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Group travel may answer the nagging questions of tours

Both experienced and novice travelers enjoy the benefits of group travel when carefully selecting a tour. There are many positives to traveling on a group tour — access to destinations difficult to reach on your own, the ease of professionals making the arrangements, and the value of group rates. There is also the often overlooked enjoyment of traveling with a community and the educational enrichment provided by professional guides. Ask key questions to select a group tour which meets your needs, interests, expectations, and budget.

A trained guide leads group participants through an entrance of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Photo credit: Adam Knutson

Peak season may or may not offer the best weather but it does mean the biggest crowds and the highest costs.

Inquire about the tour company, the guide, the tour leader, and the prospective fellow tour members, as each shapes the travel experience. What is the expertise and reputation of the tour company?
Is the guide local to the country or area you are visiting and what is his/her experience? What is the tour leader’s experience and expertise? How might your interests and expectations compare to those of potential travel companions?
Carefully review what is and is not included. Budget and value are not the same. Ask specifics about the hotels, the airline and schedule, and the number of included meals, tips, taxes, and fuel surcharges. Review a specific list of entrance fees and inside visits (because “viewing” a cathedral does not always mean a tour inside). Inquire about extra or optional costs which could add hundreds of dollars. Know that all group tours are based on a minimum group size; smaller groups are more expensive, but may be a better fit.

What to look for

Examine the daily itinerary. Are the places you want to visit given enough time? Count the number of hotel changes as moving hotels every night may be wearisome. Does the pace fit your style and ability? Does the amount of unstructured leisure time meet your expectations?
Consider the time of year and your expectations. Peak season may or may not offer the best weather but it does mean the biggest crowds and the highest costs. Research the climate as some countries are uncomfortably hot during peak season, such as the August winds in the Aegean. If visiting museums is a significant part of the tour itinerary, weather may not be as important. Low season or off-season offers better prices, less time waiting in lines, and locals who are usually more at ease and engaging.

A guide reviews important travel information with a group touring Qumran. Photo credit: Adam Knutson

Is there a special purpose or focus for the tour? Is the itinerary of general interest or does it focus on a topic or theme, such as biblical history, archeology, art, music or culture? A tour with a focus interesting to you will not only be educational but provide a deeper experience.
Review the booking terms and conditions; thoroughly understand the registration process, payment schedule, and cancellation policy. Seriously consider travel insurance to protect your investment. Take out emergency medical and evacuation coverage, at a minimum providing coverage for an illness or accident while traveling which could cost you thousands of dollars.
Group travel has moved far beyond the 1970s image from the movie If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium. Many more group tour options exist for the 21st century traveler and with some research you can select the perfect fit to fulfill your travel needs.
Joan Evans is on staff at CrossingBorders, Inc. (, and has 25 years experience working in international group travel.

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