Call me a masochist but I really enjoy the company of strangers. It’s a maxim of mine, which I cling to through thick and thin, that boredom doesn’t exist, only interesting people who haven’t been asked the right questions yet.
That’s probably why I’m such a fan of escorted tours. The ‘E word’ makes people nervous. They worry that they are babysitters, herded in groups, forced to have awkward little talk for hours.
They are missing the point, which is that the camaraderie of the road is as old as the journey itself. It’s an intrinsic part of what makes traveling so exhilarating. Not just new settings, but new faces. Shared experiences. Friendships were made far from home.
Max Davidson has ‘savored every minute’ of his time spent on escorted tours
I have been on dozens of escorted tours in my time, in many different countries, in groups large and small, and I have savored every minute.
From bus tours of English cathedrals to river tours of French vineyards, from bourbon distilleries in Kentucky to ancient ruins in Turkey, I’ve been there, I’ve done it. I could have visited the same places on my own or with my family, but I doubt it would have brought home so many memories.
Extravagant encounters. Crazy conversations. Jokes. Stories. Conflicts at airports. Drink late at night. Joking in the back of the bus, like kids on a school trip. What’s not to like?
I have also learned a lot from the people who matter most to me on an accompanied tour: the guides who do the accompaniment. These guides are part of a long tradition. In the 19th century, English travelers visiting Rome or Florence, hungry for cultural enlightenment, were escorted by a cicerone. (In Muslim countries, the dragoman played a similar role.)
The cicerone was Wikipedia, Tripadvisor and Google Maps in one. And if you think modern technology has made cicerones superfluous, you are wrong. A good expert guide is like gold dust.
I can still see the face of the young Egyptologist who accompanied me and a small group of British people on a Nile cruise 20 years ago. His enthusiasm was infectious. His knowledge of the tomb of Tutankhamun and the great temple of Luxor was encyclopedic.
A guide’s ‘encyclopedic’ knowledge of the Luxor Temple (pictured) left Max impressed
Different expert guides have different styles, which is part of the fun. I remember another guided tour of Egypt in the company of the English classical scholar Peter Jones.
His slide shows after lunch were a riot. ‘In ancient Alexandria, one couldn’t get around the sages. And they knew their onions. Boom-boom!
Independent travelers, who reject package tours, do their own research, go off the beaten track, pride themselves on their self-sufficiency. They are the heirs of the great Victorian explorers. But human beings are social animals
Such is the rich variety of the modern travel industry that your guide on an escorted tour could not only be charming and knowledgeable, but also a household name.
I was on an escorted tour of Vietnam, on a cruise ship, where Raymond Blanc turned, no less, freshly bought local produce into delicious meals. The gastronomic paradise, with a seasoning of Gallic charm.
Even better was an escorted tour of the Caribbean a few years ago, when I joined some fans from England in a cricket show and island hopping in the company of David Gower, God’s gift to the cover campaign.
For this avid cricket fan, it would have been exciting to see the great man in the distance. Spending hours in his company, talking about cricket and life, with a glass of something good in hand, was a real treasure.
Independent travelers, who reject package tours, do their own research, go off the beaten track, pride themselves on their self-sufficiency. They are the heirs of the great Victorian explorers.
But humans are social animals, and there’s no shame in viewing travel through a slightly different lens. If you have scorned the idea of an escorted tour, think again.