A users guide to hectic package tours

A users guide to hectic package tours

After a 6-hour drive and seeing about 10 different monuments, you may lose track of what you saw the day before, or earlier the same day. While some travel freaks do not mind such a hectic schedule and may happily work hard on a vacation, for those who want a more relaxed pace and more freedom to do their own thing, a tour guide may turn out to be nothing less than a nightmare.

With the holiday season approaching and tour operators displaying their holiday packages, you may get tempted to take that much-postponed trip abroad. Money Matters found out the details for you on just what to expect on such a trip.

Also See Touring Travails (Graphics)

First, you need to prepare yourself for a very busy time and a structure that you will need to follow as you are a part of a larger group. Most operators work on a 6-7-8 day, which means a wake-up call at 6am, breakfast at 7am and leaving the hotel at 8am. Your day would end anywhere between 6pm and 8pm, depending on the operator.

Sample this day from an SOTC travel package. After four hours on the road, you reach Paris and see not one or two but 10 city landmarks. You check into the hotel after that. Soon after, the call comes to leave for a “Gala evening in Paris". That’s not all—this is followed by the illumination tour of Paris (famous landmarks lit up at night).

On a lax day in Rome from the same operator, you would see some famous monuments.

Other operators offer comparable packages. Remember that most of the visits to the monuments are only a view from the coach, so don’t expect to spend time at the destinations. Notice that tour operators use the words “see" and “visit" in a technical manner. By see they usually mean drive by or halt for a very quick photo stop and by visit they mean spend time at the place.

When 30-year-old Deepa Suryanarayan, a media professional, who was on a trip to Europe with her aunt, was whisked away for a city tour as soon as she landed in London, she was shocked. After a 15-hour journey, she would have preferred to rest rather than hit the road again for a sightseeing trip. “What was more annoying was that was the only day earmarked for the city," she says.

At the same time, when the Desai family landed in Vienna after a 16-17 hour journey, the excitement quotient was so high for them that they hardly felt tired. They drove to the hotel in the heart of the old city, glimpsing the Austrian capital soaked in a light mist and drizzle on their way. They were more than ready when the operator took them on a sightseeing tour later in the day. The packed schedules in the following days just stoked their adventurous streak further.

But for the likes of Deepa, this may not be the idea of fun that a holiday should ideally entail. “There wasn’t enough time to look around or shop. I went to Paris and saw the Louvre but wasn’t able to see the Mona Lisa. I think these tours suit the aged better with the focus on food and comfort," she says.

Ruzan from the Desai family was a teenager when he went on the tour. He agrees the trips are hectic, but adds, “I would rather forgo my sleep and see as much as I can."

There are others who feel that one needs to maintain a high level of energy and enthusiasm because there is no other way one can pack so many destinations in one trip. Ninad Tipnis, principal architect, JTCPL Designs, who heads a family business and has made several trips abroad, has no complaints. He says: “I would call it structured. There is so much to see and do that you need to maintain high energy levels and enthusiasm. And the fact remains that had I gone on my own, I would not have been able to cover as much as I did."

There are some who prefer to pack the advantages of a travel package and one’s independence. Godrej Sachinwalla, 55, a finance manager with Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd, is passionate about travelling and has been globetrotting since 2003. “I prefer travelling with the operators. To spend time on my own, I extend the trip by a few days or take some extra days before the tour starts." But be ready to spend a little extra for your freedom of movement.

Deepa travelled on her own for two days, after which she rejoined the group. “What I saw and experienced in those two days was a thousand times more enriching and memorable than all the remaining days put together," she says.

Travelling with a group has some practical advantages. Since you have a trained guide with you, language is not a barrier.

For the elderly, there is a sense of security because they can rely on the operator in case of sickness or other emergency. As a group, you are also better insured against theft as 26-year-old Pranali Dhamankar, a sales executive, discovered the hard way. She was robbed of her hand bag at a Swiss airport and lost around Rs50,000. She spent Rs1 lakh more on phone bills, getting additional money and shuttling between police stations.

Remember, you need to have a particular attitude to enjoy a travel package. If you are ready for it, get packing now.

Graphics by Shyamal Banerjee / Mint