Hate Bus Tours? These 7 Unique Guided Tours Were Made for You

Bus tour not your thing? No problem: alternatives abound on land and water.

View of Rocky Mountaineer on its journey between Vancouver and Banff.
(Photo: Christine Sarkis)

Whether I’m vacationing with my family or traveling solo, I love having a guide when I’m exploring a new destination. But guided tours that consist of riding on a bus for days on end are just not for me. If you’re like that too, I have good news, because it turns out there are plenty of other ways to travel with the benefit of a guide.

The Best Non-Coach Tours for People Who Hate Bus Tours

If you want active family travel adventures or simply an alternative to the classic coach tour, there are options around the globe for you to hit the road without hitting the (actual) road. Here are my top non-bus tour picks, which include hiking, biking, trekking, and kayaking tours; expedition and river cruises; and a train journey for the ages.

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1. A Hiking Tour

Norway Fjord Trekking with G Adventures

person with PFD and radio on G Adventures Norway Fjords tour
G Adventures’ Norway Fjords tour includes trekking and glacier hiking (Photo: G Adventures, Inc.)

Plan to move more and see plenty as you hike through the land of the Vikings. G Adventures offers a range of adventure tours, and trekking the fjords of Norway is a great way to take advantage of one of the company’s areas of expertise: hiking.

After a ferry journey from Bergen, you’ll settle into basic accommodations in Odda, your home base for five days of trekking at moderate and high altitude. Highlights of those treks include walking across the blue ice of the Folgefonna Glacier, taking in the views across the Hardangerfjord, and hiking the Oddadalen Valley.

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G Adventures prides itself on taking care of the adventure and activities, so you have experienced guides and spend your days touring the dramatic landscape. Since it’s a budget-minded adventure tour, the itinerary includes basic accommodations such as the Trolltunga Hotel. With a lounge and bar and basic rooms, you’ll have everything you need, including a lakeside location at the end of your active days.

  • Starting price: $2,465
  • Length: 7 days, 6 nights
  • Activity level: Challenging (“Some high-altitude hikes or more strenuous activities, but accessible to most healthy travelers.”)

2. An Expedition Cruise

Indonesia and Papua New Guinea Itineraries with Lindblad Expeditions

Ship National Geographic Orion at Mitchell Falls, Kimberley Region, Northwest Australia
The National Geographic Orion sails itineraries in Southeast Asia (Photo: Lindblad Expeditions)

Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic have teamed up to offer some of the most incredible cruise opportunities on the seven seas. Pairing the sophistication and quality of Lindblad Expeditions and the knowledgebase of Nat Geo, these opportunities are the go-to for small-ship educational and elegant cruising. With 28 destinations, you have your choice, but I recommend the opportunity to get up close and personal with the islands of Southeast Asia, many of which are uninhabited and otherwise impossible to get to.

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Lindblad-National Geo’s five itineraries in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea range from 11 to 20 days. On the Bali and Beyond trip, guests visit three national parks, including Komodo, a UNESCO Heritage site. And on the Journey through Southeast Asia sailing, guests see both the urban beauty of Singapore and the reefs on the islands of the Andaman Sea.

Though much of what there is to see and do is in the water and on land, you’ll have an experience on board as well. With no assigned seat dining and casual attire, you’ll feel right at home in the dining room, and a central lounge brings people together to share photos, stories, and experiences.

“Onboard, I loved hanging out in the lounge, where there was always good snacks and drinks, good conversations, and often an informative and interactive talk from one of the onboard experts,” says TourScoop’s Christine Sarkis, who sailed with Lindblad on its seasonal Baja California offering Among the Great Whales.

  • Starting price: $9,800
  • Length: 11-20 days
  • Activity level: Easy to Moderate

3. A Train Tour

Vancouver to Lake Louise, Canada aboard the Rocky Mountaineer

Table in the dining room of Rocky Mountaineer with beautiful mountains and lake in background
Multi-course meals with gorgeous views are part of the joy of trips with Rocky Mountaineer (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

Traveling on the Rocky Mountaineer is an unrivaled experience in train travel. This unique journey through Western Canada is worth every penny, whether you choose the Silver or Gold-Leaf experience. The journey along rivers, valleys, and mountaintops is truly one of a kind, as the local roadways cannot access this route.

“I took this trip a few years back and still think of it at least once a month. The views, the food, and the comfort were so exceptional that it really stands out,” says TourScoop’s Christine Sarkis.

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The six-day adventure on the First Passage experience starts with your arrival day plus one in Vancouver; that’s time enough to explore the Stanley Park Seawall, stroll through historic Gastown, or take the ferry to Granville Island.

Your first of two days on the train will take you to Kamloops; as you go, river canyons, green fields, and lush forests surround you as you wind along the Thompson River to Kamloops. Unique to the Rocky Mountaineer, you actually spend your evenings on terra firma, enjoying comfortable lodging in Vancouver, Kamloops, and majestic Lake Louise. On the second day, experience high mountain passes, ranch land, and snow capped peaks as you wind your way to your final destination at Lake Louise.

The Rocky Mountaineer’s glass-domed train cars are why you’ll book this trip, but you’ll have the added reward of knowledgeable hosts, delicious locally-inspired breakfast and lunch options, and comfortable and spacious reclining seats with plenty of legroom. 

  • Starting price: $2,653
  • Length: 6 days, 5 nights
  • Activity level: Easy

4. A Kayak Tour

San Juan Islands, Washington with Anacortes Kayak Tours 

Anacortes Kayak Tours on the water with kayaks and canoes
Anacortes Kayak Tours runs two- to five-day paddling trips (Photo: Anacortes Kayak Tours)

There are plenty of ways to see Washington state’s San Juan Islands, but there’s nothing better than staying close to the water to experience the thrill of wildlife both in and above the water.

If you’re up for a little bit of challenge and want to get a sense of the islands, a multi-day kayak tour is the way to go, and Anacortes Kayak Tours provides the perfect intro and enough options to adapt to all sorts of budgets and interests. With two- to five- day overnights (and options for both all-inclusive and self-catered), this family owned company offers what we all look for in a tour: flexibility.

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Anacortes Kayak Tours is a family-owned business born out of Megan and Erik Schorr’s love of the water. You’ll feel that love permeate through every aspect of your experience with this company, from the super friendly booking staff (though you can book online) and passionate and deeply knowledgeable guides to the high-quality gear.

When I went with my family, our guide was kind and funny, and engaged our kids beautifully (both a teen and a child), helped us find and identify birds, plants, tidal changes, and sea life, and always put safety first. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Three-day options can give you a peak at the Cypress Island Reserve or Stuart, Jones, or Sucia islands. Longer trips might take you as far as the Canadian border or the Wasp Islands. And, if you’d like to plan your own tour, as a family-owned business, Anacortes is ready and willing to create a custom itinerary for your group of six or more, including all meals and glamping-like accommodations. 

  • Starting price: $499 and up with options to self-cater or have all-inclusive meals
  • Length: 2-5 nights or custom
  • Activity level: Moderate to Challenging

5. A Riverboat Tour

Pharaohs and Pyramids: Cairo, Egypt with Viking River Tours

Viking River Cruise ship Osiris sailing along the Nile River
Viking Osiris on the Nile River (Photo: Viking)

On the 12-day Pharaohs & Pyramids tour from Viking Rivers Cruises, guests go deep on the wonders of the Nile. These well-appointed ships are designed particularly for Nile River cruising, and set you up to have a 360-degree view of the river from the sundeck, pool deck, lounge area, and restaurant. 

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Spend your first three checking out Cairo, Giza, the pyramids and museums; on day four, fly to Luxor to see the Temple obelisks and pick up your ship. There’s plenty onboard as well, including a lounge and bar, pool and two jacuzzis, and a range of sleeping options—including almost 300 square foot suites. During the river portion of the trip, you’ll see the Aswan High Dam, ride in a felucca sailing ship, and see temples that demonstrate the incredible feats of ancient Egyptian engineering.

  • Starting price: $5,999
  • Length: 12 days, 11 nights
  • Activity level: Easy

6. A Walking Tour

Walking the Portuguese Camino with Intrepid Travel

Old town Porto building lined in traditional tiles, seen on the Intrepid Tour of the Portuguese Camino
Porto is the jumping-off point on Intrepid’s walking tour of Portugal and Spain (Photo: Intrepid Travel)

Travelers can count on Intrepid Travel for a variety of adventures and for staying true to its mission of “creating positive change through the joy of travel.” A certified B Corp with a commitment to climate action, empowering and supporting local communities, and sustainable development, Intrepid is a trusted name in group travel.

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The Santiago de Compostela is a bucket-list hike for many. But with seemingly infinite ways to do it, it’s nice to let Intrepid do the heavy lifting of coordinating, and take this alternative route along what is known as the Portuguese Camino, which follows the Portuguese coast from Porto to the Camino.

There are fewer pilgrims on this lesser-known trail, so you’ll enjoy unencumbered vistas paired with lunch stops and a dedicated rest day in Vigo. One part of your walk includes local wineries and the hot springs of the Caldas de Rei region. With all of that walking, you’ll appreciate that Intrepid transfers your luggage between your accommodations, so you can bring what you need but only need to carry a day pack.

  • Starting price: $2,390
  • Length: 10 days, 9 nights
  • Activity level: Moderate (long walking days, sometimes carrying all bags for up to 30 minutes)

7. A Bike Tour

A Cycling Trip in Chile with Backroads

Guests cycling on Backroads' Chile tour
Backroads’ cycling trip through the lakes and volcanoes of Chile (Photo: Courtesy of BACKROADS)

No need for a custom trip if you’re going to ride with Backroads. Known in the industry for its knowledgeable guides, community-building approach, and detailed planning, Backroads trips feel personalized. And with backpacking, hiking, snow-adventure, cruising, culinary, and multi-adventure trips, Backroads covers a lot of different adventures.

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There’s a lot to love about Backroads’ seven-day adventure through the lakes and volcanoes of Chile, which is geared to sporty adult families. Starting in Puerto Varas, you’ll wind your way through Chile’s Ring of Fire with stunning views of remote lakes and valleys. Along the way, you’ll have an opportunity to sample local foods, explore the intersection of cultures in colonial villages, and learn from local indigenous leaders.

This Backroads trip offers premium lodging (other trips might offer either premium or casual), which means you’ll stay in elegant hotels with exceptional views, plus perks like pools and spas. All meals, beverages, and snacks are included as well.

This particular bike tour includes Backroads’ standard titanium bikes, helmets, and accessories, and given the distance it covers, also includes shuttling to make sure your biking experience covers the most special views—fear not, the views from the shuttle aren’t too shabby either.

  • Starting price: $7,299
  • Length: 7 days, 6 nights
  • Activity level: Moderate to Challenging

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Nina Cohen is a former teacher and avid traveler and writer. Her travel advice has appeared on USAToday.com, FamilyVacationist.com, and TourScoop.com.