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.
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.”
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:
- Thomson Family Adventures
- Tauck Bridges
- Collette Family Vacations
- Abercrombie & Kent
- Adventures by Disney
- Lindblad Expeditions (in partnership with National Geographic Expeditions)
- Smithsonian Journeys
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
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.