Seniors on the Go: Travel with a focus, Part 2: Faith-based travel

As noted last week, travel can be far more interesting when you have something specific in mind that you want to see or do. And tour operators are happy to oblige with hundreds of special-interest tours. Those tours can often be a good choice, but they can also be expensive.

In many cases, you can cover the same ground on your own for much less than the cost of a tour. Part one covered adventure tours and river cruises; this week, let's look at the very popular area of religious or faith-based travel.

Religious travel by U.S. and Canadian travelers tends to concentrate, unsurprisingly, on Christian and Jewish traditions. And folks within those broad groups tend to concentrate on a few specific geographical areas:

-- Roman Catholic travelers often focus on Rome, Ireland (St. Patrick), Greece (Apostle Paul), and such key shrines and pilgrimage centers as Lourdes, Fatima and San Juan de Compostela.

-- Protestants are most often interested in reformation centers in Germany, Switzerland, Britain, and on the several passion plays around Europe.

-- Jewish travelers often focus on holocaust sites and Amsterdam.

-- Christian and Jewish travelers of all stripes often flock to Israel/the Holy Land and other biblical sites.

-- Depending on the season, faith-based travelers often schedule their visits around key religious holiday services.

If you like package tours, the industry has a lot to offer you. Faith-based tour packages often include an accompanying priest, minister or rabbi who conducts private services along the way in the various churches, temples and shrines, either as a sole guide or in addition to a professional tour guide. Faith-based tours, along with most others, include tour bus travel between stops and opportunistic sightseeing along the way. They guarantee that you hit the "must-see" stops. Often, the operators can arrange for access to exhibits/sites not regularly open to the general public. And, of course, they take care of hotel arrangements, baggage transfers and other travel details.

Many big general tour operators, ranging from budget level Cosmos to deluxe Abercrombie and Kent, provide religious tours in their tour mix. On the other hand, dozens of tour operators narrowly specialize in religious tours; examples include The Catholic Tour (http://www.thecatholictour.com), Reformation Tours (http://www.reformationtours.com), Faith Journeys (http://www.myfaithjourneys.com, both Catholic and Protestant) and JewishTravel.com; ask your travel agent or Google for many more possibilities. But you have to be careful: Both the Christian and Jewish traditions these days embrace a wide divergence of views on key topics, and a fundamentalist or orthodox traveler might be very frustrated and unhappy with liberal-minded tour mates and clerical tour companions, and vice versa. Land prices start at a bit over $100 per person per day for budget-class tours, going up to nearly $1,000 a day at the deluxe end.

But you don't have to take a tour to enjoy religious travel. Download or buy a bunch of guidebooks and maps, figure out your itinerary, check train schedules or rent a car, and you're in business.

-- You can often arrange accommodations in monasteries, convents, or other religious houses.

-- You can arrange day trips through a local travel agency.

-- If you need a local guide, you can arrange someone by the day from a local congregation or university.

-- You can meet like-minded travelers to share private cars and guised for excursions.

And, as with private travel in general, you can move along at your own pace -- skipping the dull spots (and the unavoidable stops at souvenir stands that kickback to the tour guide) -- and staying as long as you want at places of special interest.

The point here is simple: Whether in a tour on your own, pursuing a focused religious interest can be a far more enjoyable -- and beneficial -- way to travel than just to ride around viewing scenery from a bus or rented car or stopping off at your destination's well-known spots. Give it a try for your trip this fall.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)

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