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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
only can it be extremely time consuming, but it can also be very
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.
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?
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 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
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!
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?
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
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
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
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.
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?
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:
- A good tour
tight focus or theme so you can really get to know the area. Avoid the “if it’s
Tuesday it must be
- 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.
- A good tour has selected well located
hotels, so you can venture out on your own a little bit in your free time.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
good tour has trip insurance
included or offered for your protection in the event of unforeseen circumstances
- 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.
- 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!