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Sometimes Group Travel Is the Best Way to Go

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By Victor Block

My wife, Fyllis, and I had long dreamed of visiting Costa Rica. We knew about its reputation for magnificent landscapes, abundant animal and bird life, and preservation of the magnificent environment.

We could have spent hours searching the Internet for flights and hotels, reserving a rental car and taking care of the many other required details. But we didn't. Instead, we made a single phone call that took care of all of the necessary planning. In addition, we knew that we would be following an itinerary that combined the must-see attractions with a number of hidden gems that we otherwise might have missed. We also had the comfort of knowing we would get good value for our hard-earned dollars.

Of course there's something to be said for the enjoyment of planning a trip. For some people a vacation begins when they start to make phone calls, search on their computers and take the countless other steps required to deal with every aspect of a trip -- and then hope that nothing has been overlooked.

Others follow a different route. They turn to tour companies that travel to the destination -- or destinations -- they wish to visit and let their experts handle the details.

Fyllis and I went to Costa Rica with a tour operator we had traveled with before. Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) is the self-styled "leader in personalized small- group adventures on the road less traveled." The itinerary allowed us to squeeze as many experiences as possible into every hour of every day.

 

For example, one typical day included a visit to an OAT-sponsored school where the children greeted the group with a charming folkloric presentation, a traditional lunch with a local family and a guided horseback ride through a dense forest. Another began with a hands-on tortilla-making lesson that was followed by viewing giant crocodiles at close range and ended with time spent on one of Costa Rica's beautiful beaches.

Our experience underscored the benefits of traveling with a group. Many tour guides live in a trip destination or, if not, have been there many times. They can bring the history, culture and other aspects of a place to life in ways that enhance your travel experience.

Driving in another country can be stressful at best and downright dangerous if, for example, it requires sticking to the opposite side of the highway. When a professional driver is at the wheel you can sit back, relax and take in the passing scenery. Traveling with a group is safer than venturing out on your own, especially in a place with which you're not familiar. In addition, guides know what areas of a city to steer clear of and can provide assistance in case you encounter a problem.

Because tour operators receive group discounts on many aspects of a trip, the total cost can offer more bang for the buck. Also guides can provide practical tips such as good places to shop and where to get the best money exchange rate.

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