If you are looking for more than the usual organized tour and really want to learn about the destination you visit, consider the offerings of Political Tours (www.politicaltours.com.)
Founded by Nicholas Wood, a former New York Times correspondent, these tours are all led by top experts in the country and include meetings with local experts and academics. They are not cheap, but some of the destinations are fascinating--Libya, China, North Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, South Africa, Northern Ireland.
These itineraries are not a day at the beach--they are intended for travellers with a serious interest in their destinations. I am particularly attracted by the tour to North Korea, a destination that is little known and hard to access. It is also one of the few remaining socialist societies in the world, and something of a pariah state. Only about 2,000 Westerners are admitted per year, according to Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com.)
In a world that is becoming more and more homogeneous, these tours seem to offer something a little different.