In the summer of 1863, 130 intrepid travellers, led by pioneering travel agent Thomas Cook gingerly made the voyage across the English Channel to embark upon his company’s new-fangled escorted tour to the Swiss Alps.
For the next fortnight, this bunch of hardy souls – who had all forked out the princely sum of £10 for the experience – rode mules over Alpine ravines and ladies lumbered up glaciers in asphyxiating crinoline dresses.
As antiquated as it may seem, those two weeks were the beginning of the escorted tour as we know it. Of course, escorted tours have changed beyond all recognition since then. Today, itineraries don’t take weeks to complete (Cook later launched a ‘222-day trip to Egypt’), it’s quicker to get around on trains rather than mules while toilets are invariably more hygienic too.
There’s also more diversity, with escorted tours available to suit seemingly every interest, from horse-riding to history.
Still, many misconceptions remain around escorted tours. Many believe them to be whirlwinds of 5am wake-up-calls, hours stuck on stuffy coaches and being shoved around ancient sites by aggressive tour guides. Escorted tours are launching a comeback, fuelled by increasingly busy lifestyles (large chunks of your life can be spent attempting to book on complex train websites) and a growing interest in previously ‘difficult’ destinations.
An escorted tour allows you to sample the best of a country or region without fretting over hotel bookings or missing travel connections. They work particularly well for large countries, such as Australia, enabling you to visit such far-apart destinations as Sydney, Alice Springs, the Great Barrier Reef and Perth – often within a matter of a fortnight.
They also throw in experiences such as whale-watching or wine-tasting, often a logistical nightmare for holidaymakers to organise.