Who will plan the global vacation that I'm too stressed to plan for myself?
May 19, 2010 9:43 PM   Subscribe

What are the best reputable Web sites for booking packaged, affordable global travel from the U.S.? Not looking to actually travel until 2011.

My husband and I need to escape from the overwork and chaos of our workaday lives. I want to go somewhere that's visually, geologically, historically and culturally interesting. My list of potential destinations is long: Argentina, Chile, Turkey, India, China, Spain, Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, Namibia ...

But I get overwhelmed when I try to figure out where to go, when to travel, what to see, where to stay, how to get from Point A to Point B, etc., etc. etc. So I'd like to find a few tour operators so I can compare and contrast different options for two week trips.

I'm fine with a small culturally oriented cruise or a guided motor bus tour, but self-guided travel is OK too. My husband and I can take care of ourselves as long as someone else gives us detailed instructions on where we're staying and how we're getting around.

Our maximum budget: $2,000 or less per person for two weeks, not including the cost of getting to our destination.

This budget seems to rule out the one site I'm familiar with, Smithsonian Journeys, which is reputable, but also very spendy. Beyond that that, there are lots of travel vendors that pop up on google. But I don't really feel comfortable giving my credit card number to a company just because it's got a high google ranking.
posted by croutonsupafreak to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Tours and packages are almost always expensive, generally more expensive that independent travel. And independent travel can be grueling if you're determined to "see everything", but if you can let go of that you can have a wonderful and relaxing time. I'd encourage you to check out some guides from a local library and read through them, see if maybe traveling on your own is something that could appeal to you.

Actually, I see now that one of your tags is "self-guided", so yeah, that's definitely an option instead of a tour group.

You have a year. Take your time and plan. Here's a simple way to have a relaxing vacation:
  1. Choose one country, and unless you like logistics and seeing as much as possible, choose at most 4-5 cities/locations in that country. Read up on different areas and which places you'd like to spend the most time in.
  2. For each city, chose 3 places you'd like to stay. In my experience, in many places the hostels are actually your best option. Local hotels often cater to local travelers, hostels cater to Western tastes. They're often much cleaner and often have doubles. You'll just have to use a shared bathroom. If you're trying to stay within a budget it's probably better not to spend too much on accommodations.
  3. Plan one thing per day. Seriously. So many guidebooks have you going from one stop to another with 10-20 sights in a single day. Choose one important one and go there. Odds are there are going to be some interesting sites nearby.
  4. Unless you're going waaay off the beaten track, finding a good place to eat won't be difficult either. VirtualTourist and Chowhound are good for this.

posted by Deathalicious at 10:20 PM on May 19, 2010

Do you have an American Express charge card? Their travel services might not be the cheapest, but as far as reputability, assistance with planning complete itineraries and incredible customer service goes, they really can't be beat. If you have an Amex card, call one of their travel agents and see what they suggest - an inquiry won't cost you anything.
posted by halogen at 11:05 PM on May 19, 2010

Response by poster: Deathalicious: That is good advice, but I can't deal with any more planning, thinking or elaborate projects. I am over-extended at work, over-extended through my volunteer commitments, over-extended socially, and I just can't do it. I think I'd need to take a week-long vacation just to get to the point where I mentally would have the capacity to plan a two-week vacation.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:21 PM on May 19, 2010

I'd second what halogen said. I went on a trip arranged by a family member through American Express Travel. It was quite enjoyable. His agent suggested an itinerary, booked hotels, transfers, and a few events along the way. It certainly was a bit more touristy than what you get if you plan it yourself with a Lonely Planet, but if I wasn't paying I'd use them again. ;)

Have fun!
posted by herrtodd at 1:04 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I cannot recommend Gap Adventures through personal experience, but they've been on my list of Things To Do When I Have Money for quite some time now. I did a search of 12-14 days, and came up with this. They even have a trip to A Galaxy Far Far Away, ha!

I would recommend Rick Steves tours but I think they are a little out of your budget for the time you want to spend on vacation. I have been on a couple of his tours, nearly 12 years ago, but still. They were well organized and not like many standard bus tours where it's more cookie cutter.
posted by emkelley at 3:11 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pre-internet (well, mid-90s but before the plethora of travel sites available now), I went to the UK with my aunt and cousin on a package with Globus. My aunt had chosen them because at that time, they had access to hotel/flight rates you couldn't get anywhere else. I don't know if that's still the case.

She used their Independent Vacation service (I guess they call it Monograms now), where they book the basics for you, and then you can add on half-day/day elements. So we stayed in London and mostly showed ourselves around but did a guided day trip to Bath/Wiltshire Downs which was pretty reasonable (~$55 back then), especially once you factored in multiple train/bus tickets and admission(s).

I was only in high school, so I wasn't that involved in the planning, but she was quite satisfied with them.
posted by clerestory at 3:19 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

...you couldn't get anywhere else...

Sorry, that's inaccurate - I meant that you couldn't get those prices booking on your own (at least at that time without a great deal of hassle). I'm sure other tour companies also got volume pricing.
posted by clerestory at 3:24 AM on May 20, 2010

Best answer: We just returned from the Incredible India trip through Smartours, and it was fantastic. We don't normally like group tours, but the price was excellent ($1,000/person for airfare, hotels, a great tourguide, admission to the Taj Mahal, etc) although the trip was short (6 days on the ground). If you have questions about it, let me know.

Many of the other people on the tour had done other Smartours trips, which I take as an endorsement of their other trips.
posted by arco at 4:53 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I cannot recommend Gap Adventures through personal experience, but they've been on my list of Things To Do When I Have Money for quite some time now.

Well, I CAN recommend Gap Tours from personal experience, and they're great! I like them because the tours have a range of prices. The more expensive ones are super guided with great hotels and things. But I actually like the less expensive ones. The hotels are clean and comfortable, and there is less guiding going on. The guide usually asks you what you want to do each day (giving suggestions) and helps you plan your activities -- translating, making reservations, booking cabs, etc -- and then you're on your own for the day usually meeting up with the rest of the group for dinner. They do all the parts of travelling I hate doing, and let me wander and enjoy my visit. I've travelled through Central and South America with Gap and it was really nice.
posted by bluefly at 5:30 AM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My brother & sister-in-law (as did my Mom when she traveled) swear by Grand Circle Travel which, admittedly, is for more of the retirement-age set. . If you're younger and want smaller groups & more activity, try Overseas Adventure Travel. Both have great last-minute deals if your lifestyle allows such.
posted by Pressed Rat at 1:00 PM on May 20, 2010

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