When I think of group travel, the first thing that comes to my mind is a busload of silver-haired matriarchs headed to Branson, Missouri. You know, crowded buses, truckstop restroom breaks, and quite likely a fair amount of snoring.
Furthermore, the idea that this baby boomer traveler would consider any form of group travel for an international trip was simply out of the question. I'm far too independent, would prefer to have my own schedule, I love to experience world history when traveling, and I have little patience for some of the drama that I envisioned might happen when you throw a bunch of people together overseas.
Therefore, when Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) called to see if we might like to experience one of their new Connections journeys, my immediate response was, "no thanks". However, Carol fought back by reminding me that A&K is quite likely the world's foremost luxury travel tour provider, had a new program that offered a fair amount of free time, and would save her literally months of planning, I easily succumbed to her batting eyelashes. (Full disclosure: Abercrombie & Kent graciously covered our travel costs in this case.)
Having recently returned from a week in Spain with A&K, I thought I might share with you the pros and cons of group travel from our first group travel experience:
- For those of you who detest planning what to do, where to go, where to eat, and where to stay, then group travel offers you little or no planning.
- When traveling internationally, a whole host of intricacies come into play as you consider language barriers, currency exchange, directions, local customs, or even something as simple as reading a menu. With a travel director in charge, international travel challenges are removed.
- A good group travel company will get you to the best sites, have you staying in the best hotels, bypassing long lines, eating at the best restaurants, with the knowledge of a local and leaving you with enjoyment instead of stress.
- Single travelers are likely to greatly enjoy the benefits of group travel. It will remove a great deal of the fear and stress that single travelers often experience.
- You'll make some new life-long friends.
- For some of you, starting out promptly at 8:30 in the morning might not be your cup of tea. Generally speaking, with group travel, you are going to live by a fairly rigid, fixed schedule. Making changes with large groups of people is very difficult and therefore not likely. Therefore, spontaneity is a foreign language with this type of travel.
- Some group travel companies have quite large groups. I don't know about you, but I have no interest in traveling in a pack of 60 people. Nope. Not going to do it.
- With group travel, you're very likely to spend some time in a bus. It's the most practical way to move a group of people around tourist attractions. However, long distances might be covered by train or even an airplane. I get motion sickness, so I was quick to stake my territory in the front seat of the bus to prevent any problems.
- Your group may contain a drama queen who is constantly disrupting your travel experience.
- The trip doesn't live up to the travel brochure and your hotel has bed bugs, the food in the scheduled restaurants is horrible, you can never hear your travel guide because there are 40 people all vying to get close enough to hear, and to top it off, your luggage has been lost for three days.
Thankfully, our first experience was absolutely delightful.
We enjoyed fantastic luxury hotels, ate were the locals prefer to eat, never stood in a line, enjoyed unbelievably qualified tour guides, traveled in a small group of 12 people, had generally 3-4 hours of free time each day (and a local guide to help us decide what to do), never had to give a moments thought about the logistics of getting from point A to point B, and quite literally had more opportunity to immerse ourselves in the local culture at a price that I would have been hard pressed to duplicate on my own.
Now, I realize that not all group travel companies are equal. You certainly need to do your homework and look for the recommendations of folks who have used the company before. However, having said that, and while not willing to give up on my independent travel, I'm quite certain that we'll consider another international group travel experience in the future.
Our first experience was simply brilliant, as one of our new British friends was quite fond of saying.
How about you? Have you any group travel experience? Would you consider group travel?
David and Carol Porter are contributors on the AARP blog, blog regularly at theroamingboomers.com and keep us updated on their travels via their Facebook and Twitter accounts.