A Properly Paced Tour


Last week I wrote about how to handle long trips so you can enjoy yourself to the fullest and return home happy. One of my tips was to pace yourself: to build in free time throughout the trip so you can relax and recharge before you burn yourself out. You might think (reasonably) that you don’t have to worry about pacing on a group tour, because the tour operator figured all that out, right? Unfortunately, my research has shown me that tour companies are some of the worst offenders when it comes to pacing. It’s all too common to find tours that “visit” (only in the technical sense of the word) 10 cities in 12 days. That’s not travel; it’s drive-by tourism.

There are many perils to be found in fast-paced tours. The most obvious is that you’ll be burned out and exhausted well before the end of the trip. It’s also not humanly possible to experience any place in a meaningful way with less than 24 hours there. You’ll hardly be able to remember, much less appreciate, the places you visit at that rate. Finally, there is a very good chance that you’ll be spending some of your frenetic days in some underwhelming places, which may leave you feeling underwhelmed about your entire vacation. I found a tour of France that spends only one night in Paris, but also one night in Dijon. Dijon? No disrespect to Dijon (I’m sure it’s lovely), but it’s hardly a “must see.” Spend at least two nights in Paris, for heaven’s sake, and skip the mustard.

All tour companies claim to be experts in crafting travel itineraries, of course; but when you look closely at their daily schedules, it becomes obvious that too many of them have sacrificed quality (and good pacing) for quantity. Rather than make thoughtful decisions about the best places to visit, they just pack every single city and tourist attraction they can into two weeks and call it a tour.

So how can you avoid drive-by tourism? There are two telltale signs that a trip is well paced:

First, there aren’t a lot of one-night hotel stays. Packing and unpacking every day is the quickest route to travel burnout; switching hotels frequently is also a pretty spectacular waste of time. One-night stays are also a sign that you won’t have time for more than a cursory inspection of the places you visit. My ideal number of one-night stays on a tour is zero, but occasionally one is necessary to make a schedule work.

Second, there are days with scheduled free time. And I don’t mean free time in the sense that you are “free” to go see the major sights on your own (this is another pet peeve of mine that I see in a lot of group tours). I mean free time after you’ve seen the highlights with the group, so if you choose to use this time to relax at a café, you don’t have to feel guilty for doing so. Bonus points if the free time happens to be in a scenic location.

Fortunately, Mockingbird is not like other tour companies. (But you already knew that.) When I say our itineraries are thoughtfully crafted, I’m not just whistlin’ Dixie. For example, many tour companies that go to Ecuador visit a hot springs town called Baños. Ours doesn’t. Why would we, when Cuenca has so much more to offer and has hot springs nearby? Meanwhile, our Switzerland tour spends the majority of the trip based in Geneva, which allows us to visit some of the best sites in the region while also getting a true feel for the city.

Our mission at Mockingbird is to offer you extraordinary travel adventures that enrich your life. We believe that to do this, it’s necessary to slow down. On a Mockingbird tour, you will always have time to stop and smell those proverbial roses, and you’ll remember every moment of the trip when you get home.


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