For many travelers, taking a group tour is just too difficult. Perhaps mobility issues make it hard to keep up with the highly organized, exhausting tour group itinerary. Maybe the flights to meet tour groups are so tiring that it becomes impossible to enjoy the rest of the trip. Or, possibly, the planned-for-you approach of a guided tour is no longer appealing. If you fall into one of these categories, does this mean you have to hang up your traveling gear?
When travel with a tour group is no longer a good alternative for you, take time to reassess your travel preferences.There are many ways to see the world, many kinds of tour groups, and many new technologies available that can help you continue to travel – on your terms.
Alternatives to Tour Groups
Plan a Trip on Your Own
Consider "home-basing" at a rental cottage, hotel or resort, using guidebooks, local guides, taxi tours and day tours to help you get to the places you want to see. This approach takes a bit of advance planning, but there are plenty of resources available to help you. You can probably find English-speaking local guides through the tourism office of the country, state or province you want to visit. A good travel agent can help you with the logistics. If you don't want to do any driving, a hotel might be a better home base for you than a cottage.
Visit Places Near Family and Friends
This does not mean you need to stay with family members, but you will be able to take advantage of their local knowledge to help you decide where to stay and which attractions to visit. Some travelers build all of their vacations around family events, such as weddings and graduations, and have a great time getting to know the places their extended family members call home.
Choose a Hotel or Resort That Offers Activities and Day Trips
For example, in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, many hotels and resorts offer day trips with transportation to local attractions, including eco-parks, the Mayan ruins at Tulum and adventure parks. There are many hotels and resorts around the world that offer similar opportunities.
Find a Tour Operator or Cruise Line That Offers Slower-Paced Itineraries
Some tour companies and cruise lines offer itineraries that are well-suited to slow walkers. For example:
Road Scholar offers tours at various activity levels. Road Scholar’s "4" activity level would probably be a stretch for travelers with mobility issues, but their "1" and "2" level tours would probably work for most gentle walkers.
Slow Travel Tours is a group of European tour operators that offer tours that bring the best of Europe’s culture and cuisine to you through hands-on experiences, demonstrations and authentic adventures. Many of these tours and day trips can be customized so that you can travel at your own pace.
AMA Waterways offers "gentle walkers" shore tours on many of its river cruises.
(Tip: Look at a tour itinerary for a place you have already visited. This will help you learn how much the tour operator expects tour participants to do each day.)
Stay Closer to Home
If flying across the country makes you so tired that your trip is ruined, choose a nearer destination so you can drive or take the train.
Use Technology to Customize Your Trip
Mobile phone apps can help you find your way around cities and parks on your own. You can find travel apps for iPhones, iPads and Android phones that will help you convert currency, translate menus, take walking tours of cities and navigate airports.
Podcasts can help you visit museums, attractions and historic cities at your own pace. Use your MP3 player or iPod to listen to one of the hundreds of podcasts available. Some museums, including New York City's Museum of Modern Art, London's Royal Air Force Museum and the Vienna Hofburg offer free MP3 audio tours. You can also find free and low-cost podcasts and MP3 audio tours at tourism offices or online.
Segway tours are available in many cities, including Washington, DC, Honolulu, Orlando, Paris, Berlin and Budapest. You won't have to worry about keeping up with the group while you are riding a self-balancing Segway.
The Bottom Line
Focus on what you can do and what you want to do, and build your trip from there. You don't have to climb every bell tower or see every museum exhibit to enjoy a destination. You can travel on your terms, at your own pace, in many different countries.