Planning a trip can be exciting. You work hard, you earned those vacation days, and it’s time to plan that trip of a lifetime. However, planning a trip can also be stressful. Where do you start? When are you supposed to have time to figure out all the logistics? Often times to outweigh these burdens that sometimes take away from the whole excitement of travel, people will turn to tour companies that take care of the details for you.
One of the best parts about travel is all the endless options available to you. You can eat at 5 star restaurants, or you can make your own meals in your Airbnb, whatever your goals for your great adventure are, you can achieve it. Travel seriously has something to offer for everyone. Some people prefer to book all the details of their trip, and some don’t, and that’s why tour groups can often be the best option.
There are a ton of great benefits of traveling with a tour group. To name a few:
You’ll have the knowledge of an expert
One of the bigger pros of using a tour operator is that you’ll have access to a local expert the entire time you are traveling. Often we are traveling alone and stuck with Google or guidebooks to learn about the country/place we’re visiting, however, having the luxury of someone that knows everything about their country at your fingertips makes the trip more authentic, and allows you to leave the trip full of knowledge and understanding about the place you had visited.
You’ll save money
Since tour operators purchase and book in bulk, they can score those group discounts which allows them to save you money on travel expenses versus you booking on your own. If traveling with a tour operator means you’ll have more money for future trips, than what do you really have to lose?
You’ll feel more safe
This is also a huge one if you’re traveling alone. Tours will give you a sense of security you won’t get when traveling alone. First, you’ll have a group of people you’ll be traveling with, and second off, you’ll have a local, educate tour guide that knows the ins and outs of the areas you’re visiting. Being with a local makes you less of a target when you’re traveling, and will make you feel more secure since they can speak the language, navigate you to where you need and want to be, and be there as your trustworthy source to your travels.
You’ll say goodbye to all the research & booking yourself
Booking a trip can be a bourdon. It’s too bad we couldn’t just pick up our bags and go. However, anyone who has planned a trip before knows how much work it takes to research and book the aspects of the trip. From dinner reservations, to how to get from the airport to the hotel, sometimes our brain goes 90 miles a minute before a vacay, and it can be hard to find the time to figure out all the logistics. Tour operators take this worry away from you by allowing you to just pick and choose the tour you’d like to go on.
Built in friends
One of the best parts of traveling is the people you meet along the way. By traveling with a tour operator, whether alone or with a plus one, having other travelers with you can not only make you feel more secure, but also allow you to meet people of different cultures and countries, and travel companions.
However, like anything, with the many pros, comes the cons of booking with a tour company for your next adventure.
For starters, it can be just as easy to create your own adventure, and cheaper as well, the cost of just picking up a guidebook and a map can be astronomically less expensive. On top of that, with a guided tour, you likely won’t have total control of what you see and do because you’ll be on a strict itinerary. Everyone likes different things while traveling, so this can be one of the most challenging parts of group travel, you’re going to likely have to do some things you’re not as into. This especially can be limiting because there are some sights that tour groups just aren’t going to show you. Some of the best moments of travel are when you are wondering down a side street and discover an amazing market, or get lost and interact with locals to find your way back, group travel can limit these experiences.
What types of tours are there?
There are a lot of different types of tours out there, ranging from small to large group tours to private tours. Some will have more free time than others, where some will have everything included and others won’t. Find the type of tour that best works with the way you like to travel.
- Audio Tours: Usually found in museums and historical sites, they give you a chance to explore at your own pace.
- Personal Guide: Hiring someone to escort you and your travel partners around make for a customized tour that allows you to pick and choose what you want to do, and gives you the flexibility that group tours may not.
- Group Guided Experience: This can be a great option if you’re traveling alone or with a small group and want something less expensive than a private tour. They usually have a pre-planned itinerary you’ll follow.
What to look for in a good tour company
Finding the best company for your travel needs is what’s going to make or break your tour experience. Here are some things to look at when considering who to book your travels through:
- Quality: Most tour companies and guides know that their reputation can make or break business, you should be able to find reviews online, so find them, and read them! Also asking around to speak with people who have traveled to the same place to get their recommendations is incredibly helpful.
- Cost: Confirm what the tour will cost including taxes and fees. Keep the exchange rate in mind as well, because you don’t want to be surprised when the bill arrives.
- Activities: To get your money’s worth, take a look at the activities the company is offering during your stay, as well as upgrades. Figure out if they are worth your money or for what they’re offering, you could do it cheaper by doing it alone.
- Cancellation Policy: In case you have to end up cancelling your booking, make sure you know if you’re covered. Figure out how much you would get back if you cancel last minute, and you be the judge if you’re willing to take the risk.
- Comfort Levels: Most tour companies have different levels of tours that identify if that particular trip is made for one type of person or another. For example, G Adventures and Intrepid mark their tours that are usually for people 18-30 or most “budget friendly” then they have family tours, tours that are more luxurious, etc. This helps you know what type of travel you can expect on the tour. If there isn’t a comfort level identified, it’s important to do your research on the demographics that generally take those tours. For example, if you are in your 20s, you’re likely not going to want to get stuck on a tour with seniors in their 70s.
- Eco-Tourism: With eco-tourism on the rise, and people being more concerned about their environmental footprint in their day-to-day life, but also when traveling. Make sure the company you choose is in line with your morals and beliefs. Most companies these days are transparent about how they’re giving back, but you can also look at the types of accommodations, for example, that you’d stay in throughout your trip. If you’re staying in Hilton’s in Asia versus locally owned hotels, it’s likely that the company doesn’t care as much about giving back to the place they are traveling and supporting on the ground tourism.
So is a tour worth the cost?
First off, you need to compare the cost of the trip versus traveling on your own. The easiest way to do that is to take the trip cost, plus the cost of the flight because that’s usually not included, and divide it by how many days the trip is. This will give you an idea of how much the tour will cost per day.
Then you’ll want to do some research on what the average cost per day is for those same expenses that the trip covers. Such as your flight, food, shopping, accommodations, etc. Prices obviously won’t be exact, but it’ll give you an idea. It’s also important to take into consideration the level of travel the tour is. There are always cheaper ways to travel, so you’ll want to make sure that the level of accommodations for example is the same. Like if your tour includes hotels at major hotel chains like the Hilton, but you’re looking at daily expenses for hostels or Airbnb’s, the pricing isn’t going to be a fair comparison.
The tricky part about comparing travel on your own is that you can’t always cost out experiences you have on tours. PLUS, tour companies negotiate group rates and discounts. This can be one of the pluses to taking a tour, versus traveling on your own. You’ll also want to take into consideration your own time when comparing the pricing because it’s going to take you time to plan and book your trip on your own. On top of that, you aren’t going to be escorted on a tour bus, or have private transportation, so you’ll need to factor in getting to places on your own through transit.
So the big question is: Is it worth it?
If you are comparing apples to apples, then yes, going on a tour is worth it. You’ll save money, time, and mostly money. On top of that you’ll have incredibly experiences, you’ll be more relaxed because you won’t have to worry about the logistics, you’ll meet new people, and that list goes on.
However, planning your own trip doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more expensive. When you plan your own trip you have more options and flexibility, you get to decide what you do and see, how much you spend, your comfort level of travel, etc.
In the end, it all comes down to what sort of experience you want to have. Tours can take out a lot of the unwanted stress when it comes to travel, and most importantly, allow you to get the best bang for your buck, but not everyone can be happy on a tour, so doing your research and picking what sounds the best for you is ultimately the best decision.
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