Over the years, I’ve heard some strange reasons as to why people choose the tours they do – some with good reason, others completely unfounded so this blog is all about how to choose the right tour for YOU!
It can be very easy to go for an itinerary that looks about right and the cheapest price but it’s good to remember that you usually get what you pay for and looks can be deceiving.
Here’s the things to look out for to ensure you choose the right tour for you. This can also be useful if you are comparing the idea of travelling independently or choosing a tour.
1. Are flights included?
Some tour operators and cruise lines such as Wendy Wu Tours and Uniworld will often include flights. It’s important to also ask which airlines and routes are available to you – it might not seem like such good value if you have to add on domestic flights or if it requires 4 flights and 16 hours of layovers to get there when you could get a direct flight and spend more time in the destination!
2. What standard of accommodation is included?
The accommodation standards across all tours and cruises can vary substantially. It’s important to align this with what you want on your holiday and also to rationalise this with the local standards. In Egypt, a 5 star hotel doesn’t necessarily mean luxury to those of us from Western countries and may be more accurately compared to a 3 star standard. Some destinations will allow you to experience more luxury at a lower cost so it can be worthwhile treating yourself in places where your money goes further. Most tour companies will give an example of the hotels they will use when you look at the detailed itineraries online so you can actually google that hotel and see if that’s what you are looking for. This can also give an indication of how central the hotels are located – no point going on a cheap tour when you end up staying 40 minutes outside of the city and you’ll spend all your time on public transport!
3. What meals are included?
Some tours are all inclusive, some include breakfast only and some include nothing at all. Food can be a huge cost in some places – for example, Skandinavia is known for being relatively pricey for food whereas Thailand and Vietnam are known for being extremely cheap. It also depends on whether you want to be eating meals with the group every day or whether you prefer the independence of being able to go and find a hidden gem of a restaurant. It’s worth nothing that a lot of tours will include meals in places where there are limited options too. Some tours actually include the meals that are served on planes just to make it look like more is included so be sure to look at the detailed itinerary.
4. What activities are included?
Let’s face it, one of the big up sides to travelling with a group is the skip the queue type benefits. This is why you want to check exactly what is included in the way of entry to attractions and experiences on offer. A great example of something that may sway you from another company is the “Be My Guest” experiences that Trafalgar Tours include on some of their itineraries where you are able to sit down for a meal with locals in a unique location such as a vineyard in France or a Ryokan in Japan. These types of experiences are hard to put a dollar value on as they are difficult to come by and will usually be one of the highlights of your trip. If something you desperately want to see in a destination isn’t included on the tour you are looking at, you need to be sure you will have time to see it independently and don’t forget to check which day of the week you’ll be able to visit as some attractions are not open every day – particularly if you are going in shoulder or off seasons.
5. How many people on the tour?
These days you have a lot more options when it comes to tour size than there ever was before. A tour doesn’t have to be 50 people on a big coach. If you don’t like to be around lots of people, there are small group options that you will most likely love. You can even organise private tours that are tailored just for you or you and your family/friends. G Adventures guarantee that every departure (apart from a couple of exceptions involving large expedition ships) will operate with even just one person booked on it and they often have a maximum size of 12 or 15 people depending on the tour.
6. What transport is included?
Are airport transfers included? Will you be using local transport or private vehicle? What are the travelling distances between places? All of these will affect your costs so compare what you’d like with what is included. No point picking a cheap tour that takes you on chicken buses in South America if that is your idea of hell on earth!
7. How much time do you actually get in each destination?
I’ve always advised people to look for stays of 2 nights or longer. 1 night stays tend to be stays of convenience rather than an opportunity to explore – you will likely arrive in late afternoon and leave early the next morning. There are of course some places that you will only need a short visit to – Pisa, Italy is one such place and is often only included as a day stop for that reason. The tours with longer stays generally run at a slower pace too so if you don’t like to be on the go too much then those are the ones to look for.
8. What is the general demographic of the tour company and tour style?
The last thing you want is to be stuck on a tour with a bunch of people you have nothing in common with and who grate on your nerves. No point looking at Contiki if you are over 35 years of age and the last thing most 18 year olds want is to be on a tour with 65+ year olds! These demographics can change with the duration of the tour too. Typically, longer tours have an older average passenger age as retirees have more time on their hands to travel. Fast paced tours tend to appeal more to younger passengers. You’ll also find the type of tour influences this too – small group tours such as G Adventures tend to appeal to a broad age range but with a similar outlook on life.
9. Who are the guides?
My advice around guides is that local is always best. With a local guide, you get added insight into the local culture, you have someone who fluently speaks the local language and knows the social norms. When I got violently sick in Peru, my local guide was a lifesaver – she was able to arrange medication with the local pharmacy attendants who only spoke Spanish and in that moment, she was my hero! On tours that span multiple countries, you will often find that some tour companies will use a western guide (American/Canadian/Australian etc) as the main tour leader but will use local guides in each destination.
10. How physical is the tour?
Nobody wants to be that person holding up the group or hating every minute because the trip they are on was just a bit too active for their fitness level. If you have specific ailments that may impact your ability to partake in the tour, it’s always best to check that out before you book.
11. Is it a guaranteed departure?
This is something that people can often get caught out on. Some tours require minimum numbers in order to run so they set some departure dates that will run no matter how many people are booked on them. If you can book on a definite or guaranteed departure then that gives you peace of mind because it’s very painful when you are booked on a departure that ends up being cancelled due to lack of numbers because finding an alternative tour for the same dates isn’t easy and changing flights and other arrangements can be costly.
12. Will you need visas?
Some passport holders need visas for certain countries – that’s a fact of travel life but it’s important that you know this before you book as some of these visas can take time to obtain so you need to be sure you have time to get the visa before you go. Some tour companies will arrange the visas for you or at least provide you with a letter of invitation if one is required. You also need to be wary of whether you need a single entry or multiple entry visa etc. If you get this wrong, it can be extremely costly or can result in you missing your trip entirely so be sure to check it properly.
13. What optional extras are on offer?
Most tours offer optional extra tours or experiences. It’s worthwhile checking those out so you factor them into your budget or work out what might be missing from your experience. This is also handy for comparing tours where one includes a particular activity in the main tour and the other only has it as an optional extra.
The world is full of people who have had bad experiences on tours but normally it’s because they chose the wrong tour for them. There really is a tour for almost everyone these days – you just need to know how to find it. If you don’t have the time or still feel unsure about which tour is right for you, why not book a 1 hour consultation with me? I’ll help point you in the right direction and give you some honest advice to ensure you get a holiday you’ll be talking about the rest of your life!