travel category are offering small group tours that really allow you to immerse yourself into a destination, and to enjoy non-cookie-cutter and tailor-made experiences. This issue of Vacations & Travel is full of suggestions of tour operators who are thinking creatively in order to offer their guests any number of memorable experiences. On many tours now, you can enjoy intimate meals in the homes of locals or visit destinations with leading intellects, former presidents and thought-leaders in their field. You can take surfing tours with pro surfers; wellness tours led by experts in Ayurvedic medicine; cycling tours with pro cyclists and tutored photography tours to improve your camera skills. Travellers can also take tours designed for single-parent families, opening up a world of possibilities. In our special- interest touring feature (on page 106), we uncover a range of tours that suit a number of hobbies – including swimming, painting, birdwatching, embroidery – and on which you will join like-minded travellers and potentially form firm friendships.
Katrina Holden, Editor