Sunday, 15 January 2017

Camping & Caravanning Club Escorted Tours.

Gloomy days of winter when thoughts turn to summer sun. So it was with us, back in November/December 2016. We had looked at escorted motor home tours and really discounted them as not really what we wanted to do. We are usually quite happy with our own company and generally meet loads of interesting people out on our travels. However, the new brochure which we picked up at a recent show from The Camping and Caravanning Club on escorted tours made us think! Browsing the brochure the prices seemed quite enticing considering the lengths of the trips and they did Africa. Certainly food for thought. We rapidly joined the club and booked up to go on two of their presentation days, one on the European Tours and one on the Worldwide Tours. At the cost of a fiver each a day for a meal, with entry to the museum thrown in, we thought extremely good value for money.

A foggy November morning found us travelling up the M5 to Birmingham and the National Motorbike Museum near the NEC. The venue was easy to find and because we were doing two days, we blew the cash and booked the nearby Premier Inn at the NEC for the same evening, so we could have a leisurely start the next morning. If we had been hardy types we may have considered finding a campsite, but we're not! We decided to take the car but parking was easy and other folk had taken their motor homes. There was a huge car park with lots of room. With some trepidation, we entered the conference centre and found the venue, all very easy so far. The first day was Worldwide Motorhoming Holidays, we had really come to find out about Africa but Japan and New Zealand also looked interesting. 

Years of attending conferences in a former life has always left me a bit jaded about the whole process, but keeping an open mind we got our coffee and biscuits and had a sneaky peek at the other attendees. Very much a mixed bag we thought, mostly retired but then you would have to be in order to spend a month or more away. Lots of people seemed to know each other but it was all very friendly. We made our way into a very large hall laid out with big round tables. Lots of bottled water, sweeties, writing paper and pencils. I guess around a couple of hundred people were in the hall. Everyone got chatting, sharing camping stories and discussing which trips they could be interested in. 

The presentations were all done by the individual tour escorts. All different, depending on their confidence and styles but obviously "done from the heart". All the pictures they showed and the stories they told, came from their own experiences and there was plenty of opportunities for questions. The tour guides were also available during the day to chat individually as were the tour reps. Very much "hand knitted" not a slick performance presentation with a glossy video but more like an honest, neighbourly chat around the holiday snaps. However, the knowledge and information was available to back up what had been said, calm fears, answer queries and enable the customers to make an informed choice. After a lovely lunch, buffet and cooked food available, we settled down for the afternoon session. There was a great deal to cover in a short time but the whole day was well managed and I think the right balance had been struck between giving people information and creating a social event. It was also very reassuring to meet the people who were organising the holidays, as well as people who had been on them.

We left the first day with our minds racing over future possibilities Africa, Japan where next? A pleasant night in The Premier Lodge saw us up and following a filling Full English back at the venue for the European Escorted Tours Day. Some of the attendees appeared familiar, a few others were obviously doing the two days like us. Today was more relaxing for us as we knew what to expect. By the end of the day we had made a kind of list of where we would like to go next. We came home shattered which is hard to understand as we really didn't need to do anything else other than eat, drink and listen!

So. to sum up.

  • Worth one or two days out of your life to gather info if you are thinking of a trip.
  • Nice, venue, nice food and really good value for money.
  • Ample parking. We could have taken our motor home and would have done if we had just been going for a day.
  • A nice social event with plenty of opportunities for chatting to people who had done the trips.
  • Good, varied presentations with the chance to ask questions.
  • Time to meet the reps who actually book the trips and talk to the people you will go with.
  • No you do not travel in a convoy. You can be as friendly or as grumpy as you like and participate or not as you see fit in group activities.
  • Tours get quickly booked up so you need to really decide a year in advance especially for some of the more popular trips.
  • Go with an open mind you may be surprised.
  • Discounts of £100 Worldwide and £50 European, if you book.

A month later. Yes, we have now booked. The escorted Tour of Southern Africa for 2017 was sadly for us, fully booked. We are now doing a tailor made trip of Southern Africa taking in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. All booked for us by a very patient Tracy at Worldwide, who we met at the presentation day and a European Tour of Greece, provisionally booked for next year. We will be following the same tour as the club do, but we will be on our own, two previous trips hopefully mean we know what we are doing.  We decided to book a 4 wheel drive with roof tent rather than a motor home, time will tell if it is a good decision. We are going for around 39 days starting the trip in Johannesburg, with a weekend staying with relatives and ending the trip with a couple of days in  a boutique hotel in Cape Town. So excited, can't wait. A great start to proper retirement.