Thursday, November 22, 2007
To Tour or Not to Tour
First off, I’ve not used a travel agent; I’ve had bad luck with them. They have trouble understanding I don’t want the local Hilton but something a bit lower on the food chain. They are so used to suggesting the better things of travel. When I did the first Indian trip, I was told by several agents that Americans couldn't manage the average Indian hotel; we must have a four star hotel. Not true! We, my husband and I, did local hotels, several where we were the only Westerners. We used a local Indian agent to help us with our itinerary, which had a small relationship to standard itineraries. It worked.
I do book tours, particularly since I’m now on my own. I look for tours that are as untourlike as possible, that use local lodgings, feature unique experiences and give me time to wander on my own. I want small groups. Though I have and still do travel some independently, there are areas where I feel more comfortable with the support of a group, even if it’s only three or four of us, as has occurred.
Obviously, I consider price, professional affiliations, and recommendations. I collect brochures, read travel books , search newspapers and the net. I have run into tour groups housed at hotels where I’ve been. and, then, subsequently booked with them. As a single, I look for tours that do not charge extra for accommodation but allow for a room share.
Two American firms I have used were General Tours hosted tour program and Rick Steves’ Bed-and-Breakfast tour (now called Bus-Plus, I believe). But for the most part, I have traveled with British Budget companies: Explore, Imaginative Traveler and Exodus. I also used an Australian firm: Peregrine. All of these have been booked through Adventure Company in Emeryville (www.adventurecompany.com) whose representatives have been superb.
It was the General Tours’ Thailand trip that included an hour’s conversation with a Buddhist monk; it was Rick Steves’ tour that introduced me to Fado; it was Imaginative Traveler that had me biking around the Yangshu China countryside; it was Explore that had me traipsing down an Albanian river to reach a barbeque site; it was Peregrine that had me searching all over Peshawar to find the garage where trucks were decorated - some of this I could have done on my own perhaps, but it could have been more complicated.
Another approach I’ve taken is contacting a local travel representative. I did this for travels in China, Egypt, Nepal, Tibet and India. Some were recommended through International Travel News, some through the internet and some via Lets Go, Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. I’ve had no problems, except for a financial misunderstanding with the Indian firm which resulted in duplicate payment for a Nepalese guide. Apparently, the right hand didn’t talk with the left. If I use them again - which I would - I have a credit outstanding.
Overall, whether it is tour or independent travel depends on you, the country and the tour. You have to decide for yourself. For me, there are times the idea of some socialization and structure seems great; at other times, I’d rather do it by myself, thank you. I admit, when there were two of us,I did more independent travel than now, when I am one. But it was early on and we were just beginning our overseas travels and going to less challenging places. Now, I keep pushing the envelope. But the main thing: keep traveling!