What Is a Fully Escorted Tour, and Is It Right for You?
Updated: Mar 26
When I first started dipping my toes into planning travel, one of the questions, comments, and accompanying looks of confusion had to do with a misconception of what Travel Agents booked for travelers.
Most seemed to think that an agent would be booking tours and a "tour" meant a group of 40-60 people, headsets, dangling cords and a group leader with a flag leading them around sites and then back onto a motorcoach to another stop. We've all seen them when traveling, Saturday Night Live even spoofed one of the main operators many years ago! These are called Fully Escorted Tours, and while they are a travel option that makes sense for some, they are not for everyone. Like anything else, they too have evolved. While the "stereotyped" Tour is of course an option, they also aren't the only type of "tour" I can book for you.
There are tour operators and partnered suppliers that offer small group experiences of 12-16 travelers, sometimes they are capped at 8, depending on the budget or style for example. There are also some geared to specific interests or demographics, for example one operator features the Jane Goodall Collection while another offers a line geared for "18-30 Somethings".
So what are some of the benefits of a Fully Escorted Trip and what might make it a perfect option for you?
Here are a few ideas:
Well suited for those with limited time. There is no stress about whether you need to leave earlier, how long to allow to arrive or missing a train. Someone has already planned this time consuming and stressful part for you. If they make a mistake or something goes wrong, they fix it.
Great way to explore if you have a large group of friends or travel companions already.
Equally well suited for individuals or small travel parties to meet like minded travelers in a convivial setting, you are all there for the same reason!
The group size varies by operator and style, they aren't all on large busses, while many are capped at 12 or 16. On these smaller tours, I can also book just your group of friends to go on the tour, I can manage the details for you.
Operators specializing in large groups have volume, which also may mean significantly lower costs. This could be the difference between going or staying home for some.
If navigating public transit or taxis is stressful to you, an escorted tour will be a relief.
Language barriers are not an issue, your escorts and selected hotels, guides and many service providers are there to bridge this gap.
Locally based guides also provide tips and advice beyond sightseeing about history, food, daily life and of course, where to get the best paella, pain au chocolate, ceramics, a sari or a caipirinha with a view!
Particularly for those with mobility concerns, oftentimes there are porters that deliver your bags and collect them when checking out. You may need to leave a tip but you may never have to lift a finger!
Also for those with mobility concerns, many operators are more accustomed to the necessary considerations, making travel inclusive for you.
Some only plan the basics of a trip and allow plenty of free time to go explore independently or supply a list of optional add-on. For example, in Egypt last fall, Abu Simbel was an add-on to our trip on what was otherwise an open day in the calendar.
There is an escorted tour operator to fit most budgets.
There is also one to match your travel ethos and travel style!
One example of a small group was my 8 day Egypt trip in fall of 2021 with the same guide accompanying us from start to finish. It was the first time I had ever been on one like it and I admittedly was curious to give one a try. Yes, I had trekked across northern Thailand with a guide for a few days and gone on countless half and full day "tours" and a couple of overnight tours over the years. But never a fully escorted trip of any length. It turned out to be the best way to visit Egypt with plenty of free time to go and explore independently in addition to the scheduled stops. The "lack of free time" is a common concern I've heard when it comes to a tour, your schedule is packed with little time on your own. While that used to be the rule on escorted tours, that was not the case on this trip. After spending a free afternoon visiting the Nubian Museum in Aswan, we even had time to sit poolside at our riverfront hotel, beers in hand, watching the felucca sails silently glide on the Nile just a few yards away!
Photo: Our guide Mohammed with some of our group at Valley of the Kings, Egypt
Many safaris in Africa, from glamping and luxury all the way down to the most spartan of experiences, are Fully Escorted Tours. Probably would be Lion bait if you weren't...
Blurry view of Luxor Temple and the
(now completed) Ave of the Sphinxes
With this in mind, I would also go further and suggest an organized tour is the best way to experience some destinations. Safaris and treks of course come to mind, but my trip to Egypt, too. Speaking from experience last fall, I can't imagine going to Egypt and not having a guide throughout, I wouldn't have appreciated the ancient sites amidst the tsunami of information and artistic details without our guide.
Routine tasks such as buying a train ticket were difficult too. Without the guide to assist, it would have been a big headache and bigger language barrier. Then there are the numerous "document checks" around the country, and IFYKYK, the baksheesh seekers. Our guide maneuvered us through and away from them or paid from a collective tip pool when needed, mostly avoiding a very famous hassle and complaint visitors to Egypt have. He also advised which stalls sold Chinese made tat vs what was more authentic and which restaurant had the best view of the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor, which we would have NEVER found otherwise! (see above: blurry but amazing view in photo above. Each white figure is a sphinx on a plinth lining an avenue between Luxor and Karnak Temples of over 1.5 miles, it was finished a week or two after our visit in October 2021)
Sailing down the River Nile from Aswan on a Felucca
It was one of those days I'll never forget!
Guides selected for most tours are also well qualified. In Egypt, our guide had a degree in Egyptology and was a journalist at the MENA Press, while another I hired as a private guide to visit Islamic and Coptic Cairo was a Professor of Egyptology. I had many questions about daily life, the economy, history and many other similar aspects besides the artistry and craftmanship of the ancient sites, they provided insight on so many topics. For the curious traveler, this is an essential part of enjoying any trip.
As for travel styles, they aren't all headset wearing groups as I mentioned though that may be perfect for some travelers. I selected the particular tour operator for my Egypt trip because their business model is geared toward socially responsible tourism which seeks to positively impact the local economy, using independent hotels, transport and even in this case, home cooked meals with a local family.
Is a Fully Escorted Tour for you? It might be! Let's schedule a conversation at the link below and see what you have in mind for your next trip and find out!