See the World on a Tour
An escorted tour can take you to fascinating destinations
far and wide
By Elizabeth ArmstrongFrom the wine towns of Tuscany to the savannas of Tanzania, it seems there's no corner of the world that hasn't been made more accessible thanks to an escorted tour. Explore the bustling shopping districts of Tokyo, follow in the footsteps of explorer Ernest Shackleton in Antarctica, or see koalas in their natural habitat in an Australian wildlife park. You can spend 14 days or more covering the glittering capitals of Europe, or take a leisurely weeklong trip that highlights two or three places in one country.
The biggest advantage of an escorted tour is the convenience and value it offers. "There's no need to research and piece together all the elements yourself," says Troy Bringle, vice president of the tours and resorts division at Vacations To Go. Accommodations, sightseeing, ground transportation and numerous meals are all wrapped into one price that you pay upfront. It's hassle-free, and it's easy to budget.
"You don't have to find your own hotels, check the availability and then check the rates. Purchasing an escorted tour saves the traveler a great deal of time on the front end," says Bringle. It saves money, too: Tour operators negotiate low rates for their groups and pass those savings on to their customers. They typically pick hotels that are well-located in the city center, Bringle adds.
With the exception of some budget tours, daily breakfasts at your hotel are included. Some dinners and lunches also are covered.
Another plus: Someone else does the driving. This is a big advantage to those who may be reluctant to maneuver a rental car along narrow roads in the villages of France or Italy, or on the opposite side of the street in the United Kingdom. Tour guests travel in motor coaches, which nowadays are comfortable, roomy and air-conditioned. Parking hassles are eliminated as well -- your motor coach driver will drop you off and pick you up near the sites you'll visit. "It's like having your own chauffeur," says Bringle.
Perhaps best of all, you won't suffer the stress of getting lost in unfamiliar territory. You can relax and see the sights instead of burying your face in a map.
Escorted tour participants also get to bypass long lines at museums and forgo paying admission fees at attractions. You'll often get preferred seating at performing arts venues and special events.
And, there's safety in numbers. "Some people who are traveling to a place for the first time appreciate the security of traveling in a group," says Bringle. For many travelers, escorted tours are the preferred way to visit destinations in Africa, Asia and the Far East, not to mention Antarctica.
Escorted tours basically fall into four price categories: budget, first-class, deluxe and luxury. These ratings are based on the location and amenities of the hotels, and the number and quality of meals and activities included.
There are tours that include rail excursions, river or canal cruises, and wildlife-viewing expeditions. Some companies, such as GAP Adventures, design active itineraries that include trekking, scuba diving or canoeing. In some cases, young children may not be permitted on an escorted tour, so those traveling with kids should look for itineraries geared specifically to families.
Are you cut out for an escorted tour? There are certain considerations to keep in mind. During an escorted tour, you're not on your own schedule -- you're on the group's schedule. You'll sit down to meals at designated times, and you'll be reminded to place your luggage outside your hotel room door early in the morning for transfer to the next hotel.
"Depending on the pace and type of tour, you may be starting your day early because there is so much to see and do," says Bringle.
There may be a good deal of walking on a tour, so consider your ability to get around on foot. Groups often are encouraged to stay together while touring museums, churches and cathedrals, which may not appeal to those who like to wander off on their own.
Visits to attractions may be shorter than you like. If you want to linger longer at Stonehenge in England or the Trevi Fountain in Rome, it won't be possible if your tour guide needs to get you to your next destination. But often, tours that stay a night or two in the world's great cities include free time so that you can explore further on your own. This is the time to head back to that intriguing art gallery, museum, antique shop, quaint town square or cafe that you spotted earlier during the guided city tour.
Check the language in a tour's description to see whether you stop at a site or merely drive by it. "Visit" usually means that the motor coach will stop and passengers will enter the attraction. "See" or "view" often indicates that you will drive or walk by.
If you want the value of an escorted tour but greater flexibility, consider an independent stay. Popular in the major cities of Europe -- London and Paris, especially -- these packages include accommodations, the aid of a local host who is available to answer questions and provide suggestions, and usually some extras such as a half-day sightseeing tour, public transportation pass or free museum entry. The rest of your stay, you are on your own to enjoy the city at your leisure.
Information: Vacations To Go offers escorted tours on all seven continents, and independent stays in cities around the globe, from Vancouver, Canada, to Hong Kong to the cosmopolitan centers of Europe. For information, visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in November 2005 . Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.