Budget travelers desiring to venture off the tourist track still hew to the Rough Guides, a book series created in 1982 by a young British man, Mark Ellingham, who wanted a guidebook about Greece appealing to both cost-obsessed students and scholars of the Greek classics.
After 25 years under the wing of its founder, the Rough Guides has undergone changes, not so much in its trademark outlook, but in ownership, format and, most recently, services.
Indeed, this adventure traveler’s bible has just sprouted a branch that aims to appeal to the people who loved the guidebooks decades ago, but now prefer to take a bit of the “rough” out of their trips.
Available at go.roughguides.com/tailor-made-trips/ (or google “Rough Guides tailor made trips”), the service employs specialists in destination areas, who come up with itineraries – often including local guides, drivers, and transportation from airports and between cities along with basics such as hotels and flights – which meet the specified interests of the client, such as culture, the outdoors, spas, and so on. Although Rough Guides has the client choose their level of creature comforts, from basic to luxury, and specify their budget, staff explain that it is understood that customers “won’t be crammed into a shared dorm in a budget hostel full of other tourists,” as they might have preferred when they were in their twenties.
In addition, the customer is encouraged to revise the suggested itinerary that the agent puts together. As for changes to the itinerary after services are booked and paid, a Rough Guides agent said that there is no problem adding extra services, as long as they are available. But for canceling or changing services once contracted, “It depends, but our local experts do our best to satisfy our clients.”
A look at the new service’s customer comments page revealed that people using Rough Guides tailor-made trip service are indeed taking the road less traveled, for example to Cambodia, Cuba, Norway, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. But Rough Guides tailor-made trips can be made all over the world, including, of course, in Mexico.
It is probably not surprising that all the comments on the page were glowing, although a few mentioned minor problems that had been satisfactorily resolved by local associates, adding that, in some cases, the agents kept in phone contact with the customer during the trip to make sure everything was going well.
As for the question uppermost in many customers’ minds – how much does it cost? – a Rough Guides staffer explained that “we do not charge any fees for our services. Our clients pay only for the itinerary after it is confirmed.” This, assuming agents are not working for free, means their fees must be rolled into the cost of the services that the customer agrees to.
“Only when you see the plan with all the hotels and experiences and the final price and when you confirm that you are completely satisfied with it” does the client pay, the agent added. A staffer also noted that the service does not arrange last-minute travel; a lead time of ten to 14 days is required to ensure the high quality of the offers.
Another attractive wrinkle is that you can arrange parts of the trip (for example, air travel and hotels) yourself and rely on Rough Guides for short tours and treks. However, many of the service’s clients (presumably older ones) noted that they found the hassle-free, do-it-all aspect of the service the most worthwhile.
“What I especially valued were the linking parts: being met and driven to airports and between cities took all the stress out of the itinerary. The guides were always on time, extremely polite, knowledgeable and very well briefed about our itinerary,” said one.
I confess I was hooked by what I learned about this service. How I wished I’d used it before I sweated bullets dragging my suitcase to jump on a train that I wasn’t even sure was the right one (Florence) and before I shed a few tears at the airport Starbucks after being tired out, inconvenienced and almost scammed by a taxi finder (Cancun)! When you’re 20, such experiences are all part of the adventure. Decades later, less so.
Assuming the cost of a Rough Guides tailor-made trip is more than if you arranged it yourself (if you could even locate the trek to meet tribal people or the tour through Rome on the back of a motorcycle), the promise of grief reduction and a happiness bonus certainly makes it seem worth any additional costs.