Recently, two highly-regarded travel writers, Paul Lasley and Elizabeth Harryman, joined a small group tour in southwestern Ireland and then wrote an article about it for Westways magazine. It appeared in their May 2009 issue, and is titled “Going with the Group – When to consider taking an escorted tour”. Since they so eloquently summed up many of the frequently asked questions our guests have as they are considering traveling with us, I thought I would share it with you.

“Q: I’m an independent-minded traveler. But are there times when an escorted tour might be a good idea?

A: Before taking an escorted tour of Ireland, we were skeptical of the tour idea. But an experience in County Galway changed our minds.

A peat fire burned in the fireplace of the 220 year old thatched-roof farmhouse. “I was born in a pub,” said Frances, the woman who greeted us at the font door. She had green eyes that expressed gentleness. “Maybe that’s why I like meeting people,” she said. After she served us Irish soda bread and a soup of leeks, potatoes and carrots, our group went to see – and feed – a new lamb. We wouldn’t have thought that this kind of simple, intimate experience could be part of an escorted tour. But this encounter made us realize that escorted, or group, tours aren’t what they used to be.

What a difference 40 years makes. “Today people on escorted tours are sight-doing instead of sightseeing,” says Bob Whitley, president of the United States Tour Operators Associations (USTOA). “They’re climbing Mount Fuji instead of just looking at it.

“They’re visiting local residents in their homes. And many tours visit just one or two countries; they take in a lot of villages and explore back roads. Today’s tours have more free time built into them, so people can pursue their own interests or go shopping.”

Group enjoying view

Our experience taught us that there are times when it pays to take an escorted tour. Here are some examples.

• When you want to save money. Escorted tours can save you as much as 50 percent of the cost of paying for the trip components separately, according to the USTOA. “The cost of meals and attractions are typically included,” says Whitley. “That can add up to big savings.”

• When you want to avoid hassle. On an escorted tour, you don’t have to find your way around unfamiliar places. And if you have a problem with a hotel room, it’s the tour escort who sorts it out, not you.

• When you want to go to a special event. If you want to attend the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, for example, which occurs every 10 years (the next performance will be in 2010), a tour will ensure that you have tickets and transportation to the event.

• When you want to travel to less-developed countries. You might feel comfortable navigating western Europe on your own. But if you’re heading to a destination that has a less-developed infrastructure, a group tour can ease the way.

• When you want to pursue a special interest. Many tours allow you to focus on one theme, such as cooking or history or art, as you travel through a place. Being with people who share similar interests can also add to the experience, as Bill Green discovered. The Los Angeles-based human resources consultant’s recent tour exploring Northern California was enhanced by the companionship of like-minded fellow travelers. “It made for stimulating conversation,” he says.

 When you want to make friends. Stimulating conversation can lead to lasting friendships. “My wife and I still keep in touch with people we met on that tour,” says Green.

We know how he feels. When we return to Ireland, we plan to look up a gentle woman named Frances.”

Thanks, Paul and Elizabeth, for the great checklist. I couldn’t agree more. So whether you are thinking about our Ireland trips (we offer a cultural walking adventure and a family journey), joining our Napa and Sonoma culinary tour, or you have a wish list of special events you’ve always wanted to experience during your vacation (like visiting Stonehenge privately at sunrise, observing the fjordland crested penguins with a naturalist on a private beach in New Zealand, or meeting a shepherd in Tuscany) we can help. And if you’d like to listen to a clip from our Irish guide Donal’s band in their local pub in Kenmare, just drop us a line at