1. ENJOY a private viewing*
The problem with the world's most popular tourist attractions – the Vatican, the Louvre, the Tower of London – is, well, they are so popular. Pushing your way through crowds is no-one's idea of a good time. That is why many tour companies organise out-of-hours visits to a city's top sights, letting you relax and enjoy.
2. MEET the locals
Ask any traveller and they will tell you the same thing: what they really want to do is meet the locals. That, however, is easier said than done – unless you are on an escorted journey, where meeting locals is now a standard part of many itineraries. From goat breeders to innkeepers, countesses to cheesemakers, you never know who may be waiting to welcome you.
3. CUT DOWN your travel time
Getting places takes time, especially if you are travelling from city to city, hopscotching your way from your hotel to the airport to the next city to the next hotel. Escorted journeys streamline the process. Hop aboard the coach in the morning, spend the day sightseeing and voila – arrive at your next hotel in the evening. Saves time, saves fuss.
4. LEARN from the experts
Grand palaces, ancient ruins and art galleries packed with treasures may be the highlights of your holiday, or they may be exercises in tedium. What makes the difference is whether you understand what you are seeing. A great guide can bring to life the stories that lie behind every monument – and when you sign up for a group trip, you get an expert guide at every destination.
5. LET someone else do the heavy lifting*
It is a dilemma that many travellers wrestle with: keep your suitcase nice and light and risk running out of clean clothes, or pack everything you may need, and then lug a ridiculously heavy suitcase around. Travel on an escorted trip, however, and those issues evaporate. No need for heavy lifting – just leave your suitcase outside your room before you check out, and it will magically reappear in your room at the next hotel.
6. FEAST on local specialties
There is nothing like plunging into a new destination mouth-first. Feasting on custard tarts in Lisbon, okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, or banh xeo in Hanoi is a delicious way to explore the local culture, but knowing where to go for the best local specialties can be a challenge. Tour companies have the insider knowledge, and ensure the tastiest local treats are on the menu wherever you go.
7. DISCOVER hidden gems
You know the feeling. You have just arrived back from the Balkans, and everyone wants to know why you didn't go to Lake Ohrid – while you scratch your head and wonder, "Where?" Signing up for a tour lets you skip the months of pre-trip research; the company does it all for you. Sure, the big sights are always included, but chances are good that it will be the hidden gems that stay in your memory.
8. KNOW how much you are paying
Holiday spending sometimes has a way of spiralling out of control. You treat yourself to a taxi here or there, perhaps a slap-up meal or two, and suddenly you have spent – HOW MUCH? Paying a single fee upfront means you know exactly how much you are up for.
9. CHOOSE safety in numbers
Let's face it: many people don't like the idea of travelling on their own. For those who don't have a partner, that often means putting off a dream trip until they can find a travel buddy. Escorted journeys are great alternative, offering ready-made travel companions as well as the security of having everything taken care off.
10. SKIP the queues
Imagine if, every time you rolled up to another monument, the red carpet was unfurled and you were ushered to the head of the queue. That is essentially what happens when you travel with a group. Your arrival has been pre-booked, and you will often find yourself able to walk straight in, rather than waiting in line with everyone else. Not a bad perk at all.
11. REST easy
Of all the holiday decisions, it is perhaps the hardest one: where are you going to sleep? If you have never been to a city before and don't have recommendations from someone you trust, which hotel do you pick? On an escorted journey, that is all taken care of. Tour companies know which hotels offer comfortable beds, good service and convenient locations, so you can sleep easy wherever you go.
12. GET the help you need*
Things can go wrong when you travel. You leave your mobile phone in a cafe; you break a heel on your favourite pair of shoes; you come down with a nasty head cold and need to buy medicine in a place where no-one speaks English. If you are on your own, that can be a nightmare. On a tour, however, your guide is there to help you through the process and fix the problem fast.
13. TRAVEL cheaper
Even if you are great at travelling on a budget, you would be hard pressed to organise your own trip for the price that is offered by an organised tour company. How so? Because they buy services in such large numbers, tour operators are able to negotiate serious discounts, which they pass on to their guests.
14. ENJOY your own space
Twenty years ago, travelling in a group meant just that. The guide led the way, waving an umbrella and speaking at the top of their voice, while the guests huddled as close as they could, so as not to miss a word. These days, wireless technology means you can wander at your own pace, or hang back to snap a photo, without missing a word that the guide says.
15. SPEED things up
Like slow food, slow travel is hot – the idea that you spend more time exploring a single destination. Great in theory, but if you can only fit in one overseas trip a year, you want to cover as much ground. Escorted tours tend to offer maximum sights in the minimum amount of time, letting you work your way through your bucket list sooner.
16. GET off the beaten track
Some destinations are more daunting than others. Do you really want to wander around Iran by yourself? Or Brazil, or India? The more exotic the destination, the more challenging it can be. That doesn't mean you shouldn't visit these fascinating countries, of course; but joining an escorted journey will up your comfort factor considerably.
17. TAKE a cultural crash course
There can be an awful lot to get your head around when you travel to a new country. The currency. The history. The food. How to pronounce all those weird place names. On a tour, your guide will talk you through it – and not just the big picture stuff, either. Should you haggle when you shop? How do you order coffee the way you like it? Your guide can help you sort it all.
18. RELAX with some downtime
Few of us are adept at finding that holiday sweet spot – the perfect balance between packing in lots of new experiences, and also finding time to relax. Coach trips are a great way to build some downtime into your trip. While each day is filled with highlights, there will always be some time spent on the coach. As most coaches are equipped with Wi-Fi, this is a great time to post some holiday snaps or just catch up with what your friends are doing.
19. MAKE new friends
All kinds of people sign on for escorted journeys. They are different ages, pursue different professions, have different interests. Whichever trip you opt for, however, your fellow passengers are guaranteed to have one thing in common with you: you are all interested in the same destination. Chances are good you will discover that you have other things in common, too – so get chatting.
20. AVOID road rage
Why do we do it to ourselves? Driving holidays sound great in theory but are often nothing more than one meltdown after another. Driving in unfamiliar surroundings, missing turn-offs or getting stuck in a series of one-way streets while trying to reach your hotel – where is the fun in that? Much easier to leave the driving to a professional, while you lounge back in your comfortable seat and relax. Isn't that what holidays are for, after all?