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12 surprising things about guided tours

A tour group travels through the dunes of Morocco A escorted tour group travels on camels through dunes in Morocco. | Photo by Alamy Stock Photo

The image of a sedentary experience involving endless hours on a motor coach and offering only fleeting images of a destination is so last century. From multicountry tours that pack a lot into a short amount of time to in-depth dives into a region, from scholarly excursions to nature treks, guided vacations are available to suit almost any lifestyle and budget. Guided vacations—the new term for escorted group tours—can open up the world to you. Here are 12 things about guided vacations that might surprise you.

1. They can save you money.

Escorted tours typically include accommodations, ground transportation, sightseeing, museum and attraction admissions, and some, if not all, meals. Tour operators buy in volume. That means you’ll typically pay less for a guided vacation than if you paid for each component separately. AAA Member Choice Vacations estimates that tours cost 30 to 40 percent less, for example, and Trafalgar estimates up to 46 percent less. 

2. They can give you authentic, immersive experiences.

Many tours today offer opportunities to dine in the homes of residents and get involved in local activities. In Ireland, for example, you might have lunch in a 200-year-old farmhouse and maybe even feed a new lamb in the barn on a Brendan Vacations tour.

3. They can save you hassle.

Your tour escort takes care of most arrangements. You don’t have to find your way around unfamiliar places, and if a problem arises—say, with your hotel—the tour escort sorts it out, not you. Tours also ease the journey when you’re traveling to countries that have a less-developed infrastructure or where English is not widely spoken. 

4. They’re not just for older travelers.

Some tour operators cater to millennials and other younger groups. Contiki, for example, offers tours for travelers 18–35 that might involve climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia or kayaking in the waters off Dubrovnik in Croatia. 

5. They’re a good option for solo travelers.

Guided tours can offer solo travelers safety and companionship. Despite that, singles often eschew tours because the single supplements that most tour operators charge can be 125 to 200 percent of the per person, double-occupancy price. But today, many operators offer low supplements (such as only 110 percent) or waive the supplement altogether on certain departures. 

6. They’re good for families.

Some tour operators tailor tours to families with children. Tauck Bridges, for example, features dinner on a pirate ship in Venice and Adventures by Disney offers canoeing on Loch Ness, home of the Loch Ness monster.

7. They allow you to pursue your passion.

Want to learn to cook in Italy? Take tango lessons in Argentina? Stargaze in Chile? Chances are there’s a guided vacation that will allow you to indulge your interest.

8. They offer active excursions.

Today’s tours give you a chance to not only see Mount Fuji but to climb it. You can zip-line in Costa Rica, bicycle through the Netherlands, or hike in New Zealand—all on escorted tours.

9. They offer down time.

Although guided vacations adhere to carefully planned itineraries, many offer various excursion options and most build in enough free time for you to pursue your interests on your own.

10. They can get you special access to museums, attractions, and events.

You don’t have to wait in line with everyone else, for example, at Florence’s Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David. Tours often offer after-hours visits to popular places.

11. Their guides and escorts are knowledgeable.

Tour escorts handle the itinerary and logistics and can add insights based on their experience. City and regional guides typically have studied their destinations in depth and usually provide great learning opportunities.

12. They offer a chance to make new friends.

Perhaps the most surprising thing people find when they take a guided vacation is the camaraderie. At tour’s end, people exchange names and addresses and stay in touch with each other. Participants have been known to book the same future tours, so they can travel together again. And many times, people who have met on tours visit each other in their homes—sometimes crossing continents to do so. 

4 tips for choosing a guided tour

1. Read the brochure or online information carefully. If the itinerary says you’ll “see” Heidelberg Castle, instead of “visit,” you might just be driving by.

2. Consider the group size. Tours with groups of 15 people or fewer might be more expensive than those with, say, 40 people, but you’ll spend less time waiting in line at rest stops.

3. Find out what’s included. Some tours include all meals, some don’t. On some tours, you can choose where to eat; others have set restaurants.

4. Work with a travel agent. Your travel agent can help you find the guided vacation that meets your budget and interests.

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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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