As I have mentioned previously; these travel styles are not just for BBs, and I hope what I have to say will appeal to people of all ages. However, as a BB myself I can talk about the reasons people in ‘my age group’ decide to take tours. I have found, when talking to younger people, some at least have used the organised tour more as a ‘pick-up’ activity, while others have gone three steps further and found their lifelong partner this way. I have not found that this happens to the same extent with over-50s. Perhaps people are more interested in the actual travel aspect by this stage of life, and don’t want anything to complicate it, rather than there being an absence of interest generally. (Or perhaps they do it in more subtle ways.) Anyway, in this instance I am leaving hook-ups out of the equation. Sorry if that takes the spice out of it for you.
So, what is it about an organised tour that makes it an attractive option? Like anything, it is not the only way to travel, and there are some negatives, so let’s start with those.
First, tours generally seem expensive, compared to doing it yourself. (Of course there are different levels of touring, some more expensive than others). Certainly there are ways to see most places more cheaply by shopping around, and you would probably not eat out every night. Secondly, on all the tours I have been on there are a lot of early starts. Another negative is that it is harder (but sometimes not impossible) to stay longer at that museum or art gallery you love so much, because you are being pushed on to the next place. Some tours provide for this, giving guests the option of staying on and joining up with the group later in the day. (My way around this is to build in extra days before and after the tour, if that is possible, or to take note to return one day). Also on this list is the fact that there is always that one fellow traveller who will get on your nerves – fortunately you will find that they are getting on everyone’s nerves and the group will find a way of gently moulding him or her into a more attractive companion, at least for the remainder of the tour.
On the plus side, tours are a great way to meet people and find new friends. I’ve made many lasting friendships from the tours I have taken, and social media sites like Facebook and Instagram make it easy to keep in contact with many others who are like-minded and with whom you can share journeys vicariously (they also provide great ideas of where to go next!). Second, everything is organised for you – you just have to pack your bag and go. Tour companies spend a lot of time researching the best places to go and the best times to avoid crowds; they have already pre-booked your visits so there is no waiting in lines; they coordinate everything in advance so you arrive at lunch and dinner places with people waiting to greet and serve you, and at the end of the day’s touring your hotel staff are there to greet you with room keys at the ready. Tours are jam-packed with activities of different kinds; if you did all of those on your own you would need twice as long as you would have to work out how to get there, wait in line, etc. etc.
Of course, there are times when things don’t go to plan: traffic jams, a room is not quite right, a demonstration has blocked the entrance to your hotel (or like, when in Albania, the Canadian Minister of Finance’s car blocked our exit for forty minutes while he finished his breakfast). All these can be inconvenient, but these things would happen anyway, and at least when on an organised tour you know you are not going to miss your dinner slot, or your night time entertainment. Somehow the TD (Tour Director) will have orchestrated around any mishap and delay to make sure you experience everything that is expected. And while you are waiting on the coach in a traffic jam, chances are there will be wifi so you can call home or update your blog. Bonus!
Another unexpected benefit of touring is that there is someone there ready to help out should you have a problem, which can be anything from leaving your passport in the safe back at the last hotel, through to something major like having your handbag stolen, becoming injured or unwell, or needing to return home urgently. I have been on tours where all of these things have happened, and was amazed at how efficiently and empathetically the TD dealt with these. Imagine organising emergency medical attention or a replacement passport on your own in the middle of Turkey or Macedonia and you will appreciate what I mean.
When I started taking tours seriously, and by that I mean one or two week tours rather than those lasting just a day or two, it was the best way I could think of to see a lot of countries in a short time. My first trip in 2014 involved three two-week tours covering 13 countries in Eastern Europe (I also went to Dubai, Hungary and Slovakia on my own, so 16 all up). These involved longish stays in Russia, Croatia and Turkey, with just a day or two in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Austria, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Bulgaria. (I have since been back to Poland for a week, as part of a holiday with my husband.) In 2015 I did tours of Scandinavia (covering four countries in three weeks), Spain and Switzerland, and this year I have done a four week tour of South-East Asia (including Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) and a one-week tour of the ‘Canyonlands’ in the USA. Some of these tours over the last two years have been on my own, and others have been with my husband. Travelling alone I have a different experience to when I travel with David, there are benefits to both.
So am I tour junkie now? Possibly, although I do still like doing some things on my own, I do enjoy having the company of other, like-minded travellers from around the world. I also enjoy the fast pace of touring (there is rarely a dull moment, even during long coach trips). I like the fact that the Tour Directors know a lot of things about the places we are passing through and visiting; I enjoy the out of the way places they take you to, that you would not know about otherwise. I am happy to go off on my own sometimes, and to join up with others later to share stories of what we have seen, things we have bought, and so on.
One of the best things I like about taking organised tours is that I have got to visit countries, and places within countries, that I would be reluctant to go to on my own (although the more I travel, I find the less this is a problem for me.) One thing is for sure, there are a lot of tours still on my list, so this form of travel will form a large part of my itinerary for years to come.
So that is touring, Julia style, in snapshot – but there are lots of different kinds of tours; which will be the focus of another blog post.