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Tourist?  Traveler? Touron? 
by Marti Van Horne, Scots Travel Specialist


I’ve enjoyed many trips as a tourist, meaning I let a tour company or cruise line make and execute the plans for my travel.  While it’s possible to do much of the research on line, there’s nothing like a brochure with maps, itineraries, dates and of course, prices. Since travel agents are paid a commission by their suppliers the cost to you is the same whether you buy from an agent or direct. 

There are many things to consider when making comparisons for your trip.  Time and timing are usually the first constraint with a limit on days off or working around school schedules or the desire to see a certain event. Check out www.visitscotland.com for a list of festivals, competitions and highland games; you may find an tour will not work for you.

In Scotland the organized tours generally start in April and end by mid-October though there are exceptions.  If you’re not going to the Edinburgh Tattoo, Festival or Fringe Festival, avoid traveling there in August as tours that include those events are at a premium price.  The upside is that they will frequently include tickets and transportation to and from the venue for the Tattoo. 

CIE Tours is Irish owned, but one of the largest tour operators in Scotland, Ireland and  the UK; other major companies such as Brendan, Globus, Insight, Trafalgar and  Tauck operate numerous departure dates with trips of varying lengths.  Church groups, clans and even Tours with Beth & Marti may offer one trip a year with emphasis on a specific subject. There are also tours for those seeking active vacations such as hiking, biking, fishing or golfing.

When reading a tour brochure be sure and check out the dates that are listed as guaranteed. If an operator does not sell enough seats on any given trip they may cancel the departure and if you have already cashed in your miles or bought a airline ticket it’s going to be an expensive fix, especially if you can’t change your vacation dates.  Always look for guaranteed dates or have your agent see if the trip has enough participants to operate.

Should you buy your air from the tour operator?  Have your agent check out the price for air provided with the tour, then determine the best price you can find and add it to the “land only” price. You may do better on your own, especially if you are in a mileage program.

Watch the inclusions.  Most day by day itineraries will show which meals are included. B L  & D indicate breakfast, lunch and dinner, sometimes there are special dinners or buffet breakfast so check out the codes.

If a brochure says you will see, view, or travel through an area or suggests you may “enjoy a stroll” to visit a specific spot you can be sure it’s not going to be a real sightseeing event. If something is listed as included, listed in bold type or says your guide takes you to visit a specific sight it’s probably included in your tour price. If the itinerary says your afternoon is free for independent activities they may offer an optional tour or you can explore on your own.  As a rule you will pay more for a tour that includes more meals and sightseeing but with the dollar being in poor shape against the pound right now it may be the best course of action.  Also, you will have more of your tour guides time as they are not trying to constantly sell “optional” tours.

Several major cruise lines now offer summer departures that will cover the British Isles with ports that allow for sightseeing in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Orkney and Inverness. Lindblad Expeditions (www.expeditions.com) offers a unique 10 night Heart of the Highlands cruise on the 48 passenger Lord of the Glens.

 In 2007 they offered a 12 night itinerary on the 110 passenger National Geographic Endeavor following the footsteps of the Celts and Vikings, so there is something out there for everyone.

The Royal Scotsman offers the ultimate in luxury train travel with journeys from 1 to 7 nights and would make a wonderful pre or post cruise adventure.   

Check out the weather at www.wunderground.com, click on trip planner and see when you may expect the least amount of liquid sunshine.  No matter what is says, take your rain coat and umbrella and enjoy Scotland, a vacation you’ll never forget.

Anyone out there have a favorite tour operator from Australia, Canada or elsewhere?


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