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Travel Notes

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by Linda Strait

Ask anyone to describe an organized tour and they will probably paint the picture of a motorcoach ride through Europe with 40 other Americans you don't know, led by one with a megaphone.

This common stereotype has people believing that in order to take advantage of cost savings and convenience, they must give up independence and adventure.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Today's tours can offer flexibility, independence and freedom, as well as group savings (even if you are traveling alone) and accommodations that are dependable.

There are four basic types of tours: escorted, packaged, modular and independent.

With escorted tours, you travel with the same group of people, with a guide, on a set itinerary. You often do have time on your own, and they are by no means limited to motorcoaches. Escorted tours might be a biking trip through France, a raft trip in Colorado or a Nepal tiger trek.

Packaged tours also have set itineraries and pre-booked hotels, but you don't travel with a group or guide. You usually do have arrangements for airport pick-ups, and some sight-seeing tours, but you are on your own.

An example of this type of tour would be a Disney World Package, an all-inclusive resort, such as Club Med, or a hosted tour in Europe.

With modular tours, you choose selected hotels and sightseeing tours before your trip, organizing your own itinerary before you leave.

Each day would be with a different group of people for sightseeing tours because everyone has chosen their own schedule. You'll find these tours offered in countries like China, where you can move about among different cities.

But, if you don't want to stick to anybody's schedule, consider an independent tour. With independent tours, you are getting the convenience of a tour company's knowledge about a particular area and services for making reservations.

Whether you travel on your own or with a group, the advantages of planning a trip with an established tour company are cost savings and the security that the accommodations and activities have been checked out and approved by people knowledgeable about the area.

An organized tour does not necessarily mean low-budget. Trips are offered in several categories, from budget to deluxe. A trip can be high-priced, but still a bargain, if you compared it to planning the same tour on your own.

Staying at the finest hotels, eating in fine restaurants and having a private driver can be less expensive if booked with a company that buys in bulk, or guarantees year-round business to suppliers. You also have the advantage of knowing more about your expenses up front so that you can better budget your trip.

Once you decide on the kind of tour you want to take, ask your travel agent for suggestions on tour companies that offer these trips (not all tour companies offer modular or independent options).

Compare the fine print between companies to see what each includes, whether they offer a trip protection plan and if they are bonded or have liability insurance, such as USTOA or National Tour Association Members insurance.

(Linda Strait is president of House of Travel Inc., a full-service travel agency in Springfield.)

INSET CAPTION:

With modular tours,

you choose selected hotels and sightseeing tours before your

trip, organizing your own itinerary

before you leave.[[In-content Ad]]

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