Companions on a journey
Group travel may offer obvious and surprise benefits
Group travel provides significant benefits over do-it-yourself tour planning
and independent travel for the less-traveled as well as the well-traveled.
Before registering for a group tour, travelers should ask the following
questions that will match their needs, interests, and expectations.
Inquire about the tour leader, the travel arranger, the guide, and tour
members. The leadership services will combine with the camaraderie of
fellow travelers as the key aspects of the experience. Ask about the tour
leader and his or her experience. Who is responsible for all the reservations
and arrangements and what is his or her experience? What is the background
and expertise of the professional guide? The best tour guides are highly
educated with years of experience. And ask about your traveling companions.
A group that matches your interests and values will make for a more
enjoyable experience and will likely become one of the highlights. A local
group may gather before a tour departs, which can be a real benefit.
Review both what is included in the tour and what is not. Carefully inquire
about the hotels; the airline and schedule; meals and sightseeing; and tips,
taxes, and fuel surcharges. Ask for a specific list of extra or optional costs.
On many budget tours, these extras can be a longer list than the inclusions
and add up to hundreds of dollars. Budget and value are not the same.
All group tours are based on a minimum group size. A smaller group will be
Don’t assume anything is obvious, as there is more to this question than
meets the eye. How much time is spent in the places you want to visit? Ask
about the pace and count the number of hotel changes. Does the pace fit
your style and ability?
Is there time for participants actually to walk the quaint villages described in
the itinerary or do you just pass through in the motor coach? If having free
time to explore on your own is important, ask specifically about the amount
of unstructured leisure time.
Consider the options and benefits of the time of year. The right time of year
depends on what you expect. While peak season may offer better weather, it
usually also means larger crowds and certainly higher costs. Ask specifically
about climate, as some regions of the world may actually be uncomfortably
hot during peak season — for example, Greece in August.
If visiting museums is a significant part of the tour program, perhaps the
weather is not as important. Low season or off-season periods offer better
prices and fewer long lines.
Review the conditions of the program. Thoroughly understand the
registration process, which includes deposit, payment, and cancellation
policy. Make sure you are comfortable with these conditions and seriously
consider travel insurance to protect your investment. A group travel program
has dozens of financial transactions packaged together. There is great
savings of both money and time when these are done for you, particularly at
Know the special purpose or focus of the tour; it will deepen the travel
experience. Is the itinerary of general interest or does it focus on a topic or
theme, such as Biblical history, art, music, culture? If you have a specific area
of interest, a tour with this focus is likely to be more educational and provide
a deeper experience.
The rewards of traveling on a carefully selected group tour are many. Make
the effort to do your research before registering and you will enjoy an
enriching and memorable experience.
Lori Moline is a 25-year international group tour specialist and co-owner of
CrossingBorders, Inc. in Bloomington, Minnesota.