The Advantages of Group Travel
I have heard detractors say that they want to “travel like a local,” by staying in hostels, using public transportation exclusively, eating in non-tourist restaurants, shopping in local stores. All well and good if you speak the language and have a lot of free time. I really enjoy speaking to locals – if we can communicate and do not like to put my clients in an insulated, sound-proof bubble jostling with just other tourists at key tourist spots just to get that quick snapshot and then move on to the next spot. I would rather travel in the company of locals rather than travel like a local. There IS a difference!
- Whole travel is cheaper in a group.
- I select local guides who know local customs
- These guides can assist travelers in purchasing by telling how much things really cost (maybe in a store with better quality and lower price that is not associated with a tourist trap)
- You ride in a private coach and don’t have to worry about subway schedules, getting proper change for subways or buses, train delays, or taxi negotiations. This is very important when you are on a tight schedule.
- If you don’t want to go on a day tour, you can opt out.
- Let someone else worry about hotel bookings, figuring money exchanges, and other issues.
- Group tours can take care of special diets.
- There is less worry about cancelled flights or a bad hotel room. If a flight is delayed, the guide or local agent can plan for extra touring as an alternative.
- The guide can help find lost luggage or other personal stuff.
- The tour company will, on complaints, get rid of bad hotels or bad guides.
What about the fear that you will be the only solo traveler in the group? Most groups are a mix of couples, friends and solos. I can, if you agree, pair you up with someone else (same sex) whom I think will be compatible. That avoids having to pay single supplement fees or having someone with whom to share your experiences.
There is a good likelihood that I, Paul Chardoul, will be the oldest person in the group. But I play tennis three or four times a week and manage to stay in some sort of decent physical shape. So don’t worry about that. Some tours are more challenging than others, but I keep the macho stuff to a minimum – even though some of my clients like to climb to the top of everything as quickly as possible.
My groups have gotten to know each other as individuals and enjoy each others’ company in succeeding trips. Could it be “the more the merrier?” I attempt to keep my group size under 25 and I like to spend part of each day with each person (ably assisted by my wife, Connie).
Even though you would be a member of a group, there are no qualms if you choose to do your own thing for part of a trip. I build in enough “free time” so that the group does not become cloying or overwhelming. It is fun to strike out on your own with another individual or another couple in seeking out a dinner restaurant or a neighborhood that the group passed by too quickly during the day excursion.
Where do the individuals come from that develop into my groups? Travel With Chardoul began with a few close friends and some relatives. They invited others on future trips and the group that I call my Traveling Friends grew so that I was eventually able to incorporate into Travel With Chardoul, Inc.
Although I initially planned all the activities (all day activities, three meals a day, evening activities), based on the faculty-led college student study trips we conducted in Costa Rica and Guatemala and later my first China travel experience in 1986, this total “togetherness” had its limitations. Some of my clients chose not to eat three planned meals a day, others wanted to revisit a site they had seen earlier that day, some wanted to kick back and just sit at a café and do some people watching, some wanted to go to their hotel rooms and put their feet up and do a “light check,” and some wanted to work on their travel journals. I then reduced the number of planned and pre-paid meals, but I always pick a hotel that has breakfast. That way, I don’t have clients off trying to find something to eat for breakfast when I have a planned early morning activity. I determined after my second China trip in 1998 that going to restaurants three times a day consumed at minimum about five hours of the day!
Working with the very able travel agents of Dolphin Vacations, we are able to get some travel discounts using “packages” on hotel accommodations, ground transportation, travel insurance, and even some block air rates on occasion. Because we seldom enter and leave a country from the same airport, this complicates the air arrangements if you were to schedule it yourself. Dolphin Vacations has access to suppliers who can assist me in selecting hotels, ground transportation, and even allow me to interview our guides by email. This way, I can create a truly effective overall itinerary as well as detailed daytime activities that allow local guides to “show off” their city.
Because I work with Dolphin Vacations, an established travel agency that has world-wide connections with suppliers and travel insurance companies, I like to consider Travel With Chardoul, Inc. as a “hybrid” company: combining the best of a “brick and mortar” establishment with my primarily online planning endeavors. Dolphin Vacations is an advocate for my clients and will be there when we need it.
Have you priced the cost of a local guide for a day excursion for two people? Consider if that cost is amortized among 20 people. This is yet another distinct advantage of group travel.
More and more groups are using “whisperers” or relatively inconspicuous earpieces so that they don’t have to stand three feet away from the guide, who is speaking into a radio transmitter. This practice began on cruise shore excursions. As each group of a large overall tour is on a slightly different frequency, there is no mutual interference with other groups.
I try to minimize the number of hotel check-ins because of the time consumed and try to find hotels that are centrally located. This makes it easier for my clients to hop on a local bus or Metro to explore on their own during free time or for meals.
Do not assume that traveling with a group that it is going to be “bus prison, trapped with 25 others for two weeks.”
Imagine traveling on your own and Mother Nature flexes her muscles or there is a geopolitical “event.” You have to figure out how to get back home quickly. Group travel provides a safety net. I maintain daily communication with a “base” either in our host country or back in the United States which allows me to get additional information on any unplanned events and as a team, we can begin necessary planning to avoid an incident.
I have begun to develop a greater use of “experiential” travel. This includes private home visits for authentic home-cooked meals and a chance to talk with citizens in our host country to learn some of their local habits; visits to farms to see such events as herding sheep, making cheese, selecting the right leaves for tea, picking and drying coffee beans and cocoa beans; going to breweries, distilleries, and wineries; and even silk factories and olive presses.
My background in diplomatic history, international relations, as well as my Navy experience has given me an intuitive advantage over many. I have become very observant of changing conditions and can see historical and anthropologic trends that tend to go unseen by others. As a result, I think that I can anticipate changes and design foreign itineraries that can avoid potential issues and give my clients some additional insights that they would not get on their own.
My developing website, TravelWithChardoul.com will be used to provide not only my clients but all those who access the site with information not only on the immediate past trip and the upcoming one, but some general travel hints (like this article) and attempt to explain some international “happenings.” Will I cancel a trip if I feel that conditions warrant it? Most assuredly, the answer is ‘yes.’ I consider myself a trusted resource to give my clients a true picture of world events based on my expertise. I did cancel a group trip to Greece in 2002 because of a terrorist threat (which, by the way, was solved quickly by counter-terrorist forces in Greece and Italy but I could not reconstitute the trip at the last moment.)
Travel agents must be familiar with different modes of ground transportation in foreign countries and, based on their understanding of their customers’ desires, select the right mix of trains, coaches, and even air travel if the distances are great enough. Depending on the size of the group, it might be more convenient to not have to rely on a rigid train schedule but have a coach with a driver show up the hotel exclusively for my group. Luggage is loaded (without you having to carry it very far) and the coach heads to the next destination without having to stop at other hotels to pick up other groups. The guide can give a short lecture, show a relevant video, or walk through the coach answering specific questions about the past city or the upcoming one.
I have scheduled train trips for a variety of reasons: there is more room to walk around for a longer trip, there might be a wheeled snack bar that clients that use or a club car, or the train tracks might follow a more scenic route. This last reason was the prime reason I selected a train to take my group from Barcelona to Valencia on a trip to northern and eastern Spain a few years ago.
Because trains are so ubiquitous in Europe and Asia, the train stations are usually very centrally located and within short walking distance to our hotel. High-speed trains are fairly common and we have used them in northern France, southern France, Spain, and Italy.
But consider that on occasion, the train station is beyond walking distance from the hotel. A travel agent can provide transfer between the hotel and the train station. This is even more important for transfer to an airport. This is yet another rationale for signing up for a group trip.
A few years ago, I took a group to northern and eastern Spain and my selected hotel in Valencia was changed by the European agency that I was working with. The hotel that we used had some major deficiencies: the extremely small elevators worked only sporadically, my clients had to drag their luggage up several flights of stairs, the bellhops never seemed to be available to assist, one of my guests was “stiffed” by the desk clerk who said that the U.S. currency that my guest gave him for exchange into Euros was much smaller than my guest claimed, as well as general uncleanliness. When we returned to the United States, because I was not satisfied with the attempt to clean up their act, I got the hotel delisted from our supplier’s list of approved hotels.
To summarize: travel agents are specialists who have the experience to make their clients’ trips easier to plan and often save them both time and money. Travel agents are really consultants who provide value.