I used to think that package tours were for retired people, the elderly and the infirm. That buses took them right up to, say, the rim of the Grand Canyon. Then they could peer out the window and ooh and aah without ever having to leave their seats.
Then I discovered active tours. The biking, hiking, kayaking and other trips I've been writing about here. Clearly, there are tours beyond bus tours. What I've also learned is that these tours, planned by experts, often can give you a leg up over independent travelers.
Tour operators extensively research the places they're taking people. They'd better if they want to stay in business. They have experience with the roads, the restaurants and the hotels. And they often get special privileges that "regular" people do not.
That might be admission to sites closed to others. Or private tours separate from the madding crowd. Or, tour operators may have a relationship with vineyard owners or park rangers or whomever, that garners benefits for their guests.
In New Zealand, my biking-hiking-kayaking-wine-touring group stayed at a
sheep shearer's quarters during the off season. The sheep were already bald, and baa-ing elsewhere.
Since the shearers had taken off, there was room for us.
We had the funky building to ourselves. It was in the middle of acres of pristine nature (if you don't count the dried-up sheep poop). A cold, clean river steps away. Views of mountains with vestiges of the winter's snows.
As for our sleeping quarters, light poured through windows on all sides. We cooked in the kitchen. We played outside. We could scream and laugh without disturbing a soul.
But I couldn't have gotten there if I hadn't been with a group tour. The tour operator knew where the place was and how to book it. And it's definitely a group type place, not one set up for individuals.
Rooms had no locks or private bathrooms. It was more like a private hostel. Or a quirky old house that I got to visit with new friends. I'm glad I was able to stop in for a spell while on the other side of the earth from home.
Photo 1: BY Ellen Perlman. View from sheep shearer's quarters.
Photo 2: OF Ellen Perlman. In position to take in the view, as soon as shoe is tied.
Photo 3: BY Ellen Perlman. Another backyard view from sheep shearers' quarters.