Many of us have an image of escorted tours of groups of tourists wandering behind a guide in some of the more clichéd tourist spots around the world, being lectured about the Mona Lisa or taking snaps of the leaning tower of Pisa. The reality though can be very different as Susan Parsons, ABTA’s most travelled member of staff, 187 World Heritage sites and counting, lets us know.
As somebody who loves to travel to interesting places, which friends/family might not care to go to, I took my first escorted tour as a solo traveller nearly 20 years ago and have never looked back. It’s not about sitting on a coach for days on end but a great way to see and do new things with like-minded people, some of whom have become lifelong friends.
Many of my trips have come about as a result of recommendations from fellow travellers. My bucket list is still very long! I’ve seen some amazing sights: the sun rising over the Treasury at Petra, the amazing limestone karst scenery in south China, the giant pandas, the mighty Iguazu Falls, those comical penguins in their natural habitat, and closer to home, a great many Roman and Greek temples dotted around the Mediterranean, some of which sadly no longer exist. It’s not just about developing countries but trips to the great cities of the world to enjoy the culture on offer.
When you’re working full time, it’s great that somebody else makes all the arrangements for you: flights, accommodation, transfers, porter, guides, entry to sites, etc. This is particularly helpful when you are changing hotels every couple of days. No longer do you have to worry about how to get from A to B in a strange country where you don’t speak the language and aren’t familiar with Cyrillic, Sanskrit or Chinese characters.
I’ve stayed in a variety of accommodation: hotels, monasteries, grass huts, eco-lodges and even a cave. I’ve camped – it’s great fun to wake up in the morning and see from the footprints what animals have been in camp overnight!
I enjoy eating in local restaurants – how many times have I pointed at a dish somebody else was eating and said I’ll have that, as I didn’t understand the menu. Or the tour leader might organise a group to eat together, as in “I’m going to eat conveyor belt sushi tonight so if you’d like to come, be in reception at 6”.
There are prices to suit every pocket depending on the destination. Tours don’t need to be expensive; they’ll use different public transport (buses, trams, trains, river boats, tuk-tuks) and reasonably priced hotels. Some operators offer same sex room shares to keep the cost down. Groups will usually comprise a mix of solo travellers, couples, friends. Most specify no children although some do offer family departures. There are up-market tours too with private transport and 5* accommodation!
There are many different types of tours: some are activity based – trekking, cycling, sailing; or have a theme: music, cooking, wine tasting. Whatever the type of tour, it’s good to have access to local guides who know the history and culture of their country so well and can guide you round the sites. They can suggest places to buy that holiday souvenir you are looking for and what you’d expect to pay for it. It’s not all about following a tour leader for the whole trip as time is built into explore places on your own.
I’ve taken many escorted tours using different ABTA Members. Providing you’ve booked transport, it should be a package so you are financially protected.