The two most frequent travel questions I am asked are as follows:
- How can I make travel affordable?
- Planning a trip is stressful, how can I make it easy?
The answer to this question is a simple one: escorted travel.
Now, before the young folks start rolling their eyes at me, hear me out. Companies like Contiki have been around for decades, making escorted travel easy, affordable, and most importantly, catered towards young people! This company only allows travelers ages 18-35 on their tours, meaning that you don’t have to worry about being outcast or judged due to your age and travel habits.
On the other side of the coin, there are companies who do not have age restrictions. I recently went on a trip with a company called Trafalgar, and I was the second youngest in the group (Next only to my sister). There were people of all ages, but I would be doing my readers a disservice if I failed to mention that the average age on these tours is early 50’s. However, I honestly had the best experience and I know that I could not have seen as much as I did in just 10 days.
Let’s talk about the inclusions. Most escorted travel companies include the following:
- Some meals. These are usually all breakfasts, and some lunches and dinners. It’s a great way to save money, and it’s convenient.
- Accommodations. Companies like Contiki even occasionally use hostels as a way to keep prices low for young, budget travelers. The company typically has a contract with local hotels, meaning that you won’t get these places for the same price that they can.
- On-trip transportation. This is huge. Companies provide all of your transportation from the airport, to your hotel, to all of your included and optional activities. No more taking a taxi and praying that you’re at the right train/bus station! Not to mention, nearly all coaches have air conditioning, wifi, and charging ports. Some companies even use rail transport as an alternative to motor coaches.
- Included Sightseeing. Most people think that these kinds of vacations are 100% escorted all of the time, but that is simply not the case! Usually, companies will include the major must-sees (Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, Parthenon & Acropolis, etc.) and then let you spend the rest of the day at leisure. You usually get to skip the lines at these attractions as well!
- A Travel Director. These people are saints, let me tell you. As your fearless leader, your travel director typically meets you at your first hotel upon arrival, and will stay with you through every photo stop, every bathroom break, and every city until your vacation ends. Trust me, they’ll save your life! With insider tips on what to do, where to shop, and where to eat, these people know their destinations like the back of their hand, and can give you context and history that you never knew you needed. However, these people do give you plenty of personal space, so don’t live in fear of being suffocated by your host. They like their space as much as you like yours! The biggest thing they offer is peace of mind, when one of my travel companions fell ill with pneumonia, our travel director took her to the hospital, translated for her, and helped her set up accommodations where she could rest and heal before making her journey home. You never know what can happen, and it’s comforting to have boots on the ground with resources to aid in any emergency.
- Local Specialists: Most cities and countries have laws stating that a locally accredited person must give tours of local landmarks (i.e someone from Paris giving a tour of the Eiffel Tower). Not only does this give you AND your Travel Director a break from one another, but it also gives you a local’s perspective on the history and culture of your destination.
- Optional Experiences! There’s no worse feeling than feeling like you have to do something that you don’t want to do, just because you already paid for it. Why visit the Jameson Distillery if you don’t drink? Most companies include the must-sees on their itinerary, and then have optional excursions or tours that are in addition to the scheduled itinerary. So, if you want to go throw back some Jameson, just pay the fee and go with the rest of the group who also wants to! If you don’t, you can hang back at a local pub or go see something else, and save your spending money. For example, in France, I had no desire to see how perfume is made (I sneeze really easily, okay!). So, I kept my money, and decided to wander the streets of the cute little French Town of Eze, while others made their own perfume. I saved my money, and I wasn’t forced to do something that didn’t interest me. You get the concept.
- Local Surprises & Experiences. When I traveled with Trafalgar, we stopped for dinner with this incredible French woman named, Beatriz. Not only did she invite us onto her farm and into her home, but she cooked the entire group a delicious French Meal! I’m a vegetarian, and she made me the most incredible goat cheese gnocchi that even the carnivores envied. I would have never had the opportunity to meet Beatriz or visit her adorable Provincial French farm had I not traveled with Trafalgar. This is an experience that Trafalgar offers on every tour called, “Be My Guest” and it is unique to the company, however other companies have similar options. This made my stay in France all the more special, and I treasure the time I spent with her. (pictured below)
I think you all are beginning to see the value in escorted travel. You get much more free time than many realize, and you constantly have access to a person with insider knowledge on the destination you’re visiting. This isn’t to say that you can’t do it on your own, however, many that participate in escorted vacations, leave with the confidence that they could then visit these destinations solo in the future. I traveled Spain and Portugal solo, and as a student, I didn’t have a lot of time to research the destination. Consequently, I missed so much and feel like I need to go back already. Plus, you won’t find a better deal for your money. Many of these companies will even include the cost per day in their itineraries. Reach out to your travel agent (hopefully it’s me!) to see what kinds of deals and benefits they can get you on escorted travel. Travel agents are always the first to know when a vendor is having a promotion. So, talk to your travel agent about scheduling your escorted vacation today!
(Mood after seeing *and eating* everything from Paris to Barcelona in just 10 days!)