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How a guided tour makes for a stress-free vacation during the pandemic

Vatican City by night. Illuminated dome of St Peters Basilica and St Peters Square. Group of tourists on Via della Conciliazione. Rome, Italy. A tour group admires the illuminated dome of St. Peter's Basilica and St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City. | Photo by

Guided tours have been popular ever since British entrepreneur Thomas Cook first offered a one-day rail excursion in England in 1841. Today’s tours typically involve traveling in a group and include transportation, accommodations, sightseeing, meals, and the services of a tour leader and local guides—at a price that’s lower than buying the components separately.

Such vacations can have another advantage in the wake of the pandemic. Destinations have their own health protocols, which can change rapidly. On a tour, the operator stays on top of those and keeps participants informed.

“Having someone navigating the COVID-19 landscape is a huge benefit for travelers right now,” says Kelly Rosenfeld, a senior editor at TravelAge West. Most tour companies paused operations during the height of the pandemic, she says, but the industry has restarted, beginning with domestic sites and branching into international destinations as countries open up.

Navigating mask and vaccination rules

Operators have instituted health measures such as mandatory mask wearing, social distancing where possible, and enhanced sanitizing of motor coaches. Some operators require guests to show proof of either full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before a tour starts.

Complying with health protocols is so important that both Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold Vacations created the position of well-being director, a person who accompanies every tour, monitoring local protocols and ensuring that hotels and restaurants on the tour abide by them.

“The main objective is to keep our guests safe,” says Guy Young, president of both companies. “Having someone in this position frees up our tour director to handle travel logistics and make sure our guests have a good time.”

Customizing vacations

People who see the value of guided tours but would rather not travel in a group can opt for vacation packages. These typically include flights, accommodations, rental car, and sightseeing bundled together for one price. “The key difference is flexibility,” says Jack E. Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, an affiliate of the Auto Club. “You can customize the options to fit your budget and interests.”

Whatever kind of vacation you choose, book early to get the itinerary and price you want. “I haven’t seen demand so strong in 40 years,” says Richards.

Adds Young, “As soon as a destination opens up, we see a big spike in bookings.”

And to help you sort through the choices, Rosenfeld offers this advice: “Now’s a great time to use a travel agent.”

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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