Sunday, June 24, 2012

Independent Travel vs. Guided Vacations

Baby Boomers love to travel.  From the time we hit college age, we began exploring the world and many of us plan to continue to do so after retirement.  Now, however, we have become a little older and wiser.  Boomers are no longer quite as willing to buy a Volkswagen Westfalia camper and travel around Mexico for a few months, as my husband and I did in the mid-1970's. 

Instead, we want to travel efficiently, affordably, safely and comfortably, while exploring new areas of the world.  At the same time, we want the freedom to try new things and explore interesting places on our own.  Is it possible to do both?

Independent Travel vs. Guided Vacations

Like most Baby Boomers, the majority of the trips my husband and I have taken involved independent travel.  In addition to our lengthy trip to Mexico, we have gone on road trips through every state in the continental United States and several provinces of Canada.  We have also visited several countries in the Caribbean and Europe and enjoyed a number of trips to Hawaii.  During most of those trips, we simply booked our own travel arrangements and hotels, and wandered around our destination.  Once, we spent a week in Paris casually strolling the boulevards, visiting sidewalk cafes, majestic cathedrals, and breathtaking museums.  We have done for shorter period of time England, Switzerland, Germany and all the other states and countries we visited.

However, we have also taken two guided vacations, which is simply the new, modern term for group tours.  The first was a employer sponsored trip to Banff, Canada.  We loved having everything organized for us with very little effort on our part, but we didn't take another guided vacation for years. 

In our late 50's, we signed up for a Princess Land Tour of Alaska, prior to a Princess Cruise.  It was an absolute delight.  All our travel plans, hotels, transportation, etc., were taken care of.  We put our luggage outside our hotel door early each morning, and it was whisked away before we had breakfast.  When we arrived at the next hotel, our luggage was waiting in our room.  It was so wonderful not to have to carry it around!  We could order whatever we wanted off the menu in the Princess Lodges where we stayed.  

We were a bit worried that we would be forced to spend every minute with the group, but that didn't happen at all.  At Mt. McKinley (Denali), my husband spent the day riding in a school bus through a national forest looking for bears and other wildlife, while I attended a Ranger lecture, and relaxed at the resort.  The next day, we went together into the little town of Talkeetna and took a float trip down the river.  Look at the picture above.  That's me in the blue hat; my husband is to the left.  No one else from our tour group went into Talkeetna.  They spent the day doing other things.  We all saw each other that evening at dinner, and shared our various experiences.

That was not the only day we spent doing our own thing during the tour.  We strolled around Anchorage and Fairbanks on our own, and in other locations we had a choice of several activities.  We never felt rushed, stressed or bored.  It was nice to be able to do whatever we wanted, without having to worry about the mundane things like luggage, hotels and transportation.  According to an article in the AAA Westways Magazine, June 2012, guided vacations are the new trend in tour groups.  The tour operators take you to the various areas, and suggest a variety of activities.  However, you have the freedom to choose what you want to do.  In my opinion, this will be the preferred way to travel as we get older.

Worried About Bed Bugs?

As we plan other trips around the United States, one of our daughters recently told us about the Bed Bug Registry!  I promised I would mention it in any travel articles I write.  If you are making hotel reservations anywhere in the United States, you can go to and see if there have been complaints about bed bugs at that hotel.  Anyone who has stayed at a hotel and had a problem with bed bugs is invited to leave a comment at the registry.  Hopefully, this will force hotels to deal with the problem, and protect all of us from accidentally stumbling into a hotel that has a serious problem.

Happy traveling!

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Photo from the author's personal collection.


  1. It's great that you chose to mention guided vacations. I took my first last year and was surprised that it wasn't the controlled and exhausting trip I thought it would be. Like you, I was able to go at my own pace and do things that interest me. But along with that I had the perk of having the major hotels and travel taken care of for me. I was also surprised by the quality of the accommodations. Thanks for the bedbug link!

  2. Thank you for your comments, Diva! You made a good point about the quality of the accommodations during guided vacations. We thought all the Princess Lodges where we stayed were quite lovely; when we stayed in Banff, the hotel was also exceptional. We have had good experiences with these trips, and look forward to doing more in the future.

  3. Nice post. Guided vacations are definitely going to become an even bigger force in America than they are now for the typical traveler. I think the rebranding of the traditional group tour to guided vacation is more so for messaging and position for the American consumer. I just wanted to share the latest guided vacation which uses private planes to transport guests to destinations. It's called the Mauiva AirCruise

  4. Thank you, Kevin, for sharing your knowledge of the Mauiva AirCruise with my readers. It sounds like a fascinating way to travel for those who are looking for a unique guided vacation!

  5. I am late coming to this article but just wanted to say that for those who like independent travel and who would consider swapping homes for a vacation, we are looking for new members to our home exchange website. Our website is specifically for the older traveler and currently we have over 700 homes in 45plus countries.

    However you travel, enjoy it.

    Brian Luckhurst

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