Most of us only get a few weeks holiday each year. When time is limited, the temptation to delegate all the travel planning to someone else appeals as an easy option to maximise our time and money. Group travel no longer has the stereotype of oversized groups of inexperienced travellers on breakneck itineraries led by guides shouting into loudspeakers, and instead has become a main stream and commonly accepted way to spend a holiday. Nowadays, there are tours for every interest, activity and budget.
With so many companies now competing for your travel dollar, choosing a good value tour has become nearly as complicated as planning your own adventure. Your travel agent has given you a stack of glossy brochures. You’ve scanned through the websites. You’ve decided that you want to be just like the smiling, fun-loving person posing in front of some far flung exotic background, but how do you really find out which tour operator offers the best deal and whether or not it’s the right fit for you?
After a while all the itineraries and companies will look the same and it will seem like the easiest option is to tell your travel agent to just book one they recommend. They are supposedly the expert after all, but you may end up on a trip you hate. To avoid this, narrow your choices by considering the following –
Group Size & Type
This is your first big decision. When you envision a ‘group tour’, how many people do you see touring alongside you? Two? Ten? Sixty? The phrase ‘group tour’ can be (and is) used to describe all of the above. Also decide what the general theme of the tour is. For example, is it customised for adventure sports enthusiasts, historical sites, culinary tastes, etc, or is it more broad in nature hitting all the typical tourist hotspots along the way?
The next way to narrow your choices is to decide who you want to be on tour with. Do you want to be surrounded by women only on your group tour? Surrounded by young people or “young at heart” people, families or strictly adults only? Most tour companies will indicate the demographic they are targeting on their “about” pages but, if not, check their website or social media profiles for pictures and you will see the type of people you will be traveling with.
A lot of group tours will share similar itineraries but generally speaking, you should look for an itinerary that hits all the major highlights (the reason you want to go to that destination) but, that then includes a couple of extra stops along the way. Those ‘extra stops’ usually end up being the most memorable places and often fall into the “never heard of before” category.
Also check how flexible and full the itinerary is. Will your tour be starting at 6am with a full day of activities every day or is there scheduled “free time” every few days to do your own thing or just sit and read a book/send an email. Having a flexible itinerary can be the difference between really enjoying your holiday or “needing a holiday from your holiday”.
One of the many advantages of this technological age we live in is the ability to check peoples experiences and learn about a company before parting with our hard earned money. Read what people are saying as much as possible through the companies website and social media profiles but also through independent sites such as TripAdvisor and stridetravel.com etc. Pay attention to the negative reviews as well as the positive as these can sometimes be the more insightful perspectives into how the company works.
You’ve got to find a company that you gel with. Whose vibe feels right. The quickest way to work this out? Go on the website. Read the blog. See how the tour company speaks and how they act. Do they have a good responsible travel policy that mentions the use of local guides? Do they look fun, or a bit boring? Do their itineraries feel generic, or are they pushing boundaries?
The cheapest isn’t always the best so look at the value, not just price. Are there lots of included meals? What star rating of accommodation will you be staying in? Are there heaps of included activities or will these all be extra? Do you get a local guide at major sights or just the entry fee? If the tour is ticking a lot of those boxes, it’s usually worth paying a bit extra. Like anything else in life, you get what you pay for.
Questions to Ask Before You Commit
What is the maximum number of people allowed on the tour?
How much time will be spent travelling on the bus/train/plane?
How many nights will be spent at each hotel?
What are the morning meeting times?
What activities will incur an extra cost?
Are the sights I most want to see included on the itinerary?
What language(s) will the tours be conducted in? (I ended up on a 3 days Spanish speaking tour in Bolivia when I don’t understand Spanish.)
What meals are covered and what type of food will be offered (e.g. a hotel buffet or a three-course meal at a local restaurant)?
How much free time is there, and is the itinerary customisable?
If you have narrowed your choices and still can’t decide then consider tailoring a tour specifically for you. As an Adventure Consultant I plan, book and assist people to have the adventure they always dreamed about so if the cookie cutter standard tours don’t appeal then contact me for a free, no obligation call to discuss your ideas for a perfect holiday.
- If you are booking through a Travel Agent they get commission on selling you a tour. If you leave the decision up to them they will sell you a tour that gives them the most commission and not necessarily what’s right for you. Don’t be surprised if they try to guide you towards a particular tour company and don’t feel pressured to book with them. Do your own research or find another agent because one of the main reasons people end up on a tour they dislike is because they’ve been sold a tour that’s wrong for them.
- Say no to the extras or up-selling ad-ons. It’s often cheaper to book your own pre and post trip accommodation either directly or by using an accommodation booking website. Same goes for the airport transfers where a normal taxi, Uber or airport shuttle service is cheaper. Also watch for the “single supplement” as this does not always guarantee you will have your own room depending on the type of accommodation your tour utilises.
- If, despite your best efforts, you just don’t like your tour then talk to the guide. Ask to leave or find ways to do your own thing rather than stay with the group. Just inform the guide and don’t drag your dislike of the tour into the group dynamics and spoil it for everyone as no one likes “that guy”.
WORK WITH ME
I’m Anna Kernohan, an Adventure Consultant. I use my 17 years of travel experience and my background in Paramedics and Safety to provide professional advice and travel companion services to those wanting to travel but not in a tour group or alone. You’ll never have to worry about being alone in a foreign country again.
So if you want to know more about how I can help you have the adventure of your dreams simply use this link to ask me your travel questions or sign up for my newsletter to never miss an exclusive offer.