These days travel can be stressful enough. If you are the kind of person who prefers everything organized for you and everything included with no hidden costs, a travel package may be just right. Packages can differ as to what is included, but they generally include all airfare, accommodation and usually some meals, activities and ground transportation.

The concept of a travel package is older than many people think. In 1841, Englishman Thomas Cook chartered a train to take a group of people on a twenty mile train journey; the cost of the trip included food for the day, which was a novel idea at the time. Thomas Cook grew to be one of the largest and most well respected names in the history of travel and a major influence on the travel industry.

Today, travel packages are still popular, despite the internet having made it easier to plan and book trips on line. Packages range from airfare and a couple of nights in a hotel, to all inclusive trips of several weeks at luxury resorts. Travel packages can be found to just about anywhere in the world. It’s the perfect way to see a place that you might be reluctant to visit on your own. Whether you will be wine tasting in France, hiking in the Himalayas, or scuba diving in the Caribbean, you can easily find a package that works for you.

One big advantage of a package is that they are generally less expensive than buying all the components of your trip separately. Airlines and hotels often sell blocks of seats or rooms at lower prices. The savings are then passed on to the traveler. There is always an exception to the rule and it pays to check the total costs of both options before purchasing your package. Most major airlines offer their own packages, which are nearly always less expensive than booking air and hotel separately.

Some packages include an event or activity that is difficult to see if you had to book it yourself – particularly appealing are sports packages or packages for a unique event. It’s virtually impossible to attend the Olympic Games unless you buy some sort of a package. A New York or London package might include tickets to a sold-out show; a ski package might include the use of slopes that are often booked up; a golf package might include a guaranteed tee time.

Check the conditions of your package carefully to see exactly what is and what is not included. Whereas the most important components, airfare and hotel, are probably included in a package vacation, some other potentially costly things may not. If meals are included in your package, does that mean breakfast, lunch and dinner? What about alcoholic drinks with your meals? Also, is ground transportation, bus or taxi from the airport to your hotel or cruise ship included?

Be particularly careful of extras such as activities or excursions – both of which can be costly parts of any trip and are often not included in a travel package. One of the best features of a cruise is the option of taking a tour or excursion at different ports of call. These are not always included and the cost can add up. The meals included may just be breakfast, rather than three meals a day. And determine whether tips are included in your package, another potentially costly item.

Although it is nice to have everything booked and paid for all at once, the ideal package should offer some flexibility and some time to do your own thing. If you are taking a tour of Europe, you will want some free time to just shop; and if you are on a driving tour of the Southeast US, you don’t want to be sitting in a bus all the time. Many more complex packages will include the occasional free day; and you may find that you have a choice of activities or events.

Some independent and experienced travelers claim that a travel package takes away some of the spontaneity and flexibility that traveling can provide. That is true to some degree, although the convenience and cost saving are worth it to many people. And if you are a solo traveler, you may find that you are charged more for the dreaded single room supplement that tour companies levy; although sharing a room with a complete stranger is certainly a good way to meet people.

So is a travel package right for you? Only you can decide that. It may depend on your budget, your destination and your comfort level as well as whether you just want to let someone else do the planning.

Lisa Parker