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A Visit to a Foreign Land Changed My Mind About Group Travel

Posted on July 18, 2016

Make no bones about it: I am not a person who likes to travel with a group of strangers. Partly because my spouse and I have traveled all over the world by ourselves for over twenty-five years and loved almost every minute of it. And, as a travel consultant, partly because I have been on enough industry trips where, while the destination was highly educational, some of my fellow travelers have been at best something to be endured.

So what changed my mind so dramatically? It is pretty simple actually, and it comes down to a couple key ingredients – a great tour company, access to extraordinary experiences that would be difficult for any individual traveler to create, and a fantastic tour guide to bring it all to life. Tie these together with the right group of people and this type of group trip can actually be very rewarding and fun!

This perfect combination happened on a recent trip to China arranged by Abercrombie and Kent. The experiences were amazing – visiting Beijing to have the history and politics of the country brought to life as we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and, the absolute ultimate, walking the Great Wall of China. In Xi’an, we had time to spend visiting the Terracotta Warriors – perhaps the most important archeological dig of the 20th century. We sailed the Yangtze River, enthralled by the beautiful gorges and back country of China. And, spending the last part of our trip in the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai, walked the Bund in the former French concession of the city to marvel at the beauty of this relative newcomer to the modern world.

But all of these experiences are ones that can be had on many a generic tour or, for that matter, traveling on one’s own. So, what made this tour different? It was the small details designed by the tour company which was then elevated by our guides that really made the biggest difference.

Our immersion into the country started from the moment we departed the airport because someone had thought to personally meet us at the airport after every flight and make sure we didn’t have to deal with our luggage. Not only was the luggage waiting for us in our rooms but they made sure that the GM of each hotel extended a warm welcome to set the tone of the stay. Every detail helped us feel personally taken care of at every step of the way.

And then there were the other ways A&K designed into the trip that were of great significance and elevated our trip to another level.

  • Magical experiences of the Imperial Palace where not only did A&K know to take us there in the afternoon to avoid the massive crowds that blanket the area in the morning, there was special access to a second-level viewing platform most visitors do not have access to putting us almost eye to eye with the centuries old excavated Terracotta Warriors. An experience that is simply breathtaking.
  • Gliding with unobstructed views through the serene beauty of the Yangtze River on ‘peapod’ boats through the Bamboo Gorge missing the flotilla of other boats that would block our view.
  • Visiting a family displaced by the building of the Yangtze Dam in their own home learning how they actually felt it had improved rather than destroyed their lives.
  • Understanding first hand the personal effect the ‘one family, one child’ law has had on one guide and her husband.

More than anything, though, the design of our trip allowed our guide to take this trip to the highest level through the special things done. It was here that I was able to connect with what I felt China really is to me and see it from a different point of view.

  • I now understand the differences between a plateful of nearly two dozen dumplings at one lunch and to how to use a variety of meats, vegetables and spices to create our own hot pots at another.
  • Visit a market and you’ll be wondering why there is a dentist operating right out on the open street on an elderly gentleman? Of course now I know – it’s because he wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford the removal of an infected tooth and the market allows for cheaper pricing. In case you were curious, the cost of three teeth with replacement implants is the equivalent of about USD $100.
  • Pandas take long naps? Now I know that a visit to the famous zoo in Chongquing needs to be well timed to make sure you see them active in between their long naps.

These are just some of the special touches that made a great trip extraordinary. Traveling through a country such as China is not like visiting Paris or London. There isn’t the ease of knowing how to make what you want to do happen, nor someone easily available to understand your wishes, or for that matter how to even just get from point A to point B. Instead, China means dealing with a very different language (actually, a multitude of different dialects}, signage that often doesn’t come with a Western alphabet alternative and so many different ways of thinking and living in some parts of the country that it is mind boggling.

So, while on the trip and when reflecting about it now, it is easy for me to understand the merits of group travel. Not in all cases, but at least under certain conditions and if arranged by a great company like Abercrombie and Kent, who employs the best guides and has the connections that are necessary to create an extraordinary experience. A truly personalized experience can be had in small groups of twenty or less.

In fact, though I hate to admit it, I can’t wait until I can take a very special trip that A&K is going to offer soon in China, visiting the stunning Himalayan valleys and up to the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Called the ‘Roof of the World’, it covers the semi-mythical paradise of Shangri-la, with its gorgeous landscapes and diverse cultures. Certainly a trip that I could never take without the expertise offered by a company such as Abercrombie & Kent. Yes, it sounds like great fun!

Written by and images provided by Earl Davis, Luxury Travel Advisor
Find out more about Earl and our other travel consultants →

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