My wife, Fyllis, and I had long dreamed of visiting Costa Rica. We knew about its reputation for magnificent landscapes, abundant animal and bird life, and preservation of the magnificent environment.
We could have spent hours searching the Internet for flights and hotels, reserving a rental car, and taking care of the many other required details. But we didn’t. Instead, we made a single phone call that took care of all of the necessary planning. In addition, we knew that we would be following an itinerary that combined the must-see attractions with a number of hidden gems that we otherwise might have missed. We also had the comfort of knowing we would get good value for our hard-earned dollars.
Of course there’s something to be said for the enjoyment of planning a trip. For some people, a vacation begins when they start to make phone calls, search on their computers and take the countless other steps required to deal with every aspect of a trip—and then hope that nothing has been overlooked.
Others follow a different route. They turn to tour companies that travel to the destination—or destinations—they wish to visit and let their experts handle the details.
Fyllis and I went to Costa Rica with a tour operator we had traveled with before. Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) is the self-styled “leader in personalized small-group adventures on the road less traveled.” The itinerary allowed us to squeeze as many experiences as possible into every hour of every day.
For example, one typical day included a visit to an OAT-sponsored school where the children greeted the group with a charming folkloric presentation, a traditional lunch with a local family, and a guided horseback ride through a dense forest. Another began with a hands-on tortilla-making lesson that was followed by viewing giant crocodiles at close range and ended with time spent on one of Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches.
Our experience underscored the benefits of traveling with a group. Many tour guides live in a trip destination or, if not, have been there many times. They can bring the history, culture, and other aspects of a place to life in ways that enhance your travel experience.
Driving in another country can be stressful at best and downright dangerous if, for example, it requires sticking to the opposite side of the highway. When a professional driver is at the wheel, you can sit back, relax, and take in the passing scenery. Traveling with a group is safer than venturing out on your own, especially in a place you’re not familiar with. In addition, guides know what areas of a city to steer clear of and can provide assistance in case you encounter a problem.
Because tour operators receive group discounts on many aspects of a trip, the total cost can offer more bang for the buck. Also, guides can provide practical tips such as good places to shop and where to get the best money exchange rate.
Fyllis and I have met people on group tours whose company we enjoy during bus rides and at mealtimes. In some cases, they’ve become friends who share our love of travel and with whom we have planned future trips together.
At this time of concern about remaining healthy while traveling, going with a tour group can provide peace of mind. Companies have instituted a variety of measures to keep both trip participants and guides safe. For example, OAT follows a long list of protocols. In addition to the use of face coverings, hand sanitizer, temperature checks, and other well-known basics, it provides disinfected headsets that allow travelers to maintain social distancing, arranges to visit popular locations before—or after—large crowds congregate, and limits the number of people sharing a vehicle.
Untours has practiced social distancing long before it became a well-known phrase. They combine the planning, services, and onsite support of a group tour with the benefits of independent travel.
During our three trips with Untours, the only times Fyllis and I met with other participants were during a first-day briefing, the goodbye dinner, and an optional group activity for which we opted. Other than that, we were on our own.
Our accommodations included an apartment at a vineyard and a comfortable lodging on a farm. We had the use of either a rental car or public transportation passes. An onsite representative was available to answer questions, offer suggestions, and provide additional assistance that we might request.
In an effort to attract clients, some group travel companies have been offering discounts on the cost of trips during 2021. For example, G Adventures recently launched a limited-time “cyber sale” that provided discounts of up to 21 percent on the price of more than 450 tour options.
Travel Stride is a definitive source of information about—and bookings with—travel companies that offer more than 30,000 guided trips, adventure packages, and river cruises. Anyone may use the site, and members can receive a cash bonus of up to $700 per trip.
When You Go
Overseas Adventure Travel: OATTravel.com
G Adventures: GAdventures.com
Travel Stride: TravelStride.com
Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Copyright 2021 Creators.com