BOOK YOUR OWN TOURS
You have decided where you want to go. You’ve picked possible dates and researched flights. You decided this trip will be on terra firma rather than sailing on the water. Now what do you do?
The first step is deciding how independent you want to be.
Do you want to pre-arrangement only the basics—air, transfers, hotels? And let the hidden explorer in you have free reign, knowing you might have great experiences or great disasters?
Do you have a must-see bucket list and want to make sure there is time to view the Vatican treasures, photograph the majestic ruins of the Colosseum, and still have time to linger on the Spanish Steps?
Does it matter if the dinner table is always for two, or do you enjoy sharing experiences and meals with other travelers? Have that conversation with yourself and any traveling companions and you will know if you want a trip that is:
The first is that—independent.
Typically a combination of services is booked, usually air plus transfers plus accommodations. Some sightseeing, such as a city-tour orientation, might be added.
The point is to have flexibility, the freedom to explore within a framework. You might be open to spontaneity, but you don’t want to spend your entire vacation looking for a place to sleep.
A hosted program provides the basics—hotel, transfer some sightseeing—and then adds a dedicated concierge who knows our schedule and can arrange anything else you want.
The difference between an independent and hosted program is in the destination and the organization. Hosted programs are in specific city destinations, sometimes designed to link together, or to add onto the beginning or end of a cruise.
The benefit is you have access to possibly hard to book hotels in good locations and coordinated services while still being independent.
Both the independent or hosted travel package assumes a lot of pre-trip preparation and research. For a lot of people the extra time involved is not possible. Vacation time is precious, relaxation is a must, and planning that perfect trip is an extra burden on an already stressful day.
It is the escorted trip that reduces stress, saves time, and possibly averts major domestic quarrels.
It’s all arranged: someone at the airport with your name on a sign, ready to help you through traffic to a comfortable hotel, a host or hostess accompanying you throughout the trip and taking care of any blips or bumps, knowledgeable guides on tours at every stop, tasty meals to share with new friends, bottle of safe water to drink.
You will not have spontaneity—the itinerary is set—but you will not have the anxiety, uncertainty, and problems of traveling alone in a foreign country.
Plus you will know at the beginning what the vacation will cost—no hidden charges when that dinner that seemed reasonably priced when in euros gets converted to dollars on your credit card.
Where or when are the different types of tours most appropriate?
A lot depends on the destination. For China, the central Asian countries as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, for parts of South and Central America, and other places where language and logistics are intimidating, I have always used reliable tour companies and booked fully escorted tours.
For mainland Europe, British Isles and Ireland, Mexico, I’ll let the spirit of adventure lead me.
In a cruise ship port I may flag down a taxi for my own exploration or join my fellow passengers on a bus tour. It is all the possibilities that makes travel both a challenge and a joy.