Tours That Require A Guide: Places You Shouldn’t Travel Alone
Budget Travel Magazine
The words "group travel" can conjure up visions of busloads of tourists roaring past sites, checking off a strict itinerary. But not all group tours are created equal. More importantly, there are some places where you'd be at a distinct disadvantage without a guide. Each of the destinations on our list comes with its own charm—and it's own set of challenges. In these places a guide can help with everything from navigating a complicated bureaucracy to sidestepping common scams to getting your point across in a foreign language. For each place we've identified here, we also recommend a tour, and most of them offer free time and some customization. Some of the tours save you money, others cost a little bit extra, but all of them include airport transfers, entrance fees, and a few meals—not to mention a hefty dose of protection against anxiety. Yes, it is possible to go all of these places on your own, but it's a lot smarter to go with a group.
Back before the fall of the USSR, Americans traveling to Russia had to book through Intourist and stay at state-run hotels. Restrictions have become less and less limiting over the past two decades, but bureaucracy and red tape are still huge obstacles for a trip to Russia. You still need an "invitation" from a hotel or tour company to even apply for a visa, and it's not unheard of for travelers to be sent back home—or even stuck in Russia—because of "problems" with their paperwork. Corruption continues to be an issue, with guidebooks still warning travelers about being stopped to show "papers," a legitimate question that could be veiled as an intimidating request for a bribe. It is advised that all travelers have a local contact to navigate the confusion, and tour operators have trusted contacts with local knowledge.
ChinaThis is a trip that you'll likely only do once in a lifetime—do you really want to spend your whole vacation worrying about how to get from point A to point B? The language barrier is large making everything from dining in restaurants to navigating the sites frustrating. Now add to that the fact that China's most appealing attractions, such as Xi'an and the famous terra cotta warriors, are spread out between the interior and the long east coast. Unfortunately, travelers also must contend with scams geared towards foreigners, including counterfeit currency being switched in by everyone from street vendors to cab drivers. Having a trusted local guide can help you avoid being taken advantage of—and keep you pointed in the right direction.
GalapagosThis bucket-list destination is filled with some of nature's most inspiring creatures. Did you know, for example, that the islands are home to nearly 60 species of birds, half of which are native to the Galapagos? Or that it's home to around 20,000 giant tortoises, including subspecies that are critically extinct (sadly, the most famous tortoise, Lonesome George, died earlier this year)? It's facts like these that make the Galapagos so extraordinary and unless you're an expert yourself, the islands are best appreciated with naturalist guides who can identify the species and tell you the stories behind them. You'll want experienced guides to help you navigate the region too, which is comprised of 13 main islands, some with special habitats, reserves, and research centers. The best tours employ experts who will take you on hikes, boat rides, and even flights to see the region's signature creatures such as the blue-footed boobies.
EgyptPolitical turmoil, riots, and the fall of the Mubarak regime forced many travelers to cancel or rethink travel to Egypt. And many people are still hesitant to book—good news for the adventurous few willing to go because it means there will be fewer crowds to contend with at popular attractions like the pyramids. But tensions can flame up again (as they did recently over political reform) and though the Department of State has no current travel warnings, it's still smart to travel with a group led by companies with local contacts who know exactly where to go and understand (and can anticipate) the local climate. An experienced operator can get you out quickly and can modify itineraries to avoid dangerous areas.
India is still a developing nation and sanitation and cleanliness are not always up to our standards. E. coli is an issue, especially since 600 million residents of India do not have access to regular bathroom facilities, and even in large cities the water supply can not keep up with demand. So it's no surprise that around 10 million travelers to India experience gastrointestinal distress every year. A good tour leader will know the cleanest restaurants and, if the need arises, be able direct you to the closest reputable pharmacy, where medication is labeled correctly and not out-of-date. Plus, India's traffic is notorious, and many travelers encounter unscrupulous cab drivers who take advantage of foreigners' confusion about street names and monument locations—a fact that will make that air-conditioned tour bus all the more pleasant.
KenyaKenya isn't a large country, especially compared with, say, China, but the major parks are in various corners, meaning multiple flights to schedule if you want to see the Big Five on the green hills of the Maasai Mara down in the southwest and the reticulated giraffes on the lava plains of the Samburu Game Reserve in the north near Ethiopia. Like the Galapagos, expert guides mean better access and chances for wildlife viewing—not to mention safety. Going out into a wilderness full of carnivorous animals is not the time to skimp on quality, whether it's tour guides with expert knowledge of navigating the habitats or a company with up-to-date equipment and well-serviced vehicles.
Machu PicchuThese stunning Peruvian ruins are breathtaking, with the remains of the 15th-century civilization spread over the 80,000-acre preserve. You'll see remnants of temples and terraced hillsides—but you won't see any signs explaining what you are looking at. So you'll want a knowledgeable tour guide who can bring the ruins to life via tales of the settlement's mysteries (was it a resort for the wealthy king or maybe the last stop on a spiritual pilgrimage?) and who can explain why mortar wasn't used in most of the construction (the technique helps the buildings withstand earthquakes). Most package tours (including the one we highlight below) include a train ride to the ruins. If you are looking to take the two- or four-day trek up the Inca Trail, you must go with an organized group with a permit, which can be arranged through a licensed tour agency in Peru. SAS Travel does a four-day hike starting at $580 per person, including pickup in Cusco plus meals, snacks, and water along the trail. Machu Picchu is worth the trip, of course, but there is more to Peru. Book a tour that also includes time in Lima, Cusco, and maybe even some of the smaller villages where you can attend ceremonies and meet families in an interactive way that's not exploitive.
JordanThe volatile situation in the Middle East has not affected Jordan as much as Egypt. But even though the country hasn't seen the same extent of civil unrest, there have been (peaceful) protests here as recently as October 2012. The Department of State does not currently have travel warnings for Jordan, but does caution that that threat of terrorism is high. Does that mean you should avoid seeing the ruins of Petra and the Dead Sea? No, but it makes it even more imperative that you travel with a group led by someone who knows which areas to avoid and how to identify early warning signs of problems. Tour operators will also cancel trips in advance if there are official warnings for travelers and allow you to rebook a later tour or change plans altogether at no penalty.
How Does Travel Insurance Work During a Hurricane?
For the first time in more than 100 years, Americans are eyeing the very real and potentially devastating possibility that the United States will be struck by back-to-back Category 4 (or higher) higher.
For those who do not know, hurricane season usually occurs during the months of early June through late October. If you are planning a trip during these months, travel insurance is a must, however it is important to know how your Travel Insurance works or what is covered if a hurricane wrecks your plans for a much needed getaway. If you are facing extreme weather or a hurricane during your trip keep these things in mind.
Travel insurance is designed to offer protection against sudden and unforeseen situations and events. Once a hurricane (or an extreme storm) becomes a named storm, it becomes a foreseeable event with known potential to affect your travel. If you buy travel insurance after a storm is named, your plan will not provide coverage for storm-related claims.
Travel Insurance and Flight Delays
When it comes to flight delays, sitting in an airport for hours--or even days could make even the most patient traveler decide to give up and head home. But don’t do it. You must have lost at least half of your scheduled trip due to a travel delay and you must have shown a good-faith attempt to try to get to your destination before insurance will even consider covering you.
Travel Insurance for Cruise Passengers
If you are flying to a cruise port to go on a cruise, travel insurance will likely not cover your cost if you decide to change your trip before your cruise line cancels the itinerary. If the cruise line changes your itinerary at the last minute due to inclement weather, you must accept the change, As long as the new itinerary has the same “value” as your original itinerary, your insurance company doesn’t consider that you have suffered a “financial loss”.
Travel Insurance and Uninhabitable Hotels
Your insurance will protect you if you need to change hotels because weather damage made the property uninhabitable. However, keep in mind, what annoys you might not necessarily be classified as uninhabitable by the insurance company. If construction is going on at the property, or if the beach has suffered damage, for example, but the hotel can still accommodate you, it is unlikely you will be reimbursed if you decide to change hotels.
It is important to know if your hotel proves to be uninhabitable or if it is evacuated be sure you have the proper documentation from the hotel.
1. Buying travel is a unique purchase, because you are buying both a product and a service.
A travel agent knows how to sell both parts—the airline and resort and cruise line that best match your needs, and the service that will guarantee your vacation is seamless and stress-free.
2. Travel agents are trained to take a critical look at each piece in your trip puzzle.
They make sure each piece meets your specific needs, so you’re happy with every penny you spent.
3. They can make sense of the multitude of offers from cruise lines and airlines and hotels.
This year travel companies are offering more brands than ever before in history—on land, in the air and on the seas. Is Fathom the right cruise for you? Is Delta Light good enough? A travel professional can decipher the subtle differences and choose the one that fits your requirements for this unique trip.
4. Travel professionals save you time and money.
Whether they charge a fee, as many do, or base their businesses on commissions, the time and money you spend with them will be returned to you many times over in the form of perks, upgrades, convenience and great service.
5. They are your advocate.
Whether you need an upgrade to an ocean view or a ticket out of harm’s way after an earthquake, your travel agent will be there for you, intervening with suppliers on your behalf.
6. They are the experts.
Like a doctor or an accountant, a travel counselor will ask the right questions, listen to your answers, understand your pain, and offer expert advice to guide you in making one of your most important decisions—how to spend your invaluable time off. Because there are no do-overs for a vacation gone wrong.
7. Knowledge is power.
From the visa and passport requirements to the name of the maître d’ at the best restaurant in town, a good travel agent has the inside information that makes your trip perfect.
8. They have your back.
When things go wrong, a travel professional knows whom to call to get it fixed on the spot. If your flight is canceled, just have a seat and pick up the phone while the rest of the passengers are lined up trying to rebook. Didn't get the room category you booked? No need to argue with the front desk. One call will get it corrected.
9. They are your personal shopper.
Over time your travel professional gets to know you and your family, your likes and dislikes. You are so much more than a sale to them—and they provide the human connection that makes every transaction more pleasant and meaningful. Plus by supporting local businesses, you support your community.
10. They can offer customized experiences that no one else can.
After 20 or 30 years in the business, a travel professional has the connections to arrange for the side trips, the special passes, the upgrades and little touches that are not available to the general public. Because in this wide and amazing and wonderful world, you just don't know what you don't know. So ask someone who does—ask your local travel agent!
Though best known as a world-class snorkeling and diving location, Belize also offers spectacular natural attractions and the authenticity of a genuine Caribbean getaway. Nestled between Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean coast of Central America, Belize is one of the few remaining unspoiled places on earth.
Off shore, Belize offers the longest barrier reef in this hemisphere, home to the Great Blue Hole, as well as hundreds of islands, and snorkel and dive locations. On land, Belize has hundreds of ancient Maya sites -- both excavated and jungle-covered -- as well as lush tropical rainforests with many species of birds, and exotic tropical flora and fauna.
If you’re looking for an adventurous vacation, Belize has it all, from soft to extreme play, from an adrenaline-charged experience zip-lining though jungle canopies, to exploring a mysterious cave or Mayan ruins, to lazily canoeing down a peaceful jungle river observing nature. Marine adventures are suited for all ages and activity levels, including scuba diving, snorkeling, wind or kite surfing, para-sailing or cruising on a catamaran. The breathtaking colors of Belize’s waters are an invitation to immerse yourself in nature for a safe and enjoyable adventure.
Belize’s history from ancient Maya to recent events are presented in museums, galleries, visitor centers and street-side stalls, offering insight into the friendly Belizeans you will meet. And while you may not find the sophisticated nightlife of other vacation destinations, Belize’s varied cultures, love of music and many holidays and celebrations give ample opportunity to relax your inhibitions and be one with the people of Belize.
Belize is known for its simple yet flavorful cuisine. Most meals include rice and beans (usually red beans, not the black beans which are more common elsewhere in Latin America) and peppers -- the hotter, the better. The menus also include fresh seafood and fresh fruits and vegetables from local markets. One of the newer notable restaurants is El Fogon, in San Pedro, which features a menu dedicated to the home-style cooking of Belizean Creole and mestizo food, all prepared in an open-fire hearth. For breakfast, try Cindy’s Café, on Caye Caulker, where you can browse the collection of books while enjoying bagels with jam or creamy cheese, yogurt with fresh tropical fruit and granola, a gorgeous chocolate brownie and a wide selection of coffee or tea. For more upscale dining, the Blue Lotus, in San Pedro, offers a mouthwatering blend of Caribbean cuisines, including chicken tikka masala and Bombay saffron shrimp curry, in an elegant beachfront setting.
The Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport in Ladyville, about 10 miles from Belize City, serves American, Continental, Delta and US Airways, and is a two-hour flight from Miami, Houston and New Orleans. The best way to get from the airport is by taxi; although an airport bus service exists, it is infrequent and unreliable. Once in Belize City, arrangements can be made for a car rental or other transportation options. Belize City Airport also offers regional service to other cities in the country, as well as Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker.
Belize has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons, although there are significant variations in weather patterns by region. Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean. Average temperatures in the coastal regions range from 75º in January to 81º in July. Temperatures are slightly higher inland, except for the southern highland plateaus, such as the Mountain Pine Ridge, where it is noticeably cooler year round. Overall, the seasons are marked more by differences in humidity and rainfall than in temperature.
Average rainfall varies considerably, ranging from 53 inches in the north and west to over 177 inches in the extreme south. The dry season is shorter in the south, normally only lasting from February to April. A shorter, less rainy period, known locally as the "little dry," usually occurs in late July or August, after the initial onset of the rainy season.
The busier time of the year for travelers to Belize is November to May, which are the winter months of the Northern Hemisphere. Still, many visitors prefer the more quiet days of the summer months from June to October for their vacation in Belize. Both times of the year have their own unique attractions and the choice of when to visit is totally up to you, your budget and the adventure you crave.
Learn More About Belize: : www.HymanTravelNetwork.AgentStudio.com
Audrey Hyman is the owner and CEO of the Hyman Travel Network, a full service travel agency located in the suburbs of Washington, that specializes in cruises and all inclusive vacations