A few years ago I took a trip to London, and was having one of those perfectly idyllic vacation days. Exploring the elegant streets of Kensington, I soaked up the city's unique blend of the aristocratic and the edgy and finally got accustomed to looking to the right before crossing a street. I stopped off at a geranium fringed pub for a drink, and after polishing off the last gulp of my pint of traditional bitter, I headed out to the Cabinet War Rooms, the bunker where Sir Winston Churchill directed British efforts during World War II. As something of a history buff, I was really looking forward to this stop on my trip. But as I eagerly approached the museum, I noticed that it was deadly quiet. I nervously checked the entrance times. Last admission was at 5:00; my watch read 5:10. I'd missed my chance.
How many times has something like this happened to you? In spite of all our best-laid plans, things just sometimes don't work out. We chalk it up to experience, telling ourselves it's all part of the adventure-but it doesn't have to be. Sure, winging it has its charms, but as I have learned, a guided tour cannot be beat when it comes to getting the most out of any destination. Whether it's helpful restaurant suggestions, having my luggage taken care of, or a guide whisking me to the front of the line and telling me the stories behind the stories at Versailles, guided vacations have made my worldwide wanderings exciting for all the right reasons.
Firstly, I find that guided vacations can actually save quite a bit of money. After all, mishaps usually end up costing extra money- last-minute hotel rooms at higher rates, any-port-in-a-storm restaurants that are over-budget. But with a tour guide on my side caring for the particulars, I've calculated that I can save as much as 40% off the costs of doing everything myself.
More importantly, I simply get much, much more out of every location I visit on a guided vacation. Think about it: we're all experts about our hometowns. I know which bakery has the best bread, a million shortcuts between various points A and B, and the couple who own the bookstore up at the corner. A guided vacations brings that same kind of expertise to a vacation, eliminating the guesswork. Not too long ago, I took a guided vacation of the Scottish Highlands. As our guide, Claire, spoke, beautiful hillsides where sheep grazed suddenly transformed into fascinating battlefields where William Wallace staged fights for independence. Stately rock formations looming in the distance became mystical places of pilgrimage for ancient Druids. Even one bed-and-breakfast where we stayed had once been taken over by marauding Vikings. Scotland's scenery certainly speaks for itself, but Claire's stories of history and folklore added a whole other dimension that I could never have received from a guidebook.
Plus, guided vacations provide unique opportunities for camaraderie with fellow travelers from all over the world. In Scotland, my wife and I befriended a couple from Australia who made children's toys, a man who was one of the top film producers in India, and a couple of college students from Madrid. Having new friends to share these new experiences with added a whole new dimension to our trip we otherwise would have missed out on. In fact, we still keep in touch with some of them, and are planning a tour of Greece with the Australian couple for next fall.
Whether it's savings, an expanded view of the sights and sounds of a new locale, or a new found sense of camaraderie, guided vacations sidestep all that can go wrong and make everything else go right. Your excursion is free of stress and complication, leaving you open to simply escape, explore and experience. After all, isn't that what travel is all about?