Gear-grinding buses jamming up parking lots.
Gawping packs of wide-eyed clods in sandals and floppy hats.
Amateur travelers hopping in and out of said buses, snapping photos while a peppy guide gushes over some run-of-the-mill attraction.
"This is the Fabric Museum. You have an hour here. Then lunch!"
Anyone who's traveled past their front door has seen the benighted tour group and recoiled in revulsion.
Is this any way to see the world?
Who travels this way?
There's a tendency for many to disparage group tours, snicker over the doltish stereotypes and, in the process, feel like superior world citizens.
But tours come in all shapes and sizes and, regardless of what you might consider "real travel," they play an important role in the travel world.
They're not all big bus tours filled with flag-waving tour guides.
Many consist of small groups who stay longer than an hour in each place.
It was a package tour through Costa Rica that gave me my love of travel and made me comfortable traveling alone.
It helped make me what I am now -- a travel writer and occasional tour group leader.
This year I began running small-group tours for readers of my budget travel blog in order to do for them what that tour to Costa Rica did for me.
There are a number of reasons even seasoned travelers shouldn't be afraid of tours.
1. Instant friends
For people not comfortable meeting strangers on their own, tours provide an easy environment in which to make friends right away.
Although most of us want to meet people on the road, many find it hard to strike up conversations.
Tours help you make that leap.
And even if you don't, guides want everyone to have a great time -- they make sure travelers don't sit around staring at each other like kids at a junior high school dance.
2. Tour guides create a more meaningful experience
I've had some amazing guides in my time.
On a tour in Australia, our Aboriginal guide/driver suddenly braked, ran out of the car and called us over to look at a trail of ants that locals use for cold medicine.
The ensuing conversation led to some ant eating -- I'd have never done that on my own -- and a greater understanding of the local culture.