Travel should be about more than simply checking a destination off a list of places to see. When you visit new places you have the opportunity to experience different cultures, learn about history, and get new perspectives while having fun. Group tours are an affordable way to get those educational opportunities in amazing destinations around the world. Below are five things you’ll love.
Five Things You’ll Love About Guided Tours
Tour Guides and Drivers
Having a tour guide makes the experience memorable, interesting, and educational. One of my guides was recently telling us about a specific moment in the history of Ireland, the marriage of Strongbow and Aoife which he introduced by telling our group that the story was something one might see on a TV show like Jerry Springer meets Desperate Housewives. He went on to grab volunteers as the the characters in the story he was telling us which made the whole thing more entertaining and memorable.
Personal anecdotes, local and country-wide history, and information about what life is like are only a few reasons having a guide on a group tour is fantastic. Guides also act as a concierge, giving advice about how and where to spend free time, assisting with reservations, and making sure everyone keeps on schedule. They’re entertaining, informative, and very helpful.
Making life easier for everyone on a group tour is the motor coach driver. They know exactly how to navigate from point A to point B, aren’t confused by detours and other unplanned issues, and have a knack for knowing the best place to drop off and pick up passengers. They’re also great at working with porters from the hotel to make sure all the bags get on and off the bus and stay safe.
Make New Friends on Group Tours
I travel with friends as often as possible, usually on JJ Travel Associates exclusive vacations because it’s so much fun but schedules don’t always line up. When I’m on a cruise without friends, I nearly always find someone that I bump into throughout the cruise and sometimes by complete luck end up on the same excursions. On group tours, however, I’ve got a build in group of people, who are all traveling, “alone together” if you will.
Jennifer and I just returned from a group tour in Ireland. With 34 people on the tour we spent more time with some than others but we had a great time visiting with them all and on the first day found a couple who we spent quite a but of time with during the 8 days — in fact, we’re planning a Christmas Market river cruise with them in 2024!
On the first day of the group tour you’re introduced to, on average, 20-30 people who will be with you for the duration of the tour so it’s an automatic group of new friends with at least one shared interest. Will you become lifelong friends with every one of them? Almost certainly not, in fact there will probably be some you don’t care for, but most are fun to visit with and you’ll often find someone that you want to keep in touch with and maybe even travel with in the future.
When planning a vacation, Jennifer and I use a lot of resources to plan activities tailored specifically to the interests of our clients. Due to the nature of group tours, there is less flexibility with choosing activities, but there is tremendous comfort in knowing that the tour operators are masterful at finding the best activities. There are two obvious benefits of having activities arranged by the tour operator: first, they hold the vendors to a very high standard, and second, they do the activities regularly so not only do they evaluate the activities often, they get immediate feedback from guests.
Pictured above is Lucy, the horse who pulled our carriage through a park on a chilly morning. Lucy wasn’t thrilled with being put to work early in the day to dodge puddles but she did a fantastic job anyway. The ride gave us lots of beautiful photo opportunities before ending at a castle. There were other people walking around the castle, but only those in our group had the experience of riding in the jaunty cars. It was a nice touch that the average person wouldn’t know was possible.
One other note about these types of experiences, the cost of the tickets is usually (almost always!) included in the price of group tours so other than (optionally) buying souvenirs at the gift shops, there is no additional cost when doing things with the group.
Group Tours: Mix of Free and Scheduled Time
Many of my clients have an outdated idea of what group tours are like. Years ago traveling as part of a group meant a lot of togetherness with other people. Today’s tours include planned group activities that everyone does together and plenty of free time to split away from the group and explore cities.
I mentioned the motorcoaches, which is how the group gets around. These busses are spacious, comfortable, and usually have WiFi. The tour guides make the rides interesting, pointing out landmarks and points of interest while sharing details of the local history and culture. Getting around on these motorcoaches is not a long, boring ride.
These rides, along with scheduled activities and some meals are obviously “together time” but depending on the tour operator and the itinerary, there is also free time every day. A good guide will share lots of ideas for how to spend the free time including attractions that are close by, the best places to grab a meal (or if you’re in Ireland a pint of Guinness).
Pre-planned and well thought out
Group tours are very well organized. Guides keep things on time and moving, and according to Marlene, my guide in Ireland, she imagines a short, bald man with glasses sitting at a desk huddled over a map, frantically working a calculator to figure out how long it will take to get from point A to B, which activities will be the best, how long they should last, and how many restaurants per person are within walking distance.
How the planning is carried out and the criteria used to make decisions is probably not quite like that, but certainly a lot of planning goes into group tours. This is all research that has been done on your behalf so you don’t have to spend hours trying to put together the best possible vacation.
Thinking it would be fun to spend more time in Dublin, I decided to stay an extra day after the end of my group tour. You’d think I would have spent time researching activities, finding the best places to eat, and the most popular pub with the best live music before I left. You’d be wrong. Armed with a hop on hop off bus tour ticket and a less than helpful map, I struck out on what I imagined would rival Ferris Bueller’s Day off.
Throughout the day I muttered, “Where’s Marlene when I need her?” under my breath as I consistently missed the bus by a few minutes (and had to wait 20 minutes for the next one), walked the wrong direction, and had no clue how to get find my way back to the pickup spot. The answer to my muttering was, “she’s at home, recovering from 8 days of babysitting tourists.”
The point is, while I appreciated the way things were scheduled and organized during the week, I didn’t realize just how much I appreciated it until I didn’t have that sweet Irish accent in my ear telling me to move along, what time to be somewhere, and of course, how to get there.
Jen and I save our clients tons of time by planning the details and making sure there’s a timeline and plenty of instructions, but having a guide available to make sure everything is going according to plan (and having a backup plan when it doesn’t), making informed suggestions, and giving directions I can follow is something I definitely love about group tours, and so will you.