I just completed our first ever bus tour and it opened my eyes to another way of traveling that I had been snubbing for as long as I can remember. I always thought bus tours were for old people being shuffled from one souvenir shopping experience to another with some kind of blue-plate special each night at a 3:00 PM dinner service. Boy, was I wrong! It turned out to be a tour for fun people with adventures, shopping, sightseeing, and new friends.
We had a pretty large credit with Globus due to a group tour cancelled in 2020. (Thanks, COVID). The credit needed to be used by the end of 2022 or we would lose our investment in this vacation. Rather than apply it to a new group, we decided to use it for our own booking. We chose a 9-day Glacier National Park & Canadian Rockies tour. I have always wanted to see Glacier National Park and Banff, so it was an appealing option. We flew into Calgary the day before the tour started just because that’s a standard practice and one we recommend to our clients also. In case of flight cancellations and delays, it’s always good to arrive in your tour or cruise departure city the day before.
We arrived in Calgary September 4th and returned to Atlanta on September 13th. We like to travel in September after most kids are back in school and the crowds diminish significantly. But, I was also not looking forward to it because, in my mind, there would be 20 feet of snow already in the western part of Canada. I had never been to Calgary, but still expected a frozen hellscape. Nevertheless, I had always wanted to visit Glacier National Park and Banff National Park, and I figured the terrible winter weather would just be a necessary part of the experience.
I almost didn’t believe the weather reports as the day drew near, and even after landing, it was a very pleasant surprise to find Calgary sunny and warm – in the upper 80s (Fahrenheit, of course; our northern neighbors use Celsius). The city was full of shining skyscrapers reflecting the sunshine onto the surrounding rolling hills of prairie. It was so nice, we took the opportunity to do a little walking downtown and were impressed with how clean, uncrowded, and safe it seemed.
The next day before our official check-in for our Globus bus tour, we booked a city tour with Rocky Mountain Sidecar Adventures. I was disappointed I wasn’t able to drive the motorcycle, but still had a great time. Rose and I each had our own personal driver while we sat in sidecars being escorted through the city by Warren and Brian. We caught a lot of attention from people in Calgary waving and pointing as we rolled through the various city neighborhoods. Warren and Brian stopped a few times to point out significant sites, talk about the city they loved, and so we could take photos. Later, we learned some of the people on our bus tour had taken photos of us leaving the hotel. They were disappointed they didn’t book it themselves. I highly recommend it for anyone visiting Calgary. Warren and his wife Nicole own this small business, and we are always eager to support entrepreneurs. They have twenty-two drivers for 6 restored Russian Ural motorcycles. If you visit, check them out and take a tour. You can find them online at https://www.rockymountainsidecar.com/ or on sites like TripAdvisor and Viator.
Back to the bus tour… As I said, I had never been on one, so I was not excited to spend nine days on a bus with a bunch of old people I didn’t know. I really thought it would be awkward and we wouldn’t really have anyone to talk with. And, in our 40s, we were definitely among the younger of the people on the tour. But, I quickly learned age didn’t matter – it was attitude that did. Some of the people we travelled with were well into their 70s, but they weren’t sitting with sweaters on while knitting the whole time. (Actually, my wife Rose did quite a bit of that). These people were fun and adventurous. They were making jokes, getting boisterous, and didn’t shy away from adventure along the way. By the end of the week, I was excited to know bus tours weren’t geriatric field days. It opened up a whole new way to travel that I really had not seriously considered for myself before.
I’ll admit on day 1, I was still stuck in my own head thinking this would be no fun. We were going down the highway as we left Calgary and headed to our first overnight in Waterton Lakes, Canada. Our Tour Director Neela was telling us about our first stop and how much time we had before we had to be back on the bus. Somewhere in my mind, I got annoyed because I immediately remembered middle school field trips. I didn’t want to spend my week being shepherded and treated like a child. But, it was too late because I was on the bus and had the rest of the trip ahead of me, so I tried to put it out of my mind. Then, later that night, like a middle schooler on a field trip, I realized I had lost something. We were planning to cross the U.S. border into Montana the next morning, but I had lost my passport on our first day of the tour! I thought hard about where it could be and was convinced it was on our bus. Neela rounded up the bus driver and they searched for it with no luck. Later, I saw the driver and asked if I could take a look. Thankfully I found it stuck between my seat and the wall of the bus. The next morning, Neela made an announcement to everyone that they needed to check to make sure they had their passports. I stopped worrying about being treated like a child because, apparently, I needed to be treated like a child.
Rose and I proved that once again when she forgot her purse at our Banff hotel. We didn’t want to become known as the forgetful couple, so we called the hotel and tried to make arrangements to get it without anyone knowing. But, the hotel had already called Neela who worked it out for us. At that point, we were so grateful to have Neela there because she was our “fixer.” She just took care of things that needed it. And after talking wither, I realized that it wasn’t about her shepherding us or babysitting us. For her, it was about providing exceptional service so that we didn’t have to think about anything other than enjoying our vacation. Neela is a Canadian immigrant originally from Germany and she loves Canada. She loves the Rockies and the animals and all the amazing experiences. Her job allows her to share that love with others, and she genuinely wants us to love it as much as she does. So, solving our problems was just part of making sure we were focused on the right things rather than distracted by our own silliness.
As we continued along the way visiting amazing places like UNESCO World Heritage sites, five national parks in the U.S. and Canada and seeing places I’ve always wanted to see, I was having an amazing experience and falling in love with the Canadian Rockies. But, there was something more enjoyable also happening: we were getting to do these things with new friends. We met two couples from New York City about our ages, a really fun mother and daughter who like to travel together to amazing places, and couples celebrating birthdays and anniversaries – some 48th and 50th anniversaries! Incredibly, we met a couple from Pekin, IL and another from Peoria, IL. Rose and I used to live near there and it turns out we had familiar haunts and knew some of the same people. We also met Sherry from Teutopolis, IL, close to where I grew up. She knew my high school health and drivers’ education teacher and others.
We learned about their families, other travels they had enjoyed, and their favorite sports teams. We also learned that many of them had been on prior Globus tours and they were planning to do it again. When I asked what they liked about them, every one of them said the same things – they liked how easy and relaxing it was. They didn’t have to think about where to eat, what to do, what to see. They had a Tour Director who prepared them with information and shared personal insights about the places being visited. It reminded me of hearing a client once complain that he was sick of renting cars on his European vacations. He had to focus on the road to drive all over the place while the rest of his family was able to look at all the amazing scenery. On our bus tour, none of us had to drive. None of us had to study and choose restaurants or how to spend the day in our various destinations. And our Tour Director was great about pointing out scenery we shouldn’t miss, keeping us on time, and answering any questions we had. Again, all we had to do was sit back and enjoy ourselves.
Neela made the whole experience seamless. Each time we arrived at a hotel, she ran in to collect the keys and distribute them to us. We didn’t have to check in anywhere. Our bags were delivered to our rooms and picked up when it was time to leave. Our meals were planned ahead. And along the way, Neela was making phone calls to confirm everything would be ready when we arrived from one place to the next. Genuinely, all we needed to do was enjoy ourselves. At the start of each day, she outlined the planned events and at the end of each day, she reviewed the next day’s plans.
The entire tour was simple, relaxing, and carefree. So what about my other ignorant assumptions – the babysitting and the old people? Well, there was no reason to be concerned. Neela gave us all the information we needed so everyone in our group was on time and where we needed to be for our tour to keep moving as expected. But, we still had plenty of free time each day. A couple of times, Rose and I took naps in our hotel rooms before dinner or before strolling around a mountain town. We made reservations in Whitefish, MT and ate a fancy dinner. (Rose even tried escargot – quite an adventure for her). In addition to our planned tour activities, which included visiting glacial lakes, wildlife spotting, open-air bus rides on steep mountain roads, walking on a glacier, and more, there were also some additional activities available to the group.
Rose and I booked a helicopter tour with Neela and David, one of the other tour guests. It went from Canmore over the continental divide and around mountain glaciers thousands of feet in the air. We booked a river rafting trip down the Athabasca River in Jasper along with 11 of our new tour friends. Ginny and David even had the chance to do the rowing. The other highlights included getting stuck on a rocky shoal and watching our new friends Alfonso and Dave (brothers) get soaked. We also hiked the Maligne Canyon trail with most of our tour group. It was fun seeing people older than my mother climbing steep hills on the rough trail, sometimes steadying themselves down slick stone paths. I enjoyed talking with Sally as we boated across a lake high in the mountains. She was one of the tour guests and nervous about traveling alone as a widow, but not the only solo traveler in our group. Others ventured up gondolas in Banff from town at the bottom to a peak high above. And while in Jasper, no one was worried about the nearby wildfire sending smoke drifting through town. We were all too busy walking around the town trying to find some of the elk and grizzly bears that had been making their way through. So, definitely every one of these “old” people were young at heart. They were adventurous and fun and not only keeping pace with everyone, but often setting the pace. I’m talking about you, David, as you bolted out of the bus at each stop and often surprised us, like when you took the captain’s seat and drove a boat we were on or jumped up right away to steer our river raft. I was especially impressed with Melissa, a lady who walked with a cane and sometimes used a walker. She was maybe slowed, but she was not going to be stopped. She did everything the rest of us did, and often faster. I loved seeing that and being inspired by her.
In the end, my eyes were opened. It didn’t matter that I was on a bus full of strangers. It didn’t matter they were mostly older than I was. It didn’t matter I couldn’t just decide at a moment’s notice to change my vacation and do whatever I wanted. None of those things mattered because I was having a great time. Everyone was fun and nice and adventurous. And one day, I expect to be one of those “old” people surprising some ignorant, younger bus tour newbie. Neela made everything easy and simple. It was everything I loved about vacationing on a cruise or at an all-inclusive resort. All I had to do was enjoy myself. And now that I’m home, I’m ready to plan my next Globus tour. My only regret is I can’t go again with Neela, our driver Genesis, and all our tour friends.
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