Tour Story

We’ve all witnessed groups of tourists following the raised voices and flags of tour guides as they make their way toward a row of awaiting buses. If a scene like this makes you vow never to be one of “those people,” you may want to avoid rushing to judgment. There are some very good reasons why “tour” isn’t always a four-letter word.

Find the Right Fit

Not all tours are created equal. Operators specialize in everything from three-hour sightseeing bus rides to 28-day private jet trips around the world, so there’s a lot to choose from. So no matter what your preference, there’s probably a travel package that fits your style.

Don’t Worry

The biggest benefit of working with a tour operator is that they handle all the planning and logistics. (Well, almost all of it. In many cases, getting yourself to and from the point of embarcation is still your responsibility.) Organized travel packages are growing in popularity among families because of the convenience factor.

“Joining a group tour means not spending valuable vacation time confirming reservations, worrying about transfers or solving problems along the way,” says Lynn O’Rourke Hayes, editor of FamilyTravel.com. “Plus, families can rely on a trusted tour operator to uncover the best experiences so all they have to do is relax and enjoy their vacation.”

Exploring the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

Do Your Homework

Nothing in life is free. If you’re going to have others do the heavy lifting, it’ll cost you. But cost isn’t the only challenge when it comes to selecting a tour operator. Since most people aren’t very familiar with the names of even the most highly rated companies, it might be difficult to know where to begin. “This is not unlike finding a good doctor or a good contractor,” says Susan Farewell of FarewellTravels.com. And how do you do that? “Look around,” she says. “Ask friends, neighbors, or Facebook contacts. Then call or email the travel consultant and interview them.”

Take Your Pick

There are several outstanding operators that specialize in families. The biggest difference between packages is usually price, which, in turn, is often a reflection of the level of accommodations they offer. Otherwise, dates, length of trip, and featured destinations and activities are the other determining factors.

Here are my favorites among the most reputable:

Find Peace of Mind

For those who have the time and wherewithal, booking everything yourself will almost always save you money. But the premium you pay for a professional also includes the security of knowing everything will be taken care of if something goes wrong. “When traveling with kids, the unexpected is bound to happen,” says Sharon Bell of Tauck Bridges. “Whether it’s an overbooked hotel, losing travel documents, or something that might significantly affect your experience like an unsettling political situations, a reputable tour director can make the difference in turning around a potential disappointment.”

Go Home Happy

Exploring the caves of the Ganbaai coast in South Africa. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

Most family-tour specialists are experienced in making sure parents and their children are kept entertained and happy, not to mention well fed. They also take great pride in sending you home with an experience you never thought possible. Warren Green, a former safari ranger in South Africa recalls, “Africa really provides kids with an incredible respect and appreciation for wildlife. After just a few hours in the bush, they are completely transformed and suddenly understand the impact we have on our environment.”

Make New Friends

If sharing your vacation with a bunch of strangers isn’t your thing, consider the fact that most of the people you end up traveling with are like-minded and interesting people. Some might even become lifelong friends.

This is particularly true when traveling as a family because, let’s face it, most parents have a lot in common. According to Jean Fawcett of Abercrombie & Kent USA, “Group tours allow parents on a family vacation the flexibility to enjoy a relaxed meal or quality time as a couple, and have peace of mind knowing the kids are immersed in a fun activity with other children their age, and safe under the watch of the guides.”

Family Reunions and Special Occasions

One of the biggest trends in the travel industry is the increase in multi-generational travel, with more than a third of all bookings for family vacations now including the grandparents. If you’re thinking about planning a family reunion, or are a parent or grandparent who wants to treat your child or grandchild to a vacation, a tour operator might be a good way to go. “In today’s hectic paced society, with extended family living far apart from one another, many families are turning to organized touring to bring them closer together,” says Bell.

And isn’t that what traveling together as a family is all about?

Follow Rainer’s travels on Twitter @JenssTravel.

Comments

  1. Jill Golding
    Guildford, UK
    January 8, 2013, 2:48 am

    Families can also embark on volunteering and get a chance to really see a country and its people. We have a project in India that accepts families – children can help their parents teach pre-school or primary, get engaged in the health programme, teach the ladies to sew, provide after-school activities at the boys orphanage or help build, renovate and decorate the school buildings every July and August. For more details see http://www.volunteervacations.co.uk/India

  2. liese mossner-sequeira
    Johannesburg
    January 8, 2013, 4:15 am

    Well blogged! We are part of a small group of operators based here in Joburg who will actually plan your itinerary after lengthy emails to suit the entire family. The smaller operators also do a good job as we are owner run and operated, and do the guiding ourselves. We are reliable, honest and fun loving South Africans who are passionate about making your trip a memorable one!

  3. Ross Galan
    Madrid, SPAIaditionsN
    January 8, 2013, 9:47 am

    This is all very well when travelling with your family WITH kids. But organised travel packages do not simply draw my attention when travelling with friends WITHOUT kids. The problem with organised travel when travelling in a group of adult friends is that they “limit” your choices and interests.

    First of all, they show you what THEY want you to see, not what YOU want to see. Besides, you do not get to know what the country really is: its “real” people; talking to them or simply being with them looking and smiling at them without a single word being uttered – speechless in your own stride, being being hurried by the tour guide, for your time is YOURS to make use of, their customs and traditions, the “authentic”, original foods of the place: from snakes to frogs to insects to BBQed chicken intestines right on the pavements to dogs’ meat and endless unthinkable street foods as well as in restaurants; they do not show you the literally not so “beautiful” aspect/part of the country, etc.

    One more thing with organised travel packages is that you adhere to their timetable whether you like it or not. No freedom! Well, this is real adventure and you come home recaharged, happy and learned a bit more. I am talking about my own personal experiences travelling both with organised travel packages and on my own. – Ross Galan – NLP Spiritual Life Coach

  4. Pat
    January 8, 2013, 11:58 am

    I was a confirmed independent traveler until I had kids. Then I decided that the logistics were getting in the way of actually enjoying the trip and enjoying my family. So we tried an Adventures By Disney trip–and then two more. And they won’t be our last.

    ABD gives detailed information on what you will be seeing and doing before you book. They put together terrific packages of activities, often things that you simply couldn’t do on your own or wouldn’t think of. And every single detail is taken care of.

    (Gawd, does this sound like an ad? It’s not. We’ve just had three really fun trips.)

    There are places where I wouldn’t choose an organized tour because I want to be able to see them and show them to my kids “my way.” But I am now officially over my previous anti-packaged tour snobbery.