I’m in the middle of my trip to Vietnam and it’s been an incredible experience so far. Based on my social media posts and pictures, a few people mentioned they’d like for me book their travel for them.
Well, folks, here’s the secret: I didn’t really plan this trip!
Our packaged Vietnam Family Adventure has been fantastic, it’s true. So here are my top ten reasons to book a packaged tour. These are especially applicable for cross-generational travel or travel to areas where you are completely a fish out of water.
10. A support team stands behind you.
I initially mis-read our itinerary and completely missed our departing flights. I connected with the company through Messenger and started getting instant advice, and partnering, on how to correct the mistake and reunite with our tour. They re-booked our airport pickup and we seamlessly joined the group on arrival.
As an aside I highly recommend booking your own flights (unless included) so that you are 100% comfortable and familiar with the itinerary. If not, triple check the dates and times you are sent. (It just didn’t ‘click’ for me when it was booked on my behalf).
9. Quicker jet lag recovery and routine building.
After three days we were completely on Vietnam time, thanks to a thoughtfully constructed, tried-and-tested itinerary. It’s hard to motivate yourself to push into a new time zone, with a tour it’s done for you. Get up to do the thing. Lather, rinse, repeat. Congrats! You’re on a new schedule.
8. Vetted optional activities at better prices you can negotiate yourself.
We participated in a kayak tour and a motorcycle tour. I know for a fact that an FIT (fully independent traveller) could not have gotten those rates. I also knew I could trust the safety record of the suppliers. Our CEO (chief experience officer) Son also was able to cancel us out of an optional activity when it became clear my daughter wasn’t feeling up to it. “Our suppliers understand when this happens, if you don’t want to participate you won’t be charged any money.” This just isn’t the case when you book yourself.
7. Mind-blowing optionals.
Want to rent a motorbike and travel to the Vietnamese countryside to see an ancient tomb? It’s possible. You might get there at the busiest time of day, the road might be flooded … or you could walk out of your hotel and jump on a bike and enjoy the activity. Most of the sites we visited had zero people (outside our group).
We also did a cooking class through Streets International that I will remember always. This particular class is not open to the general public, only g-Adventures guests, and you can read about it here.
6. Better connection with the locals.
We were led around Hanoi by a young woman named Lan, who introduced us to six different types of street foods. Personal stories, learning how to do a ‘cheers’ in Vietnamese. Can you meet locals like Lan using apps and other tools? Of course. That said, this was a vetted experience and took zero effort on our part. She showed up in the lobby of the hotel, Son had already made all the arrangements, and then we paid her cash at the end of the trip.
To put this in perspective, a family from our tour went out to find a certain dish and vendor themselves, and they ended up walking for over an hour, and getting caught in the rain. While that’s part of an FIT “experience”, I’m not able to do that with a 7-year-old.
Later in this trip we’ll stay with Vietnamese families in their homes on the Mekong Delta. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to plan that myself.
5. Access to what you need when you need it.
My daughter became suddenly ill while walking to the citadel in Hue. I mentioned this to my group leader and he immediately found a clean bathroom for us at a scooter dealership. Now, unless you speak Vietnamese, know the culture very well … there’s no way to negotiate that. And trust me, she needed a bathroom. Like most travel tummy troubles we had maybe two minutes’ notice.
Later in Hoi An, I was able to use Messenger to chat with Son and get the address of the local banh mi kiosk he had recommended. He even offered to go for us in case my daughter wasn’t up to it. Service!
4. Instant travel buddies!
Our group of 20 started calling ourselves “sticky rice family” after Lan’s advice that we stick together (like sticky rice) when crossing the street. My daughter played Uno with the other children, including a little girl from Bremen who is still learning English. She had kids to play marco polo with in the water. And I had other adults to chat with.
3. Insider tips.
Did you know that the train from Hanoi to Hue leaves from the centre platform? Son does. I would have missed that train for sure (it was hidden behind another train, and the announcements were in Vietnamese). There were backpackers in the station holding tickets to cities they didn’t want to visit, lining up to talk to agents who didn’t quite understand them.
Now, I had an experience like this in Thailand as an FIT where my friend and I bought tickets for a train-bus-boat trip to an island that, upon arrival for the final leg, was missing the final boat ride. She spoke enough Thai to get us passage on a fishing boat. It’s one of my favourite travel memories! But I was 21, had days to spare, and went almost a day without food or drink. That’s less appealing as an adult on a schedule, especially with a child in tow.
2. Efficient itineraries.
Did you know that the train always leaves late? Son does. Do you know when rush hour starts in Hanoi? Lan does. How about the best time to visit the really crowded areas?
When you travel on a packaged trip, they’ve run through the itinerary dozens of times themselves. They’ve tried it with people of different ages. They’ve learned that if they hit a specific attraction at a specific time, it can be viewed just before the crowds hit, and if followed by lunch at a specific restaurant, the meal will happen right when everyone is hungry.
It really is possible to see a lot in a short amount of time, and still have down time, if you’re travelling with the experts on that region.
1. The right amount of down time.
Not every optional activity is going to work for every traveller, even if they share demographic and psychographic characteristics with the rest of the group. Some people want to go for dinner by themselves. Some couples (or parents and kids) have a spat and want to work it out in private. Believe me, tour operators know this and they factor it in. We had almost three days in Hoi An where I had a bunch of tailored clothes made, my daughter swam her face off, and we did lots of relaxing in our air-conditioned room.
This was optimally planned for just when we needed it.
Some people think that technology and other shifts are going to kill the packaged tour. I disagree! There’s a role for this kind of product in our industry. And I highly recommend the experience.
Like all things #tourismnerd, this post has not been sponsored in any way and I paid full market rate for my trip.