Frequently Asked Questions
What is Small Group Touring? Small Group Touring is traveling with just 6 - 14 guests per departure. It is our aim to introduce you to the ‘real’ country and its people, not just ticking the boxes of a standardized route and treating you as an individual and not a number. Our concept allows for a leisurely touring pace and flexibility, incorporating local events and possibly special requests from traveling companions. Of course you’ll see the major sites but so much more too! See Why Our Tours for more info about the advantages of the Small Group Touring Concept.
Why SGT? With Special Group Tours (SGT), you will have the advantage of expert advice from those who have not only visited, but have years of experience living in and loving the cultures you will visit. We hand pick our suppliers with your comfort and expectations in mind. Special Group Tours is a tour operator, specialty travel agency and custom design tour service dedicated to giving YOU the vacation you deserve!
Why do small group tours cost more than big bus tours? We believe that you get what you pay for, quality over quantity. It is the difference of shopping at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods versus somewhere like Sam’s Club. Our tours offer more personal service than big bus tours. You will be in the company of just ten or twelve other guests and not fifty. Your driver/guide will know you by name and, quite often, become a friend by the end of your tour. Many tour companies advertise a low initial price to attract you. Once you're on the tour, you find your purse or wallet is constantly open as you pay for additional options and extras. Our tours are designed to be as inclusive as possible for value’s sake while allowing for some flexibility and independence.
Who Travels with SGT? Everyone from age 7 to 97 is welcomed on a SGT tour. We welcome women, couples, families, teachers, students, professionals and retirees. Our clients are active, fun-loving, educated people looking for a safe and comfortable adventure off the beaten track. Please note that there is ample walking on our itineraries so, if you have mobility issues, please discuss suitability options with us.
On the longer scheduled tours, guests tend to be in the 40+ range as they have a bit more time to travel while the shorter, mini-tours are a great fit for younger professionals with week long American vacation breaks.
Some scheduled itineraries are suited for children while others are less so. We can assist families with younger children on private, custom departures. Harry Potter, children’s literary and King Arthur themed tours are popular family favorites. SGT designs many student tours for high school and university groups, so we certainly can cater to all ages on both scheduled and custom, private departures.
Where will my traveling companions come from? Mainly North America but, as tours are all conducted in English, we welcome any guest fluent in English. Your traveling companions may hail from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Europe and sometimes even Britain!
What type of vehicle will be used on my tour? The majority of the fleet is 16 seat Sprinters but the size of the vehicle is dependent upon the size of the group. Each vehicle is chosen with your safety and comfort in mind. We utilize 2 person saloon cars, 6 - 7 seat MPV/SUVs and 13 - 16 seat mini-coaches. Full details and photos, please see our mini-coaches page.
What style and quality of accommodation will be used on my tour? Our accommodations cover a wide range of lodging types including inns, farmhouses, manor houses, quaint b&bs, small family run hotels and even the occasional castle. Each is chosen with care, with reference to architecture, comfort, location, cuisine, and friendliness of the host. All lodgings are three or four star category/similar rating in converted historical properties, not custom built hotels. Please see our accommodations page for further details and some photos.
Will I have my own bathroom in my room? Yes, all rooms are private/en-suite facilities. Some have bath-tubs with a hand held shower while others have stall showers. If you have a special need or preference, please discuss your requests with us at time of booking and we will do our best to accommodate.
Note that washcloths/facecloths are not readily used in the UK and Europe so, while towels are of course provided in your bathroom, if you want a facecloth/washcloth then you will have to bring it with you.
Who will be my tour guide? SGT works with an exceptional team of driver/guides. Please meet a few on our Meet Your Team page.
How much luggage can I bring? We request that you only bring one suitcase, and one piece of hand luggage per person. Hand luggage is defined as a purse, day pack or camera bag - whatever you will have with you on the mini-coach during your touring day. Your main case will be stored in the vehicle’s specially designed luggage section. Space is limited to accommodate all guests so we do ask your cooperation for the comfort of all tour companions.
If you are on an extended, multi-tour vacation, we can request bag storage in one of the hub city hotels but please do note that this is subject to availability. Please discuss your needs with us and we will do our best to accommodate.
How much walking do we do on tour? Our tours are designed for the reasonably active traveler. On all itineraries, there will be some walking. Some itineraries involve more walking than others. It is strongly suggested that all tour participants be in good health.
The flexible nature of our tours means that there will be some free time during your touring day, allowing the opportunity to sit in a cafe or elsewhere if you wish. You can of course go at your own pace and there is always the option to opt out of an activity or attraction if you do not feel up to it. Please do note that you will be visiting places with cobbled streets, uneven surfaces and most of the accommodations do not have lifts/elevators so stairs may be involved. Low floor rooms can be requested, when required. Tours cannot always access historic town centres/villages solely by mini-coach as vehicles of any size are forbidden entry in certain locations. Please consult us if you are in any doubt about tour suitability.
How much driving do we do on tour? Our tours are designed to travel off the beaten track, on the ‘a’ and ‘b’ roads as much as possible. Most itineraries are based in one location for several nights running so you can get in-depth in your local touring area, minimizing the distance between your accommodation and areas visited. Inevitably, each tour participant will have a different idea as to the ideal driving time but we strive to have guests off the vehicle as much as possible.
The length of drives varies per itinerary but you should not be on the vehicle for longer than 2 hours in any one stretch, many times less. Once in a while, a longer drive may be required. There will occasionally be a bit of motorway driving on the longer tours when traveling between regions, especially on the ‘sampler’ or ‘highlight’ type of itineraries that visit several different counties. It is important to us to avoid the motorways as much as we can so you can maximize the opportunity for local experiences in the smaller towns and villages.
Are taxes and tips included? Yes, all tour packages include taxes and tips except for those you may choose to offer your driver/guide. You are welcomed to supplement in accommodations and restaurants if you feel that their exceptional service deserves such.
How much to tip your guide? Well, that is up to you based upon what you think he/she deserves. Tips are usually approximately 5 USD per person per day; some people give more if they can afford it, some less if that is all they can manage. It is totally to the guide’s performance and your discretion & budget. It is appropriate to offer your guide a tip in the local currency (Pounds Sterling or Euro.)
Before You Travel Information
How to Book/Make a Payment
Travel Insurance is an essential component of every successful holiday. Special Group Tours highly recommends the purchase of a travel insurance policy to protect yourself and your belongings. We will gladly assist you in choosing the policy to best suit your needs. Special Group Tours recommends Travel Safe and we offer secure online booking or we are happy to book your policy for you. You are welcomed to choose your own company as well, if you prefer.
Airfare The web has become a fantastic source of inexpensive flights from USA to UK and Europe. Some great sites include: www.expedia.com, www.travelocity.com, www.britishairways.com.
Special Group Tours is more than happy to assist you with booking airfare but we have found that our guests are able to get the best price advantage by booking their flights themselves online. Please let us know if you would like assistance or advice. We are here to help!
American citizens must have a valid passport to visit the UK and Europe. Citizens of other countries may also require an entry visa. Please check with your appropriate embassy for the most up to date information.
Americans can check information online for PASSPORTS and additional information about traveling abroad.
Many of the countries visited on your Gate 1 Travel and/or Big Five vacation require entry visas for American citizens. It is your personal responsibility to obtain the correct entry visas prior to travel (we will of course assist you as much as possible.) See VISA INFO for further information and please visit: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1229.html for the most up to date visa entry requirements for US citizens.
*IMPORTANT: It is advisable that all travelers check online or with their air carrier for the most up to date information about what is required when traveling abroad including current airport rules. Requirements can change frequently so please be prepared!
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU TRAVEL AND SOME FUN FACTS
What/How to Pack: Well, the first thing to note is that old travel adage "you'll only need half of what you do eventually pack!" So, a good tip is to unpack everything when you've first packed and then re-pack about half (you'll then have room to put all those gifts you may be buying.). Most often, our guests find that they bring much more than they actually need. There are laundry facilities available along the way, should you have the need. More useful information about what and how to pack can be found: PACKING TIPS.
In any case, please restrict your luggage to one suitcase, and one piece of hand luggage per person. Hand luggage is defined as a purse, day pack or camera bag - whatever you will have with you on the mini-coach during your touring day. Your main case will be stored in the vehicle’s specially designed luggage section. Space is limited to accommodate all guests so we do ask your cooperation for the comfort of all tour companions.
WHAT TO BRING? A light raincoat or poncho may be useful, as would a small folding umbrella. UK weather can be unpredictable. Should you be going to the theatre or similar evening entertainment, you'll not need your black tie or pearls. Unless specifically noted as a ‘black tie’ occasion, most UK theatres are ‘come as you are’ and there is not a need to ‘dress for dinner’ while on tour. You will be dining together with your tour companions in your accommodation or out at a local restaurant or pub.
Most guests dress in the “smart casual” style, whatever you are comfortable in for your touring day. A sweater or at least planning to dress in layers – even in the summer months – is a sensible idea since it can get cool in the evenings. A good pair of walking shoes is highly recommended.
The most useful tip in SGT’s opinion, is to make photocopies of your passport, credit/debit cards (front and back) and traveler cheque serial numbers. Leave one copy at home with a loved one and keep another copy with you, stored in a location other than your documents. That will make things much easier to replace if anything is lost or stolen. Leaving non-essential cards (library cards, supermarket discount cards etc) at home helps ‘lighten the load’ too.
Traveling with Electric Items If you plan on using any small electronics (shaver, hairdryer etc,) you will need an electrical converter and also plug adaptors. The electricity in the UK and Europe is 220-240v which is different from the 110-120v used in America. You can purchase basic converter kits online at Magellan’s Travel Store and many stores such as Target, Wal-mart, Kmart and Radio Shack may also carry the adapters.
Many battery chargers and laptops operate on all voltages, so you will only need a plug adapter, but, for your safety, please check before plugging them in!
Weather and Time Zone Information is available online from the BBC, CNN and the World Travel Clock. Weather in the UK can be quite varied and unpredictable so it is best to bring a light rain jacket and/or small umbrella with you just in case.
Accommodation: Do please note that UK/European rooms seem quite small to US visitors! The major fact you have to appreciate is that you're about to sample a 'foreign' culture and things may not be as they are at home. Most North American visitors find European rooms smaller than they are used to, and the mysteries of the plumbing intriguing. Your accommodations are en-suite (bathroom in your own bedroom,) some have shower units and others have tubs with hand-held shower attachments. The bath and electrics may sometimes exasperate.
Towels are provided, however, European accommodations do not utilize washcloths so, if you want one, you will have to bring your own. Similarly, beds are often smaller and perhaps not to the ideal firmness for your personal tastes. Some locations will have hair dryers in the rooms but not all properties offer this service.
There is only one way to treat these differences -- as part and parcel of the different culture you've come to experience!
Fellow Travelers Your tour companions come from a wide geographical area and you may find yourself sharing your experiences with Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, or perhaps even British and European participants. Groups traditionally get on very well together and people traveling alone will quickly make friends. As with all group tours, whatever the size, party members are asked to be considerate of their fellow holidaymakers. Our guest ages range from 30-something to our oldest passenger to date, an incredibly fit and healthy 84-year old. Participants could be traveling with small groups of friends, couples or as individuals traveling solo. All tours are conducted in English.
Worship If you would like to attend services during your stay, please consult with your tour guide in advance for the available options. Unfortunately, it may not be possible but every effort will be made to accommodate attending your chosen place of worship should you wish it.
Photo Most photo shops will be able to download photos from memory cards and burn them to cd for you at a self service kiosk. If traveling with film, please note that current airport security rules do not permit lead bags. Airport scanners are usually safe for all film speeds up to 800.
Money Matters can sometimes be a bit frustrating but is easy once you get the hang of it. Credit/debit cards and ATM machines will get you the best exchange rate available. Check with your bank/credit providers before departure to ensure that they can be used abroad. Most stores accept credit and debit cards (but you will not be able to get cash back on US account debit cards; debit transactions will go through as a credit charge.) Many American banks do charge a transaction fee for use outside of their bank and they may charge a foreign currency fee also, so please be aware.
NOTE: ATM machines are widely available in the major cities and towns but may not be so prevalent in some towns/villages you will be visiting on tour. Please keep this in mind and, should you be running low on cash, notify your guide in ample time so they can plan accordingly.
It is also a good idea to notify your bank/credit provider that you will be traveling abroad if you plan on some holiday shopping. Sometimes, out of the norm use will trigger fraud protection and will freeze your card.
Currency exchange booths are widely available but usually charge a hefty commission fee. Please remember that American dollars can only be changed for the local currency - they are not accepted as cash in UK and Europe!
Many of our guests are most comfortable traveling with travelers cheques. It is best to have cheques in the local currency (British Pounds Sterling and/or Euro) as you can then exchange them in most locations as cash. US Dollars cheques can only be changed inside a bank so you are subject to bank opening hours and also will be subject to the fluctuating exchange rate and most likely charged a commission fee for the service. American Express and Visa travelers cheques are the most common and widely accepted. Please contact your local bank for their travelers cheque and foreign currency programs.
Tips (excluding those to your driver/guide) are included in your tour package but you are welcomed to supplement for porterage, housekeeping and meal service if you wish to do so.
When you are dining independently, typically it is not customary to tip in pubs or restaurants, except for large groups, or unless the menu indicates that such is expected (prevalent in touristy areas.) When buying a drink at the pub, it is not customary to leave a tip. It is appropriate to tip taxi drivers at least 10%.
Driver/Guide gratuity is at your discretion. How much to tip your guide? Well, that is up to you based upon what you think he/she deserves. Tips are usually approximately 5 USD per person per day; some people give more if they can afford it, some less if that is all they can manage. It is totally to the guide’s performance and your discretion & budget. It is appropriate to offer your guide a tip in the local currency (Pounds Sterling or Euro.)
Phone cards are also sometimes a source of frustration for Americans traveling abroad. If you have a contracted phone card program, you must contact them for your international dial up number prior to departing the States. Your usual 1-800 number will not work for calls initiated outside of the USA. You will need the appropriate local dial up number to make a call TO the US.
International AT&T cards and similar purchased in the US are often for phoning internationally FROM the US and not TO the US. They usually do not work from abroad. It may be best to purchase a phone card from a local news agent upon arrival for phoning you loved ones back home in the States.
Mobile Phone Rentals are available from several companies for short vacation breaks.
If you want to use your own American cell/mobile, please make sure that you have a tri-band model phone. Dual-band mobile phones will only work in North America. Please check your mobile phone service provider for your dialing rates and fee structure for phone use abroad.
DVDs are available for purchase in many attractions and at shops across the UK and Europe. Please note that DVDs are regional; America is region 1 and UK/Europe is region 2. Special region-free DVD players and some computer DVD programs ignore regionality but, if you have a standard DVD player, Region 2 discs will NOT play on a region 1 machine. Programs exist to re-format your DVD player to become region-free but please be aware of the possible difficulties if planning to buy DVDs during your holiday.
Internet Many accommodations in the main cities offer WiFi services; a select number of our hotels out in the countryside have WiFi connections available but, in all cases, the signals may not be as strong as you are used to using at home. Internet cafes are still available in some cities and a few larger towns but they are becoming less prevalent. Internet terminals are available in several of your hotels. Your guide will be able to assist you with where is available to check your email during your tour. A fun web-site to give you an idea of where internet cafes are available is www.cybercafes.com.
Fun Facts...We speak the same language, don’t we??
A recent HSBC bank ad campaign at London Heathrow Airport featured their ‘knowledge of local customs’ with photos/symbols that mean different things in different parts of the world. One that caught the eye was labeled ‘football’ followed by three photos...America’s NFL, Aussie rules and a British Premier League ‘soccer’ ball. Here is the simple English word ‘football’ which means something different in three English speaking countries. Interesting!
Even within the States, we have such conundrums - a New Yorker might ask for a ‘soda in a bag’ while a Mid Westerner in the same store may request their ‘pop in a sack.’ So is true for Americans traveling in the UK. Here we have a few examples to ease the way through your ‘cultural relations’ (for fun, of course, to make you smile!)
When ordering food, make sure you receive what you think you’re ordering. Chips are ‘French fries’ so if you want potato chips, not fries, you need to order crisps. Some dishes may seem like a mystery, but a rose by any other name…courgettes (zucchini) and aubergine (eggplant) are very popular veggies. Lemonade is Sprite/Seven Up and not at all like your local Country Time variety while soda is tonic water. When in doubt, brand names are the same - every country in the world knows Coca-Cola, right?!
If you wish to order two of something and you are used to speaking with your hands then please hold up two fingers with your thumb forward like a peace sign and not knuckles first. Two fingers with knuckles first is a rude gesture.
When traveling, you may choose to keep your dosh (money) in your bum bag (fanny pack - the word fanny is a big no-no!) If you have a hire car then the luggage goes in the boot and have a quick look under the bonnet if having car trouble before ringing road assistance (calling them will give you a sore throat!)
Remember, pedestrians, look both ways before crossing the road, traffic patterns are a bit different too.
Finally, at your hotel, please don’t get upset if the clerk offers to knock you up at 7AM - it just means you’ve ordered a wake up call!
This section is meant to ensure that you pack the most important item of all, your sense of humour!
Have a great holiday!!!