Following the leader: Is a guided holiday right for you?

Toying with the idea of booking a guided holiday, but worried you’ll be on someone else’s schedule? Try it once — and you’ll be hooked, writes Ciara McDonnell.

Following the leader: Is a guided holiday right for you?

Curious about a guided holiday, but think it’s too restricting? It might just be the easiest route to experiencing destinations that you’ve always wanted to visit.

It’s not just bus trips

One of the biggest misconceptions about guided holidays is that they are buses full of jaded tourists heading off to see some monuments. In fact, they range from city breaks to trips to the Great Wall Of China. Sara Zimmerman, MD of Travel Department, says that the enormous range of guided holidays available today makes it an attractive option for their customers, year in, year out: “Our core business is European tours, but then we have everything from city breaks and Christmas markets to seven-night European holidays. We have fabulous long haul holidays everywhere from India to Sri Lanka, to China and Russia, Australia and New Zealand. We go anywhere in the world, pretty much.”


It’s not just golden oldies

While there is no denying that most of the people who book guided holidays are aged 50-plus, there are lots of specialised guided holiday companies aimed at a younger client. G Adventures offer holidays all over the world, aimed at the under-35s market, which promise all the advantages like knowledgeable guides, 24-hour customer service, and small tour groups. Ideal for singles, this is a wonderful and crucially, safe way for younger people to travel. (

Communication is key

When it comes to a holiday where your every whim is catered to, and your trip is planned from the minute you get off the plane, it’s essential that the details are looked after, according to Sara Zimmerman.

She says most of Travel Department’s customers use their pre-trip advice service as much as any part of their offering.

“People will call us, often several times after they’ve booked, for more information or for reassurance, or as they are doing their research. The fact that we give them that time is really important, because they feel that they are building a relationship.”

Times have changed

You might have visions of your granny heading off to Medjugorje for a trip with her friends on a musty-smelling bus and a shouty guide, but escorted holidays have changed dramatically over the last decade. These days it’s all about the luxury experience. Itineraries are flexible and most have built-in free time for you to get away from the group and do some solo exploring.

Hassle-free holidays

The true advantage of booking a guided holiday is the fact that once you book it you are off the hook when it comes to planning. Once you arrive to your destination, your guide becomes your personal holiday concierge of sorts.

They’ll be on hand to help you with any special requests or help with your hotel — most holiday companies offer a 24-hour customer service facility that operates for the duration of your holiday.

Local eyes

Guides are the real heroes of these holidays, says Sara Zimmerman.

“At Travel Department, we have very clear criteria for what we are looking for in our guides. They are more than just guides. They represent us and provide warmth and care and insight. Yes, they are knowledgeable about the area and the history and the culture, and they impart all of that. Beyond that, they bring the groups together, they build relationships, they recommend what people should do on their day off if they want that recommendation.”

Experience the unattainable

Escorted tours not only enable you to get under the skin of your destination, thanks to the knowledge of your guide, but they also help you visit places that may have been on your bucket list and always seemed unattainable. “Our long haul trips are often a bit different and can take people to iconic places that they’ve dreamt of visiting their whole lives,” agrees Sara Zimmerman.

“Think of the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China. Often these places feel a little less accessible than more familiar destinations in Europe. Visiting these areas as a part of a guided tour can give you access and insight that may be harder to achieve on your own, and would require huge amounts of research.”

Time is a premium

You will not waste your precious time on a guided tour. While the misconception that every moment of your break will be written down and accounted for is a fallacy, you are guaranteed to pack more in than with independent travel. Often, some meals and tours will be included in the package, leaving you valuable time to soak up the essence of the destination of your choice.

Make the most of extensions

Lots of companies are offering extensions at the end of long-haul guided holidays, for clients to spend a few days relaxing by a pool or beach before they return to real life. This offers them the best of both worlds, says Travel Department’s Sara Zimmerman. “We have just introduced a new offer where we can offer completely tailor-made extensions, so people can enjoy one of our long-haul tours, and then we can put together any extension that they choose.”

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