Custom tour with MIR Corp.

This is subscriber only post.
Get one year of online-only access — only $15!
Below is a sample of the article.
Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I noticed while reading the letters submitted for the piece “The Good or Bad Tour Guide” (June ’06, pg. 50) as well as some comments printed in “Travelers’ Intercom” that many writers offered ways to augment their tour experiences.

For instance, “If a tour includes all meals, pass up some and find local eateries. We came across some excellent food away from the group choices.” One traveler carried personal guidebooks to read during the “eternal lecture.” Another urged tour flexibility such as changing a tour’s route to include a stave church which was not on the original itinerary but proved to be a highlight of the tour. Another, on a tour where the daily activities ended shortly after noon, arranged for additional hours of personal guiding.

All these, and others, are good suggestions, although some cost additional money, and others call for urging the tour to accommodate flexibility. But why not forgo the downsides of group-guided tours and ask the tour company to just arrange an independent tour based entirely on your interests and needs? Almost all travel companies will do this.

Sure, you’ll miss the “pleasures” of the group tours, but isn’t one of the points of foreign travel to “get away” from your usual environment? Without the group around you, you’ll have a much better chance to interact with the people you meet in new places.

My wife and I always traveled totally independently. In Europe, this was easy, but for our last trip — to Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova — I was apprehensive about standing in the middle of a train station trying to decrypt the Cyrillic alphabet, so we arranged with MIR Corporation (Seattle, WA; 800/424-7289, www.mircorp.com) for a bare-bones trip for just the two of us.

They arranged only the hotels (I had indicated our preferences) plus transportation between countries and our flights. The rest was left to us: restaurant choices, explorations, visits to the countryside, riding local transportation, seeing what we wanted to see when we wanted to see it...

We always were asked whether we wanted guides on certain days. We declined but could have arranged guided trips tailored to our wishes.

For that Belarus-Ukraine-Moldova trip, May 12-24, 2005, the total amount we paid for land and air was $4,910 for the two of us. That included hotels and hotel transfers in Minsk, Kiev and Chisinau; train travel Minsk-Kiev and Kiev-Chisinau, and air tickets Philadelphia-Minsk and Chisinau-Philadelphia. Visas for those three countries cost us an additional $770.

Many ITN readers plan their travels this way, with all of the virtues of group travel but without the downsides — and at very reasonable costs!

BILL STELTZER
West Grove, PA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I noticed while reading the letters submitted for the piece “The Good or Bad Tour Guide” (June ’06, pg. 50) as well as some comments printed in “Travelers’ Intercom” that many writers offered ways to augment their tour experiences.

For instance, “If a tour includes all meals, pass up some and find local eateries. We came across some excellent food away from the group choices.” One traveler carried personal guidebooks to read during the “eternal lecture.” Another urged tour flexibility such as changing a tour’s route to include a stave church which was not on the original itinerary but proved to be a highlight of the tour. Another, on a tour where the daily activities ended shortly after noon, arranged for additional hours of personal guiding.

All these, and others, are good suggestions, although some cost additional money, and others call for urging the tour to accommodate flexibility. But why not forgo the downsides of group-guided tours and ask the tour company to just arrange an independent tour based entirely on your interests and needs? Almost all travel companies will do this.

Sure, you’ll miss the “pleasures” of the group tours, but isn’t one of the points of foreign travel to “get away” from your usual environment? Without the group around you, you’ll have a much better chance to interact with the people you meet in new places.

My wife and I always traveled totally independently. In Europe, this was easy, but for our last trip — to Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova — I was apprehensive about standing in the middle of a train station trying to decrypt the Cyrillic alphabet, so we arranged with MIR Corporation (Seattle, WA; 800/424-7289, www.mircorp.com) for a bare-bones trip for just the two of us.

They arranged only the hotels (I had indicated our preferences) plus transportation between countries and our flights. The rest was left to us: restaurant choices, explorations, visits to the countryside, riding local transportation, seeing what we wanted to see when we wanted to see it...

We always were asked whether we wanted guides on certain days. We declined but could have arranged guided trips tailored to our wishes.

For that Belarus-Ukraine-Moldova trip, May 12-24, 2005, the total amount we paid for land and air was $4,910 for the two of us. That included hotels and hotel transfers in Minsk, Kiev and Chisinau; train travel Minsk-Kiev and Kiev-Chisinau, and air tickets Philadelphia-Minsk and Chisinau-Philadelphia. Visas for those three countries cost us an additional $770.

Many ITN readers plan their travels this way, with all of the virtues of group travel but without the downsides — and at very reasonable costs!

BILL STELTZER
West Grove, PA