For many of us, travel is one of life's pleasures. Seeing new places, meeting interesting people and collecting wonderful memories are just some of the benefits.
But as we get older, the idea of traipsing around Europe with a backpack and staying in hostels becomes less appealing. In fact, it's sort of nice when someone else does the planning, and that's why the organized tour is such draw. With the transportation, lodging, food and itinerary planned, all you have to do is pack and get on board, right?
Well, yes and no. The logistics are taken care of but to really be satisfied with a tour, you'll need to do some research before you book. How much money will it cost beyond the advertised rate? How much walking can you do? Do you need special medical attention? Do you love the itinerary? How many people will be with the group? What is included as far as meals, transportation and airfare? You'll have other questions, too.
Tours aren't for everyone.
If you like to strike out on your own or fancy a vacation where your nose is buried in a book most of the time, you might not be happy with a highly scheduled tour with 40 new "friends." However, there are touring companies that make the travel and accommodation arrangements and then get out of the way.
European specialist Untours (untours.com) offers this service and makes sure you have a contact in each town you visit if you need help.
But if you find your experience enhanced by being with a group and a knowledgeable guide, plus you enjoy meeting new people, a tour is probably right for you. Tours are also popular with single travelers who want to go but just don't want to go alone.
By coincidence, I was on a Canadian train trip in July with a tour group from Ann's Special Events in Gainesville. On that trip and during a subsequent follow-up interview, owner and chief tour guide Ann Hudson shared her thoughts on what travelers should know before they book.
What's the main attraction for tours?
Safety in numbers. Group rates. When something goes wrong, simply look to the tour leader to resolve the problems.
The best tour leaders are ones that can punt. For example, if the restaurant where the group has a reservation closes for good before you get there, the tour leader will find a different restaurant.
If the flight is delayed, the tour leader will take care of it, one way or another.
Also, many people don't realize there are events and special tours the tour company can arrange that the general public cannot participate in. For instance, Fort Jackson in Savannah, Ga., can be rented, complete with two Civil War uniformed guys who shoot off a cannon and serve dinner in the gun powder room, catered by Johnny Harris restaurant.
Sometimes a tour will get you into a museum during a time when it's closed to the public.
How can you find a tour that meshes with your travel personality?
Several tour companies specialize in, for example, bicycle tours or walking tours. Some use an activity level indication so you don't book a tour that you cannot physically be comfortable with.
It's important to read over the itinerary so see if this tour fits your personality. Early morning departures for a person who likes to sleep in may not fit. If you easily get seasick, then a whale watching trip may not be for you.
From your experience, what itineraries appeal most to over-50 travelers?
Itineraries that present unique experiences and opportunities to learn things appeal to people over 50.
Some like to gamble, but to me, that's a whole different crowd. Cruises, steamboat trips and train rides appeal to most people.
What are some questions that should be asked before booking a tour?
If the tour company is Florida-based, make sure they have a seller of travel registration number from the State of Florida. This will protect you from fraud.
Ask about what all is included and what is not included. If free time to explore is important to you, ask how much time you would have to go off on your own.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.