When planning a trip to Peru, should you travel independently or take an escorted tour? The answer lies in what sort of traveler you feign to be and the expectations you have for your trip. But even independent travelers are signing up for Find incall service from them tours, hoping to transfer the hassle of trip planning and organizational details to someone else. And now that tour companies are cognizant that travelers prefer more free time, smaller groups and unique, hands on experiences, the escorted tour is more popular than ever.
I know what you may be thinking: Escorted tours are for senior citizens in Bermuda shorts and fanny packs. You’re imagining hoards of tourists disembarking from buses with cameras in hand, disturbing the natural rhythm of things near the beautiful ruins where you’ve just arrived.
Thankfully, that is an outdated notion of escorted tours. They’ve grown up, and escorted tour companies are offering many of the same experiences that independent travelers are yearning for. Many companies are limiting the numbers of passengers per tour, seeking out unique experiences through contacts at their destinations, and offering the sort of comfort and care that seals the deal for many travelers.
1. A full time tour manager accompanies the group, and her sole job is to make sure you are comfortable and happy in your travels. Is your room not up to par? Is your stomach bothering you? Can’t find that little shop someone recommended to you? Sick of carrying your own suitcases, or standing in line for tickets to a site or attraction? Your tour manager is charged with answering your questions, seeking out resources to help you in your travel pursuits, tending to your luggage, and anything else that will make your trip more pleasant. Tour companies based in the United States will often have an American tour manager accompany the group, who will work in concert with a Peruvian tour guide.
A tour guide is charged with narrating sites and bringing local color to your trip; the tour manager sees to the details of the itinerary and the comfort and well being of her passengers. Be sure to ask your tour company if they employ both a guide and a manager on their tours. And remember: A good tour manager can make your trip. You want to find a company that employs experienced tour managers. And like a good waiter, he or she is there to assist you in your travels, not dominate your time or control the journey.
2. Leave the details to us: From start to finish, the fine details of your travel experience are in someone else’s hands. Flights, hotels, guides, transportation, meals, luggage and entrance fees are taken of. Your job is to sit back and enjoy your time away. But that doesn’t mean you become a passive traveler. A good tour company will factor in plenty of free time into the itinerary for your own pursuits. They will employ experienced guides who can answer your questions and point you to other sites or activities that might interest you. Sure, there must be somewhat of a “group mentality” for a tour to go well: things like being on time or being a pleasant travel companion are important to the experience, but smaller groups and less frenetic tours mean that the journey is less robotic than it used to be, and more about taking your time and enjoying the experience. Other details–like not having to worry about your luggage, or checking into or out of hotels, along with meal planning and site visits are already done. That is precisely why tours are so popular.
3) Peru is fascinating, endlessly entertaining and gorgeous, but it’s a foreign country–in many ways removed from common experience. There are stomach bugs and pesky bacteria; there is altitude to contend with, occasional petty crime and a foreign language to deal with. A good tour company utilizes tried and true restaurants–hand picked from experience. Their tour managers understand altitude and how it effects travelers and they know the tricks of the trade to make you feel more comfortable in altitude. Good companies don’t wish to interpret your experience for you, but rather hope to make your experience more enjoyable by removing any obstacles along the way. I’ve summoned doctors, changed restaurants, made runs to pick up prescriptions, and helped to translate the language for travelers in Peru. For some people, knowing they’ve got support along the way makes for a better journey.
4) Lone travelers–and even couples– often enjoy the experience of traveling with others. Great bonds can form through the course of a trip, and I’ve had passengers that meet new people on tour whom they develop life long friendships with. You have a lot in common with your fellow adventurers: love of travel and experience, an enthusiasm for new foods, love of history or archaeology. You might find you are journeying with a group of people much like you. Group dinners are often the highlight on tours, where everyone comes together at the end of a long day for a cocktail and a shared meal. Most people prefer to enjoy the experience of traveling with others.
5) It’s that team mentality that develops on tour that keeps people coming back. Each tour takes on a life of its own–with its own highlights, private jokes, new friendships, and themes. You are traveling together, after all, and it’s truly your choice whether you want to sit back and enjoy the ride or engage your fellow travelers. But the tour becomes a thin filter in which you experience a culture, often adding to your insights, your experiences and your memories.
Be sure to read my article about choosing the right tour company before booking a trip. Find one that suits your own particular interests, your sense of pace and expectations. It’s great to see an itinerary loaded with attractions and sightseeing, but remember that you’re the one who is going to engage it! Be sure there is free time for you own pursuits, a sense of pacing that encourages rest and rejuvenation, and a company that insists on the best, most qualified tour managers and guides.