Group travel packages and guided tour vacations have changed! Travel companies now offer options in escorted tours for new and experienced travelers alike!
Why would anyone knowingly look at group travel packages or guided tour vacations nowadays when the internet makes it so easy to plan a trip? You might be surprised.
Escorted travel options have changed. The travel tour is no longer relegated to the fanny-packing, socks and sandals crowd.
Instead, a new breed of guided travel options is tempting experienced travelers with intriguing destinations. And new travelers can avoid the traditional turn-offs that gave group travel a less than stellar reputation.
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Group Tour Packages Have a Bad Rap – Is This Fair?
The popularity of group tours exploded in the last half of the 20th century. Prior to this time, extended travel had been the bailiwick of the wealthy, who frequently contracted guided trips with locals via letters of introduction.
The continental European Grand Tour was a rite of passage for British and American gentry in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was considered a key component of one’s “coming of age,” in that the trip was intended to develop a sense of culture and curiosity.
Fun Fact: the European Grand Tour was often a way for wealthy Americans to introduce their sons and daughters to Old World nobility and make marriage arrangements. Sorely-needed cash infusions which propped up teetering country estates and precarious financial statements were traded for the cachet of titles and coats-of-arms.
As rail and steamship travel became more financially accessible, 19th century entrepreneurs developed and promoted organized group excursions. Concepts such as tourism currency (traveler’s checks which eliminated the unwieldy letter of credit or introduction) and coupons or vouchers with partner providers were introduced.
These relationships with financial institutions, hotels, restaurants and tours allowed travel companies to offer clients a full service experience.
Fun Fact: the phrase “cook’s tour” originated from the excursions offered by the Thomas Cook company, a 19th century pioneer in tourist group travel.
Guided travel evolved when 20th century GI’s who had served abroad returned to foreign destinations with their families. Other Americans took advantage of the post-war economy to realize life-long dreams of visiting overseas.
For these new kinds of travelers, the tour was a perfect solution to language barriers and logistical difficulties. The reality was often less than perfect, though.
Thundering herds of “ugly Americans” descended in droves. They were shuttled rapidly to multiple destinations by tour operators within a compressed time frame. The experiences they encountered, the cuisine they tasted, and the accommodations they endured were designed to appeal to a more limited comfort zone.
It’s no surprise that these cliches became legendary in popular culture. As a subset of more experienced travelers developed over the course of several decades, the guided tour experience began to be dismissed as lowbrow, seemingly for yokels who didn’t know any better.
The “traveler vs. tourist” debate subsequently reached epic proportions with the advent of social media in the 21st century. Certain professional influencers on Facebook and Instagram elevated the controversy by fueling FOMO (“fear of missing out”) with elitist opinion-making.
Simultaneously, though, popular demand grew for the convenience and access expert travel arrangers could provide. A new hybrid business model developed.
The Best Guided Tour Companies Offer Choice and Inspiration
With the advent of easier planning and accessibility to more popular destinations, do-it-yourself travel via the internet boomed. However, travel companies began to recognize that the needs of experienced and novice travelers alike had similarities.
Not everyone wanted to be shuttled around in an impersonal group to the top five cities in Europe, or stay behind the wall at an all-inclusive resort. Instead, travelers were looking for an experiential adventure geared to specific interests.
As well, not everyone preferred the hassle and intimidating factors of do-it-yourself planning. Even savvy travelers get tired of the distractions and uncertainty associated with being responsible for quality accommodations and logistics.
Whatever the interest, travelers also wanted a more personal experience, the kind that is more difficult to get when you’re sharing it with a large number of others.
The best guided tour companies responded to these needs, offering a plethora of experiences to fit time, interests and budget. The result is an abundance of choice and inspiration in small group tours.
This more authentic, tailored approach can translate into a residential homestay with locals, a cooking class or a meal prepared in someone’s house, a focus on history or wine, opportunities for writing or yoga, or even a trek to seek out textiles and handicrafts.
You might be interested in food tours by destination. These are entire trips focused on the gastronomy of a country or region. (See our partner Intrepid Travel’s Food Tours in Asia and Latin America for examples.)
For those who are contemplating an adventure a little further than “across the pond,” the Grand Tour concept is conveniently interpreted now on other continents:
How to Choose the Guided Tour that’s Right for You
One of the key success elements traveling groups for adults must have is member compatibility. Your chances of being compatible with others in your small group increase when you have similar interests.
Other success factors such as age, mobility, or educational background can be translated into tour aspects that are likely to deliver a positive experience.
Look for hints in the tour description:
- limited number of participants
- style of trip: active, comfort, luxury
- length of trip
- itinerary transitions: are you on the go all the time, moving quickly from place to place? Or are you staying put in destinations for several days which might be more conducive to absorb the atmosphere and sense of place?
- types of transportation during the trip
- activities and excursions included on the trip
- unscripted time: sometimes you need a break from even the loveliest of fellow travelers
- climate considerations
- guide bios: are they experts or passionate locals?
- meals included and tipping guidelines
- wardrobe requirements
- recommended or included insurance
Be realistic about your expectations and limitations in order to arrive at the best match. If the trip requires a certain level of physical fitness, make sure you exceed it. You don’t want to be “that person” if accommodations aren’t readily available.
Most tour companies are happy to discuss your concerns and questions before you commit to a deposit. Make sure your comfort level is satisfied, and know your cancellation or modification options, should the need arise.
We hope this discussion of guided tour vacation and group travel package options has been helpful for you in your planning. Here’s to happy and safe travels!