You fly private into Shanghai and are whisked to the Portman Ritz-Carlton. You waited in no lines, collected no baggage. It has all been taken care of. Awaiting you at the hotel are a cocktail and a stack of local currency. Your itinerary for the days that follow: a stroll through the Yuyuan Garden, a 450-year-old, historically significant gem that's considered one of the finest in China; a hydrofoil trip around the world's deepest lake and a visit to an 18th-century church; then a flight to the Gobi Desert to hunt fossils with your own archaeologist (one of a cadre of experts traveling with your group).
It's a new kind of group travel that is nothing like group travel. TCS Expeditions creates "experiences people can't duplicate," says company founder TC Swartz. "The convenience, the comfort, the service, the access, the experts." While accommodations usually tip the scales of upscale, Swartz says, "If we think it's worthwhile to go to the Gobi Desert and stay in a tent camp there, we do that, too." And they provide gourmet meals and arrange for hot water in advance.
Cultural and historical experiences like these are too obscure to find their way onto normal tours: the Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin, Manchuria; a camel caravan across desert dunes in Mongolia; a Buddhist monastery in Russia; a luxurious soak at the Arasan Baths in Kazakhstan; the vineyards and markets along China's Silk Road. All in just 20 days, so you'll be home before your guidebooks are due back at the library.