How do you get the most out of a trip to a new destination? With careful planning, says Mark MacKenzie. And there are plenty of companies out there with the knowledge...

1. Discover the spirit of Japan

Explore Japan's spiritual side on a 12-day holiday. Starting in Kyoto, you'll move on to the mountain retreat of Koyasan, stay in the religious centre of Kotohira and visit Hiroshima's Peace Park.

The essential stop: The Samurai castle at Himeji.

The package: Inside Japan's tour (0870 746 1044; insidejapantours. com) costs £1,400 per person, including transfers, b&b, some meals and guides. Next departure October 2006. Flights to Kansai with Japan Airlines (0845 7 747 700; jal-europe. com) start at £570.

2. Hole up in a Balkan fortress

Enjoy a 17-day cultural odyssey in the Balkans. In Serbia, explore Belgrade's Kalemegdan fortress, Bulgaria's Pirin mountains, and Macedonia's Lake Ohrid.

The essential stop: Nis's Ottoman fortifications.

The package: The tour with Traveller (020-7436 9343; starts at £2,295 per person, including flights, half-board and excursions. Next departure is on 22 July 2006.

3. Sail the Nile Agatha style

Take a stylish cruise down the Nile during a 12-day tour of Egypt, including seven nights aboard the Zahra, a 1920s-style dahabiyya, as featured in Death on the Nile.

The essential stop: The temples of Abu Simbel.

The package: Bales Worldwide's (0870 241 3208; balesworldwide. com) tour starts at £1,699 per person, including flights, transfers, three nights at Cairo's Mena Garden Oberoi Hotel and full-board on Zahra.

4. A smuggler's trail in Spain

Finca el Moro is offering a week-long walking break in Andalucia's stunning Sierra de Aracena. Follow La Ruta de los Mochilleros, a series of former smugglers' trails from Spain to Portugal.

The essential stop: The mosque at Almonaster.

The package: The Finca el Moro resort (00 34 959 501 079; fincaelmoro. com) is offering seven nights from £685 per person, including transfers and full board. Ryanair (0906 270 5656; flies to Seville from £55 return.

5. To Russia and beyond

This 15-night coach tour of Russia takes in plenty of Europe on the way, calling at Berlin, Frankfurt and Warsaw before arriving in Minsk, Smolensk and Moscow. Then it's on to St Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen.

The essential stop: The Hermitage Museum.

The package: WA Shearings' tour (01942 824 824; starts at £1,185 per person, including transport, full-board and a guide. Departures from May.

6. Full steam in Australia

All aboard for one of the greatest rail journeys on earth on a three-week tour of Australia. After a week in the Northern Territory, you'll board the Ghan, the 1,850-mile railway that connects Darwin to Adelaide.

The essential stop: The Moon Plains.

The package: The 20-night trip with Audley Travel (01869 276345; starts at £3,096 per person and includes two nights' aboard the Ghan, plus car hire in Alice Springs, Darwin and Adelaide. Flights to Australia can be arranged from £665. Departures from May.

7 Time travel in Turkey

Headwater's 11-day Best of Turkey tour reads like a Classics syllabus. Enjoy a guided lecture of Istanbul's Blue Mosque before crossing the Sea of Marmara to the ancient sites of the Aegean coast.

The essential stop: Lake Bafa, home to a vast colony of flamingos.

The package: Headwater's tour (01606 720199; starts at £1,297 per person, including flights, transfers, b&b, some meals and guides. Departures from April.

8 Head East down South

Travel from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean on a 45-day tour. In Peru, explore the Inca Trail. In Bolivia, take an off-road safari across the salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni. And in Brazil, chill out on Curitiba.

The essential stop: Brazil's Iguassu Falls.

The package: The Southern Cross tour with Intrepid Travel (0800 917 6456; costs £1,570 per person, which includes transport, and a mixture of b&b, homestay, bus travel and camping. An additional 500 US dollars is payable to your tour guide on arrival. Iberia (0800 772 4642; iberia. com) offers flights to Lima from £767.

9 Lose yourself in Cuba's past

Learn about Cuba's turbulent political past and see its natural highlights on a nine-night tour. Visit the Museum of the Revolution in Havana, then take a nature trek through the Zapata National Park. It also includes three nights in Trinidad.

The essential stop: Che Guevara's mausoleum in Santa Clara.

The package: Journey Latin America's (020-8747 8315; tour starts at £1,554 per person, including flights, transfers and b&b. Departures from March.

10 Follow the lead of William Tell

A week-long rail tour of Switzerland's mountain resorts offers rocky mountain highs with killer views. From Geneva, travel first-class on the William Tell line to Wengen. From there, soar over the Brunig Pass to Lucerne.

The essential stop: The Piz Gloria restaurant, which featured in the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

The package: The seven-night tour with Inntravel (01653 617725; ) starts at £1,028 per person, including flights, transfers and rail tickets, six nights' half-board.

All prices are based on two people sharing