Cheryl Eddy

Well-Traveled: Guided vacation or independent travel?

It depends on the destination

The summer travel season is upon us and as one considers travel plans within the next few months or later, many seniors may wonder whether to join an escorted tour domestically or abroad, or to travel independently. Both options have advantages and disadvantages. I have done both and have been pleased with my decisions. I tend to let my destination determine whether I opt for an escorted tour or to strike off on my own. If I am traveling in the United States, Canada or western Europe, I am more likely to decide on a city or a country, book my own airfare and hotel reservations online and then let serendipity take care of the rest of my plans. However, if I am traveling to countries where I have never visited or where English is not spoken as commonly as it is in much of Europe, I have opted to take an escorted group tour. And in all cases where I have done this in China, Vietnam, Turkey and Morocco I was pleased with the decision.

Let s take a look at the two approaches to travel. The first option is an escorted group tour. If you haven t been on such a tour, put aside the misconception that they are all alike.

There are large European bus tours with 30 or 40 tourists that offer a lot of sightseeing in a one- to two-week period. And there are smaller, more personal tours with groups of 10 to 20 that use local flights to get guests from one city or another. A bit of research will turn up many tour companies that provide a variety of tours in a variety of price ranges, from economy to luxury. Some travelers like the company of guests from around the world and enjoy the camaraderie. Others prefer interacting in a smaller group but still enjoy the company of others. They value having the security of a group but seek some independent traveling as well.

Escorted tours can be stress-free. I appreciate being met at the airport by a tour representative who speaks the local language, can answer any immediate questions, can direct me to the nearest ATM, takes care of the baggage and gets me safely and comfortably to my hotel. If there are problems, the escort takes care of them. This was the case when my luggage did not make it on a flight from Beijing to Xi an or when my traveling companion accidentally locked her passport in her checked bag. Our escort, a native of China, solved the problems for us. In Vietnam, my companion left her cellphone at a theater.

Our escort called the theater; spoke to the manager, who located the phone and then wrote in Vietnamese explaining what happened; hailed us a cab; gave the drivers directions to our destination; and sent us off to the theater to retrieve the phone. In a country where we spoke the language, such a task would be complicated but not impossible. In Vietnam, the help of our escort was invaluable. Another advantage, available through a number of tour companies, is that airfare is often included in the total price. The traveler can benefit from a discount on flights and hotels. Of course, the cheapest fares can be inconvenient at times, but one has the option to shift flights, though usually at a higher cost.

One can also book excursions ahead of time. A tourist can pretty much determine the total cost of the trip before leaving home. Tour escorts are quite knowledgeable about their countries and, in my experience, locally contracted tours guides are excellent. Tour companies can also offer guidance on acquiring visas and permits. Signing on for an escorted tour is easy and can be done online. Company representatives are available by phone to handle specific requests or problems.

I have enjoyed the escorted tours I have taken in the past. In my years as a college professor, I have taken students on many study abroad trips. I have had to handle all sorts of problems and issues. As a tourist, it is a pleasure to leave those concerns to others. However, there are times when I don t want to be part of a group and desire to strike out on my own.

Then I choose independent travel. The obvious advantages are that one can choose one s own companions and go where you want and when you want. It is freeing not to be locked into a specific activity on a certain day. Travel whims can be followed. Going on your own may take a little more research and planning than joining an escorted group.

But that effort is part of the pleasure. Recently a good friend and I decided to take a spring trip to South America. We chose four days in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires and used an online travel site to book our flights and hotels. Obtaining a visa for Brazil was complicated and pricey, but we worked through it by using a passport/visa service. Once in Brazil and Argentina, we spent a lot of time wandering on our own, but we opted for a couple of local tours to top destinations in order to avoid lines and make sure we experienced the iconic points of interest in each city.

We liked the flexibility of traveling independently. We struck up conversations with locals and other travelers, so we didn t lack for companionship. Fortunately, we encountered no problems, so we didn t need the intervention of a local. Also, English is widely spoken in both countries. When we encountered Spanish- or Portuguese-only speakers, phrase books and gestures helped us be understood. Another friend and I traveled to Croatia and Slovenia on our own. We made friends with the bartender in our Zagreb hotel, and in Ljubljana we hired a local guide to take us to the Adriatic and into Italy.

It was a great opportunity to spend an entire day with a Slovenian native and learn about his life and experiences. Whether journeying with a group or independently, travel is an exciting, enlightening and engaging experience. If you are a fan of group travel, try going it alone some time. And if you have eschewed group travel, consider being escorted on your next trip. Dennis Stouse, chair of the Department of Communication at Jacksonville University and a writer and photographer, writes Well-Traveled, an occasional travel column for PrimeTime.

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In motion: 12 of the best photos from the Giro d’Italia

A pick of the best images from the past week’s racing action from the Giro d’Italia (May 2 – May 8)

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

The Netherlands loves the Giro

Thousands line out to see the riders and teams presented ahead of the start of the 2016 Giro d Italia in Apeldoorn. The race kicked off with a short time trial around the Dutch city the following day.

Credit: Graham Watson

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

Valverde makes Giro debut

Alejandro Valverde greets the crowds as he prepares to make his first Giro d Italia start at the age of 36. The Spanish champion has eyes on the overall prize, and leads a strong Movistar line-up into the race.

Credit: Graham Watson

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

Spartacus falls short

Fabian Cancellara was unable to fulfil one of his final season ambitions of taking the maglia rosa on the Giro s opening time trial. Cancellara finished eighth but lost even more time on the sprint finish of stage two.

Credit: Graham Watson

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

Dumoulin in pink

Tom Dumoulin prepares for his first outing in the pink leader s jersey at the 2016 Giro d Italia, after the Dutchmand took the race lead in the opening time trial in Apeldoorn.

Credit: Yuzuru Sunada

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

Nibali takes first advantage in the GC

Vincenzo Nibali put in a decent time trial performance to take a slender advantage over his GC rivals in the opening weekend of the Giro. Nibali is looking for his second win in his home Grand Tour after winning the race in 2013.

Credit: Yuzuru Sunada

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

The race rolls out

Home favourite Tom Dumoulin leads the peloton out on stage two of the Giro d Italia. It was a successful start to the race for Giant-Alpecin, with Tobias Ludvigsson taking the young rider s jersey in addition to Dumoulin s overall lead.

Credit: Graham Watson

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

Unstoppable Kittel

Marcel Kittel launches his sprint on stage two of the Giro d Italia. No-one was able to get near the German in the finish in the Dutch city of Nijmegen.

Credit: Yuzuru Sunada

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

A nervous day

Dimension Data s Jay Thomson was far from the only rider to hit the floor on the third day of the Giro d Italia, with high speeds and plenty of road furniture on the Dutch roads making for a nervous day in the bunch.

Credit: Graham Watson

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

Wind plays havoc on day three

The winds of the Dutch lowlands begin to play havoc with the peloton, with a number of riders being caught in groups behind the main bunch as echelons formed.

Credit: Graham Watson

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

Didi hits the Giro

Didi the Devil shows he s still going strong as he shows off his pink trident on the roadside of the Giro s third stage.

Credit: Yuzuru Sunada

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

The peloton heads to Arnhem

The streets on Nijmegen were lined with spectators as the riders rolled out on stage three towards Arnhem.

Marcel Kittel showed his dominance once again as he sprinted ahead of his rivals for the win.

Credit: Yuzuru Sunada

In Motion: 12 Of The Best Photos From The Giro D’Italia

Kittel in red

Marcel Kittel donned the red points jersey for the third stage of the 2016 Giro, but it would get even better for the Etixx sprinter as he took the maglia rosa with his stage win into Arnham.

Credit: Yuzuru Sunada

More bang for your buck: South Africa, Mexico and Brazil among the cheapest places for Brits to holiday now

  • Pound is at 13-month low against Euro, making European holidays pricey
  • MailOnline Travel has compiled the best alternative destinations to visit
  • Turkey, South Africa, Malaysia and New Zealand all feature

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European holidays have become increasingly pricey over the last year, as the pound plunges to a 13-month low against the Euro, but there are plenty of other countries where Brits can get value for money. While Italy and France might be out of the question when bargain-hunting, more exotic locations such as Mexico and Malaysia have seen their currencies weaken against the pound recently. So if you’re looking to get a bit more bang for your buck, which Discount Holidays © holiday destinations should you be booking this summer?

MailOnline Travel has compiled a list of some of the most affordable destinations, using information supplied by the Post Office. British tourists looking to get a good deal on exchange rates should head to Cape Town as the biggest gain for sterling this year has been against the South African rand

The biggest gain for sterling this year has been against the South African rand. UK tourists looking to go on safaris, fly-drive trips along the Garden Route or to explore Cape Town will see travel cash stretch 22 per cent further than last year – in just five years sterling has doubled in value against the rand.

The pound is also surging against the Mexico peso, with it rising in value by 9.5 per cent over the last year, which means that popular destinations like Cancun and Tulum are also a bargain for British holidaymakers. This means UK visitors changing 500 will get around 44 more in peso than a year ago, making Mexico a better bet for a budget break than the Caribbean, where the pound buys around 6.7 per cent less currency than a year ago. Travellers looking for more bang for their buck who are unconcerned about the Zika virus would benefit from a trip to Salvador in Brazil

Travellers unconcerned about the Zika virus would benefit from a trip to Brazil too, as they will get 89 more in a 500 exchange with the local real currency compared to last year.

Holidaymakers heading east will be better off in Asia and the Indian Ocean as well, as a sterling surge of 4.6 per cent against the Malaysian ringgit compared with a year ago has compounded the impact of falling prices in Penang to make tourist staples 25 per cent cheaper in Malaysia’s most popular destination. For those still intent on travelling in Europe, a trip to Norway will prove better value than it did a year ago as the pound has gained against the local krone currency.

A three per cent year-on-year drop, rising to 22 per cent over two years, makes a Northern Lights trip to Norway a better prospect than visiting Iceland for the Aurora Borealis. The top 10 currencies that provide the best value for terms of cash in your pocket.

Source: Post Office

Meanwhile, Turkey, a popular short-haul destination for Brits is also proving a hit in the exchange rates, with holidaymakers getting 12.2 per cent more for their money this year compared to last year. Andrew Brown of Post Office Travel Money told MailOnline Travel: ‘In the current climate, holidaymakers need to be vigilant in monitoring exchange rates to make sure they get the most for their money because sterling is looking extremely vulnerable at the moment.

‘It has lost four per cent in value against the euro since the beginning of year and is around 10.5 per cent weaker than last July when it rose to its highest rate in several years. A trip to see the Northern Lights in Norway will prove better value than it did a year ago as the pound has gained against the local krone currency

He continued: ‘It’s not just the euro that has strengthened against sterling, but the US dollar as well and all the Discount Holidays © holiday currencies that float with the dollar.

‘How sterling performs in the coming weeks and months will depend on how the money markets respond to developments in the EU referendum campaign between now and 23 June.

‘For example, it would be wise to avoid buying currency on a day when an opinion poll result suggests a BREXIT vote.

Conversely, if the poll is in favour of staying in, you might expect sterling to rise in value.’