The Truth About Guided Group Tours

“I’m very sorry Madame, you may not go to your tent, the elephants are near,” says my escort at the Okavango Delta Lodge, Botswana, Africa.

Peeking through the bushes I see two of the majesties who rule this land grazing next to tent #15. What will happen? I ask. “They could charge and we will have to run for our lives.”

Later that day, I personally meet Her, almost eye to eye from the back porch of my jungle tent. I watch in complete awe as the tusks approach my tent, getting closer, until I back away in search of my camera.

She wanted the leaves from a nearby tree, but I believe she came to welcome me to her world. I will never ever forget her long eyelashes or the way she looked at me.

A moment frozen in time, the kind I can still close my eyes and remember today.

Touring South Africa on a guided tour awakened all my senses.

Like me, this place has a turbulent past, a mixed present, an uncertain future and an aching need for freedom. Deciding to join a group of strangers as a solo female traveler on safari was unquestionably a life changing decision that pushed all the nervous buttons.

Coming here with purpose, it was time to surrender.

Conquering my fear of flying happened in a six seater Cessna plane that flew just 1000 feet above ground.

My palms no longer break out in sweat on a plane. I climbed a granite mountain hand over hand on a metal chain to see ancient cave drawings, hiked a red desert sand dune at dawn repeating ‘you do not have vertigo’. Eating mystery meat and not caring how many just flies just landed on my plate, pole canoeing in hippo waters and watching a lion feast on a zebra carcass.

Then teaching Himba Tribe children to sing La Bamba and how to take selfies on my iPhone. Watching a teenage tribe girl squirm while her Auntie pulls her hair to add clay encrusted extensions for which she cannot refuse. Practicing yoga at dawn next to ostriches and screeching baboons, giving up on trying to keep a manicure…

These memories now fill my head the same way the grains of sand swirled around me standing alone in the African desert. I am 53 years old and feel more alive than ever.

There is no way I could have made those types of arrangements on my own, even as a travel agent.

When I made the decision to join a guided tour as a solo traveler, my nerves were definitely raw. Would I fit in or get along with everyone, will I be the only one travelling alone, the oldest broad? Hoping for the best on my African adventure, it didn’t take long to realize the truth about guided tours.

Besides the obvious convenience of a pre-planned itinerary, it would be impossible to put together these types of trips for yourself at the prices expert tour companies can do. With a whole new breed of travel companies making it easier than ever to embark on worry free travel, it’s no wonder this is a hot trend and a popular choice of travel agents too.

Be sure to do your research to get a feel for the tour operator that’s right for you, or call a travel advisor (me) to play matchmaker.These tours are so much more than cattle herding big bus flag carrying guide trips.

When you’re ready to get started, here are a few popular companies to help you decide.

Abercrombie & Kent
National Geographic Journeys

The bottom line truth list

  • These are absolutely – hands down the easiest way for worry free travel. Your accommodations, transportation and excursions are tested and thoughtfully planned for you.
  • They are often small groups; go for the ones capped at 16-ish people versus the ones called coach touring.
  • The schedule is not as hectic as you might think; they plan for plenty of free time.
  • You are safe in the hands of an expert guide, who, on most tours, calls your destination home.
  • The experiences and inclusions let you fully immerse in the culture of your destination and often include giving back activities.
  • Everyone shows up for the same reason and that fact forms an instant bond.
  • It starts to feel like you’re on vacation with your new best friends.

Remember, with packaged group tours you get to review detailed descriptions of your itinerary beforehand. You will see exactly what is included, what hotels you will stay at, distances traveled each day and what excursions are included. What are you waiting for?