We've all seen them. Like locusts on a crop, they descend on tourist attractions, chattering and snapping.
Their leader appears with a bright, fluttering piece of fabric, stuck on a stick, protruding from a raised arm. It's the plague of guided group travel.
And it's coming to a family near you. In the past, we've avoided travelling in a pack for fear of:
■ Boredom: What if your guide has graduated with a doctorate in grass growing or paint drying?
■ Exhaustion: "Right! We're up at 6am to watch the sun rise over Kilimanjaro, then breakfast with the Masai, followed by a safari, lunch on a riverboat, and a trek to the waterfall, before dinner and a traditional performance at the local village. Let's go!"
■ Hu-mans: On the first day, you discover your fellow travellers are a) unhinged, b) annoying, c) demanding and loud. Or, that you are considered to be one of those three. But it turns out - not for the first time - I was wrong.
Last month, we went on the Good Morning Vietnam tour with Intrepid. As it turns out the group tour was:
■ Entertaining: Respected companies, like Intrepid, choose their guides well. Khoa was funny, organised and knowledgeable. As we were in a small group, there was enough time to pick his brains about the culture, people, and history.
■ Well-paced: There's enough flexibility in the itinerary to add/subtract/change activities, depending on how you and the kids are feeling. Because it's a family tour, there were no 6am starts or midnight finishes.
■ Full of new friends: Regardless of age differences, kids make instant friends. This encourages the adults to bond, as well. One day into the trip, our daughter Grace was hanging with the cool tweens ("Whatevs, girlfriend!) while our son Taj was rumbling with two younger boys.
That meant the adults could indulge in the $3 cocktails/tell ribald jokes/debrief, while the children made up songs/played cards/tickled each other at the next table. Group family travel is ideal in developing countries.
We felt safe, with Khoa choosing restaurants that were authentic without the risk of tummy upsets.
"That ice no good. River water!" he exclaimed over lunch one day, grabbing a fruit juice out Gracie's hand. He also protected us from scams in taxis, markets, and alleyways and red tape at airports, train stations, and attractions.
And a group tour is generally cheaper than making complex arrangements yourself.
"Arranging all of the components (of a trip) independently can become costly, and you can often lose track of how much you are actually spending," says Intrepid Travel's managing director, James Thornton.
Companies such as Intrepid, Trafalgar, Tauck Bridges and Qantas Holiday Tours book wholesale rates, so there are significant savings.
But the best thing? The support from fellow families.
Single mum Jane was travelling with her five- and seven- year-old boys, while Patrice was taking her 13-year-old granddaughter on her first overseas trip. We took turns to help each other out, lugging bags, carrying kids and calming nerves. The kids made friends for life.
Now I don't care whether I'm viewed as a locust or a lemming.
We look forward to meeting more like-minded families on our next adventure.
The writer travelled as a guest of Intrepid.
Kids do Paris
Let your kids see what all the fuss is about on Paris' famous Left Bank with a three-hour family walking tour. Run by a Parisian mum, options include pastimes such as sailing toy boats and riding the merry-go-round in le Jardin du Luxembourg and a visit to the national history museum. Join your kids or leave them with the qualified guide. $164 for kids seven-12 years (max five children on a tour) and adults, $128 for kids three-seven years. Search code 3151_KIDSRIGHT on viator.com.