Nancy Hecker - Travel Consultant/Travel Writer
The Art of Planning Travel
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An essay discussing the elements of a good tour

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Having been in the tour business for over seventeen years, it is clear to me that almost everyone loves to travel!  It seems to be a universal axiom. When I am out socially and engaged in casual conversation, the minute people find out that I was in the tour business their eyes appear to take on an extra little sparkle!  They become more animated and want to share their most recent travel experiences, or perhaps query me about a particular destination or an upcoming trip they have in the works.  I can immediately detect an added excitement in their voice.  That’s because, to most people, travel is stimulating, educational, exhilarating and fun! There is a whole world out there to explore and discover, and as a group tour operator I have had the pleasure of leading my friends and fellow travelers on many wonderful adventures through out the United States, Canada, Europe and South America.  

Together we have tasted the wines in Tuscany, we have enjoyed the spectacular views in the Canadian Rockies, and applauded the performers on stage in New York and London.  We have explored the ancient ruins in Ephesus and Pompeii, toured the castles in Germany and in Ireland, and followed the life style of the rich and famous in Southern California.  We’ve tasted alligator in the bayous and back roads of Louisiana’s Cajun country, and feasted on lobster up in Prince Edward Island.  From sea to shining sea, and across the Atlantic Ocean, we have definitely covered the territory! 

Mention a destination and I can probably say that “I’ve been there, done that.” Yet, even after all these years in the travel industry, I still get excited as I go through the process of planning travel for myself, or consulting with former colleagues when they are in the process of putting together itineraries for their upcoming groups.  

To plan travel well is truly an art, and I find it to be both creative and fun!  But putting together all the elements of a tour and packaging it successfully takes a lot of research and a great deal of attention to detail.  Many people who try to arrange a trip on their own find it tedious and overwhelming.  It can be much like putting together a puzzle, and in the end finding out that some how the last few pieces don’t quite fit.  Not only can it be extremely time consuming, but it can also be very frustrating.  

If you are one of the people who feel this way about trip planning, you would be better off to find a reputable tour company and travel with a group where everything is done for you.   That takes the angst out of it, and allows you to just go and enjoy!  The trick is finding the right company to travel with, and then zeroing in on one of their tour offerings that sounds interesting and appealing to you.  Beware when comparing tour companies and different offerings, however, because it often times can be like comparing apples and oranges.  The old adage: “You get what you pay for” is, more often than not, true.

Whether you decide to travel with a group, or do the planning yourself and go solo, the first thing to do is to figure out what kind of traveler you are.  What do you consider important to your overall travel experience?  For example, to some people the choice of accommodations is not a priority.  They look at their hotel room as just a place to spend the night.  As long as it is clean, that is all that matters. To others, the choice of hotel property is of paramount importance.  Where they stay is part of the ambiance and overall experience of the tour.  It makes a difference in how they feel about the destination that they are visiting.  I put myself in this category and I was very particular about the choice of hotel for my tours.  Character and charm and location make a difference to me, and to the people who traveled with me as well.  Mine were not cookie cutter tours, instead each one was lovingly customized for my group.  For this reason, I almost always did a “site inspection” prior to finalizing the details of a particular trip.  I carefully hand picked the hotels, and their location and charm became an integral part of the whole!

This question applies also to the types of meals that are offered on a tour.  Some people only “eat to live”, while others “live to eat.”  Will you be satisfied with a non-descript meal every night in the hotel where you are staying?  Or when you are on vacation do you enjoy “dining” in a hand picked restaurant that has a lovely setting or charming atmosphere?  Do you want a variety of meals, where one night you might sample some of the local specialties, and the next experience a restaurant known for their remarkable service and artful presentations?  Do you want all your meals included in the package, or are you the adventuresome type who would want the flexibility of having a few nights free so you can discover a restaurant or two on your own?

There is actually no right or wrong answer to these questions. It is purely a matter of personal preference.  For those who prefer the more deluxe travel it is obviously going to be more costly.   So it often comes down to what you can afford, or alternatively where you prefer to spend your monies. The truth is that whether you stay at a lovely, historic hotel with a balcony overlooking the sea….or a moderately priced property with a small room on the outskirts of town, the museums and attractions that you will visit and see are basically the same.  Either way you will come home raving about the wonderful art in the Louvre or the Prado or the Musee d’Orsay.  You will experience the same fantastic views as you drive along the spectacular Amalfi Coast, or ride the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain in Canadian Rockies near Banff, or stand on the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls enjoying the majesty of the falling water! 

So while you will see basically the same sights and attractions, the difference in how you experience your travel destination is more on a personal level.  For me, some of my most special trip memories include waking to fresh squeezed orange juice and a fabulous breakfast each morning on the seaside terrace of the San Domenico Palace Hotel in Taormino, Sicily, or the breathtaking drive up to the town of Eze in Provence, where at dizzying heights I shared a glass of Champagne and canapés and incredible views with my fellow travelers at the lovely hotel Chevre d’Or.  Just as memorable, and maybe even more special, was a spontaneous stop at the very modest home of our bus driver’s mother near Epidarus in Greece.  This lovely lady, who spoke no English, and whose face could easily have graced the cover of a National Geographic, must have borrowed cup and saucers from all her neighbors so she could serve our group some morning coffee.  

Detouring off the beaten path in the province of Calabria, Italy, to visit the town of Monterossa proved to be another highlight. Monterossa was the home of our American Express tour manager whom I had worked with for many years.  Before we both retired Antonio wanted me to bring my group to see his beautiful village.  Unaccustomed to having a motorcoach arrive in their small village, the town folk greeted us warmly.  Antonio's friends owned a restaurant, and they proudly prepared an incredible feast for us.  We later gathered in the town hall for a simple presentation by the mayor.  These types of experiences are what I call "lagniappe," a little something special thrown in to make the tour above and beyond the ordinary!

So what are the elements of a good tour?  Whether you are planning on traveling with a tour company or arranging your own travel, here are a few thoughts to consider.   

Elements of a good tour:

  1. A good tour has a tight focus or theme so you can really get to know the area.  Avoid the “if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium” syndrome
  2. A good tour does not involve too much packing and moving.  One or two moves on a trip is ideal.  Three or four nights in one hotel is great if possible, using it as a base to hub and spoke out to the surrounding area on day trips. Try to avoid tours with one night stands.
  3. A good tour has selected well located hotels, so you can venture out on your own a little bit in your free time.
  4. The best tours have an experienced tour manager accompanying the group to handle all details, and provide background and commentary as you travel from place to place.
  5. A good tour also retains an expert local guide in each of the cities which you visit.  While some companies operate on the cheap and save money by using their motorcoach driver as a guide, it is far better to have a separate tour guide and driver.
  6. A good tour has all the admission fees included in package so you are not nickled and dimed on the tour.  If the gratuities are also included that is one less thing you have to worry about.
  7. A good tour has trip insurance included or offered for your protection in the event of unforeseen circumstances
  8. It's nice if you have something in common with the other tour participants.  Travel with a community group, college alumni association or other such organization provides such opportunities.
  9. The best tours offer "Lagniappe," a little something extra special or out of the ordinary thrown in.  Sometimes these touches can truly make your trip a trip of a lifetime!

It's all about the journey and the friends you make along the way!  
This website is dedicated to my best friends who have traveled with me on my many tours, and more importantly on my journey through life!  Each one of you is a treasure to me!