Five Best Tips To Maximize and Personalize Your Group Tour or Travel to Anywhere in the World After COVID

BC (Before Covid) travel was a priority in our lives, and now, renewing our passion and reviewing previous travel posts to refresh my recollection for ideas, I discovered this blog post and have updated it for AC (I think you now what this means).

PopPop and I consider ourselves world travelers. After all, we have conquered all the wonders of the world on every world list, except two in dangerous areas of the world and those that no longer exist. We have done so on group tours, with private guides, or totally on our own created itineraries.  We have done many multigenerational trips using the tips below.  See the travel link on the blog, and for example, blog post, “Best London Itinerary With Children and Grandchildren Or As A Multi Generational Vacation,” which post I am using for a second time, years after the first, with our next youngest grandchildren for their first trip to Europe, adapting the days and activities to their specific interests, all of which I surprised even myself as how inclusive it is.

For the last three years, we have just looked at our pictures and videos of past travel and coveted the trips we cancelled due to COVID.  Now, it is time to travel again.  After all, prices are good now to entice us to travel.  See, “Cruise fares are suddenly cheap as ships resume sailing with full capacity. But you’d better hurry,” by Ron Hurtibise, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 10, 2022.  

PopPop says, for the last forty years, I have spent more time planning than actually on our trips. I agree. I explore options, keep “notes” folders on my IPhone on different areas of interest in the world, and keep articles about the areas, things to do, specialty things, including restaurants and festivals. I make lists of what we would want to experience in each area of the world.

I compare different tours for each location. This is an excellent and simple way to see what there is to see in each area, prioritized by the specialists. 

If the location is somewhat dangerous, I pick Abercrombie & Kent, with whom we experienced India and the Taj Mahal, Africa, and Egypt. As safety and security are priorities for A & K, we can enjoy exotic locations, albeit at a premium cost, but with the ease of knowing they have great security and the ability to rescue us from any situation. Actually, we were in New Delhi, India, during terrorist explosions there, and A & K was superb as I knew they would be.

For a resort vacation, I select differently, as luxury, beauty and location are of great importance. Yes, check out the Amangiri in Utah, consistently listed as the best hotel in the United States. It was amazing and in such great proximity to national parks and magnificent Antelope Canyon.  See more about how to justify fitting in the Amangiri into a national parks vacation below.

And, no, we do not always select the most expensive alternatives, but those appropriate to the destination. For Cuba, we used Gate 1 Travel, which provided the least expensive alternative to visit Havana, and it was an outstanding experience.

Whatever the location and however we experience the location, there are tips I apply when considering taking a group tour or planning a vacation. Here are the five best tips.

NO TOUR IS PERFECT BUT YOU CAN SUPPLEMENT THE TOUR.

Tours include free time. I outline the free time and determine what is missing for our interests and book it on our own. PopPop and I love modern art so I will explore if there is a modern art Museum and opening hours. I map it from our hotel or from where the tour can leave us for the free afternoon. I do this for Jewish tours, which we like, and book Jewish tour guides for the free afternoon. I have found Christian tours for others. If there is an extraordinary site or artist or architect, such as Palladio in Veneto, Italy, I will book a specialty tour guide or group tour to supplement.

TripAdvisor is a great resource for identifying such that would fall into your interest, but in their website remodel, it requires a bit of independent research on the web to actually be able to make independent contact with private guides and private day tour companies without booking through TripAdvisor at an additional premium now.  I read the tour guide reviews to get the full name of the guide, put the name and location into google, and have been lucky to be able to find an email address for the private guide, independent of TripAdvisor.  Comparing the price I was quoted directly from the private guide, I know TripAdvisor does charge a premium to book through their website.  I like communicating directly with the guides, and have found them professional and consistently great, especially after previewing their wonderful reviews on TripAdvisor.  The premium is not great, if you are lazy.

NO HOTEL OR HOTEL ROOM IS PERFECT BUT YOU CAN UPGRADE IT

Sometimes the hotel on the tour is not the best. Sometimes, even on luxury tours, the best class of rooms are not booked for the group.  When we went to Cuba, the hotel the tour was staying in was awful.  It was not until we were there, did I notice a Four Points Sheraton next door.  Now when one hotel is awful on a tour according to TripAdvisor or Google reviews, I research whether there is a nearby hotel where I can book independently and whether it makes sense to add this cost to take the tour itself.  Also, sometimes the stay is one night where you arrive late and leave early the next morning.  Think about how much time you are going to be in the room and whether it really matters that the hotel or room is awful for one night of a two week tour.

On the other hand, if the trip is going to a place that you are going to see once in your lifetime and the hotel does have rooms that take advantage of the view or location and that is meaningful to you, you can upgrade the room listed in the tour at varying costs.  You can do this directly with the tour company for higher grade tours and better tour companies. A & K and American Express Travel will do this for you. Gate 1 Travel will upgrade for you on their Discovery or Small Group tours, but not their standard or classic lower priced tours.  Even so, with the internet, it is easy to contact the hotel directly by email and ask for a complimentary upgrade (which some have given) or whether there is a charge for an upgrade.  Every hotel has given me a reasonable upgrade price for the category of room I seek when I have contacted them directly, or I have negotiated a price lower than they quoted and they accepted it!

If the hotel is a resort or in a resort area, or the tour stays several days in one hotel, you may consider looking at the website for additional offers for rooms.  Upgrading is an art, and one must consider all the alternatives, the most important being, how much time you are actually going to spend in the room and is it worth the cost to upgrade.

NO ITINERARY IS PERFECT BUT YOU CAN SUPPLEMENT IT

After reviewing all tours in the location for their itineraries, I list what we want to do the most. Yes, you can supplement with private guides or local tours in the free time allotted, but you can also do two tours back to back or pick up an add on.  Sometimes, the best tour has too little time in what you consider the best location.  Remember, that tour companies will let you come early and stay later, giving you a per diem price to do so.  Usually, the airfare package can be adjusted for you to do so.  Also, you can pick a pre trip or post trip that they offer on another tour package and ask if they will add it to your tour package.  We did this with our South Africa tour with Abercrombie & Kent, adding a Namibia package easily that was an add on package to another tour we were not interested in.

When we were planning to visit national parks in Arizona and Utah, we came across the Amangiri, listed as the number one hotel in the United States on many travel lists.  I love Aman hotels.  They are small, luxurious and seven star.  Service and amenities are beyond your comprehension, as are their locations and suites and extras.  Staying in or near a national park is a treat and wonderful, and mostly very inexpensive.  PopPop laughs at me, but I add up the cost of all the rooms on the trip near the national parks, staying at low cost accommodations every night, then add one night, actually 24 hours, at the Aman, and divide by the total number of nights.  One night at the Aman is outrageous in cost, but they let you check in at 9 am and even give you cocktails or afternoon tea before they let you leave the next early evening.  They make you feel as you are a guest in a private home, rather than in a luxury and exclusive hotel. You can experience luxury at its finest, with most everything included in the crazy expensive price.  We actually reluctantly left the Amangiri to see Antelope Canyon as it was close and easy, but would not be gone more than two hours as not to miss experiencing the Amangiri.  Look at pictures of the pool area and suites, and you will understand how special this addition of one night of luxury can enhance seeing the national parks in the area, staying in or near the parks in inexpensive accommodations, if you can justify the one night expenditure to yourself!  One must rest in between touring!

NO ITINERARY IS PERFECT BUT YOU CAN SKIP IT

I know you have spent good money on your tour.  However, you CAN skip something that does not interest you and substitute something else on your own as above.  Sometimes you just do not feel like getting out of bed one day.  Give yourself permission to skip something. Go to a spa. Go to the beach.

Sometimes the included dinners and restaurants are not of your liking.  I make a list of a few restaurants near the hotel so we can just leave the included dinner and go on our own, or just skip the ever included buffet.  Of course, I list all the bakeries and ice cream places near the hotel too.  A great dessert can sometimes make up for a mediocre dinner.

YOU CAN COPY THE TOUR COMPANY ITINERARIES AND DO YOUR OWN ITINERARY WITH PRIVATE GUIDES

With Croatia, our first planned trip was with a private guide.  I copied bits and pieces of tours and put together an itinerary that was more to our liking.  It had to be cancelled.  When we were ready to explore going again, the Gate 1 Travel tour had more of what we wanted to see included in the itinerary than the private guide felt he could cover.  We decided that Gate 1 Travel has fabulous guides, seasoned fellow travelers who are kind and considerate, and a maximum of 22 in a Discovery tour was worth seeing everything that we wanted to see.  We found the same with Sicily and Malta with Gate 1 before the pandemic hit and the trip was outstanding and very reasonably priced. Unfortunately, the second Croatia trip was cancelled due to COVID.  We are apprehensive to try to book Croatia a third time.

Yes, we are fans of Gate 1 Travel.  As Boomers, we are getting lazy, and we can be lazy and not do everything ourselves at a better and very competitive price for the quality of tour and guides, using the tips above to make the trip personalized and perfect for us.

Either way, private or tour, please take advantage of travel while you are young to “young old,” which GG Lee (Great grandmother) taught us is age 84.  “Old, old,” beyond age 84, according to GG, brings challenges, other than COVID, that make travel too difficult. 

As we learned these recent years, we never know when a pandemic, health or other life challenges interfere with taking vacations, or prohibit further vacations and any travel. Go! While you can! Vacations are good for health and longevity and for bringing us

Joy,

Mema

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