“He who has led you so far will guide you further.”
Rumi

Reasons to Include Guided Tours in Long-Term Travel Plans

Myths about Escorted and Guided Tours

I am amazed at how often I meet Fifty-Plus Nomads who believe that multi-day escorted and guided tours are not for them. They have mistaken ideas of multi-day escorted or guided tours that keep them from considering experiences they would love. 

These Fifty Plus Nomads imagine that most escorted or guided multi-day tours: 

  • Are made of seniors. 
  • Contain tourists who complain that things do not function like their home country. 
  • Travel around in large buses (40 to 60 people)  
  • Spend an incredibly short time-usually just enough time to take a photo- in one place. 
  • Listen to guides who spout an extensive list of dreary facts, robotically delivered. 
  • Spend hours on a bus to get to the next destination without anything to do or see onboard the bus. 
  • Stay in non-descript international chain hotels. 
  • Eat at restaurants and attend bland, cliched events that do not reflect their destination. 

I never considered multi-day escorted or guided tours the wrong way to travel; however, I harbored some prejudices against group travel. These prejudices led me to believe that volunteering and learning vacations were the only way to experience another country authentically. 

Benefits of Great Guided Tours and Vacation Packages

Then I found that the myths about guided multi-day tours and vacation packages were no longer valid. With so much travel information and options a mouse click away, group travel companies have had to change by: 

  • Providing diverse activities and marketing to clients of different ages and backgrounds. 
  • Offering tours to all sized groups, including some small groups. 
  • Becoming more involved in people’s real lives and cultures in their destination. 
  • Offering itineraries visiting fewer sights for more extended periods, with less travel time between destinations than before.  
  • Making sure that their customers get good value for their money. Often tour activities rates are less expensive than if you booked them yourself. Tour operators negotiate cheaper rates to ensure service providers have a consistent stream of clients.  In addition, many independent travelers underestimate their total actual costs. Often, for example, they will budget for car rental costs but forget to factor in additional costs like fuel, parking, road tolls, and permit costs.  

My Experiences with Finding the Best Escorted and Guided Tours

I have seen the results of these changes with my own eyes. Since 2011, I have been on over forty multi-day tours and spent over a year participating in these tours. Multi-day tours and vacation packages offer options for a wide range of different personality types and interests. Every experience exceeded my expectations. 

The following is a list of my experiences finding the best guided multi-day tours that have defied the traditional stereotypes listed above: 

  • Tours and cruises tend to have more people over fifty than the population in general. However, they also have a more extensive range of age groups and cultural backgrounds than the stereotypes suggest. Most of my fellow tourists were well-educated, intelligent, and open to new cultures and adventures. (Interestingly, they also have an unusually high percentage of participants who were, or are, teachers). 
  • The guides are exceptionally patient, knowledgeable, and hard-working. They are experts at presenting relevant, detailed information about their destinations in a compelling and meaningful manner. Most are eager to answer questions and engage in an in-depth conversation about many topics, even if the subject is controversial. The guides are also very personable and care about the well-being of the tourists. 
  • On most tours, I have stayed in many small, locally owned hotels and some charming and unique upper-end lodgings. Besides, the meals often feature tasty, authentic local dishes and ingredients. 
  • Guided multi-day tours are available for hundreds of different interests and perspectives.
  • Most guided multi-day tours allow considerable free time to explore a destination independently. As a rule, you have one day free for every three or five days spent on the tour. You will also have one meal a day without the group. Some tour companies, like Overseas Adventure Tours, offer optional additional tours at reasonable costs during some of their free time. 

Benefits of Guided Multi-Day Tours 

  • Guided multi-day tours are available for a wide range of group sizes. (Some companies like Overseas Adventure Travel and Intrepid Tours limit their tours to twenty participants). I was on an Intrepid Tour of Turkey with only three other people; a Marina in Mexico tour in 2017 to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, with six other people; a Global Exchange Reality Tour of Haiti with eight participants in 2014. 
  • Some guided multi-day tours visit many places for short times while others explore one destination in depth. I have been on and enjoyed both tour types, including Caravan Tours in the Canadian Maritimes and Central America, which feature large buses (with 40-50 participants) visiting a new place every day. On the other hand, many of the Road Scholar tours I have taken have spent five or more days in the same place. 
  • Many, if not most multi-day tours have integrated many one-of-a-kind and culturally immersive experiences. Road Scholar tours include, for example, talks by professors and non-profit organization representatives, exclusive musical presentations with local artists, and visits to many unexpected places. (I have visited a coop market and organic farm in Vermont and a farm in the middle of Detroit).
  • Overseas Adventure and Intrepid travel effectively integrate local experiences into their activities through meals in locals’ homes and farms, market visits, trips on local buses, etc. 
  • Some of my favorite multi-day tours feature a specific theme or interest. These tours allow participants to see aspects of life in a destination that otherwise would be hard to experience. For example, on a Seasons of My Heart food tour, I visited humble homes in rural Oaxaca, Mexico, where locals cooked dishes with local ingredients. I also enjoyed excellent meals and discovering Susana Trilling’s fascinating biography. While on Global Exchange’s Reality Tours to Haiti and the US-Mexican border, I talked to local non-profit leaders, students, and government officials about these countries’ politics, economics, and daily lives. 
  • An excellent tour guide offers a chance to quickly see many parts of a country while learning about the place’s history, culture, and society. A well-designed multi-day tour is like taking a college-level course about your destination. Taking tours in different countries has given me an informal but precious course on cross-cultural similarities and differences and helped me develop a broader and better-informed worldview. (This is particularly true when I have traveled through a company with a solid educational focus like overseas adventure tours, road scholar, or intrepid travel). 
  • Many destinations (like Halong Bay in Vietnam, the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, the Serengeti in Tanzania, Machu Picchu in Peru, Antarctica, and Mount Everest) are considerably easier to access via an organized group tour than independently. 

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Paul Heller has been a lifelong avid traveler and language learner and teacher, Even as a child, he told Santa Claus that he wanted to visit all the children worldwide. At seven years old, Paul wanted to retire to Mexico. At eight, he memorized the name, capital, location, and some facts about every country worldwide. At twelve, he found a book "Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" and started developing his own itinerary for a future round-the-world trip. He remained obsessed with travel; after getting a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and working as an administrator, He spent his vacations going to different countries around the globe studying language, touring, and volunteering. In 1994, he quit his job and lived in Russia as a volunteer English instructor. He discovered that he loved teaching languages. In 2004, he decided to make a living out of his travels and founded a community of people who love to travel just like him. He developed 5 three-hour classes about living and traveling long-term worldwide which he taught in over 50 adult education programs throughout the US. After his parents passed, he realized his dream of traveling around the world; cruising and touring some of the most remote places like the North Atlantic, Patagonia, and Oceania; and learning new languages (he knows Spanish, Italian, French, and Russian). Paul encourages everyone to learn foreign languages. He knows that it can be frustrating and slow but that anyone can learn a language if they put in the work and, most importantly, learning a language is well worth the time and effort because it opens up a whole new set of people, ideas, and cultures. He is currently spending the next chapter of his life in Mérida, México. He is excited about using this blog and his classes and workshops to inspire and equip fellow Fifty Plus Nomads with the language, cultural, and psychological skills necessary to be successful and happy long-term travelers and expats over 50.

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