I’ve always been more of a “do-it-yourself” traveler. The idea of a guided tour group immediately made me imagine a flag-yielding guide herding swarms of fanny-pack wearing tourists jockeying for the best photo-op. Not the authentic, exciting travel experience I prefer.
However, since starting Catherine Parkin Travel, I’ve learned so much more about small group tours and decided I needed to try one for myself.
I traveled with this incredible company on a hiking adventure through the Italian Dolomites and had the most incredible experience.
So forget what you think you know about small group tours. I’m dispelling seven myths (some even I believed!) below.
1. Group tours = Only for 85+
The demographics of small group tours are getting younger and younger, especially on the active itineraries like I did. When you work with a travel advisor to find a tour that matches your interests, you will be surrounded with like-minded travelers. The average age in my group was a few years older than me, but we all enjoyed active travel. And even those that had a decade – or two – on me were in fabulous shape. The program offered adventures for all levels, so some days travelers chose an extremely challenging hike to a summit and others opted to stay in town and shop or just to enjoy the truly spectacular hotels.
2. Group Travel is only for Adults
Now that we’ve cleared up that small group tours aren’t strictly for the elderly, let’s take it a step further and get the whole family involved! Many of my top tour providers have incredible family travel itineraries. And no, this isn’t just a normal itinerary with a babysitter playing movie after movie for the kids. These companies expand the itineraries and have a few more people in the group to make it interesting for everyone. Imagine dancing with your daughter in a grand palace in Europe. Or white-water rafting as a family in Alaska. These experiences create memories that last longer than any birthday or holiday gift will.
3. Tours are Monotonous
Now this myth takes me back to my personal vision of group tours – the leader with a flag or umbrella waving a group through crowds and sharing the same standard information you could get with a pre-programmed audio guide. We’ve seen these herds in front of the Mona Lisa, Lincoln Memorial, Buckingham Palace…all the hot spots. Well forget that. The companies I work with are specialized in their destinations and have exclusive access, like taking the group to the Sistine Chapel after-hours. On my trip, Backroads surprised us with an 8-course dinner with wine pairings at a 2 Michelin Star restaurant – the perfect end to our hiking trip!
4. Uninspiring Itineraries
The itineraries on the small group tours aren’t just hitting the highlights with the rest of the tourists. You can choose one based on your interests and things you really love to do. We love outdoors + food and wine, and we got to hike and then enjoy wine tastings at beautiful castles (see photos above). Whether its food and wine, biking, wildlife, or anything in between, I can help you find an itinerary that will deepen your experience because it includes activities you love!
5. I can plan it cheaper
This myth stretches beyond just small group tours but also using a travel advisor (I dispelled that part here). But for now, let’s focus on the tours. If you price it out, you might be able to get it cheaper than the tour rate (but do keep in mind you can’t access contracted rates and perks that add value on your own). However what people overlook are the intangibles…
The guide who explains that although you can, most Italians wouldn’t dream of having a cappuccino after 11 AM.
The multitude of turns I didn’t miss while hiking because someone was with me and providing me step by step instructions (literally would have been lost so many times!).
The opportunity not only to dine at the Michelin star restaurant but to get a tour of the kitchen and a special tasting where the chef explains how he came up with the dish!
A guide’s insider knowledge and exclusive access is just about impossible to get on your own, no matter how hard you Google. Many people on my trip had traveled with Backroads multiple times… if it was so easy to recreate, why would they come back again and again?
6. Traveling with a group is stressful
You may think getting around with more than your immediate family is overwhelming, but I found it to be just the opposite. Professional travel advisors know that even the most carefully planned itinerary can have hiccups when life – travel delays, weather issues, you name it – happens. The logistics involved in a trip are extensive. Transfers, luggage, directions, tips, payments, check-in, check-out, and more can cause quite the headache. But with the group tour, there is someone with you taking care of all that and ready to answer any questions. Often, you don’t even have to worry about paying because it is included. You can fully enjoy the trip and have peace of mind that you’re taken care of!
7. You don’t need a travel advisor for a small group tour
I’ve shared all the reasons why a small group tour is not what you think, so where does my role as a travel advisor come in? Helping you choose the right tour and tour provider. Your leisure time is one of your most precious – and nonrenewable – resources, and I want to make sure you get the most out of your vacation.
The benefits I named come from experienced, well-connected travel partners… not just the first thing that comes up in a Google search because one company does more marketing than another. I’ll work with you to understand your budget, preferences, travel style, and more, and then research options that work with you. I have personal contacts at the top companies and work with them to determine if they’re the right match. In addition to the tour, I can arrange pre- or post-trip experiences, flights, transfers, and more to assure the entire experience is seamless.