For most of us, we get just a few weeks’ vacation a year, so picking the right travel package can make or break your precious time off.
While group tours are the answer to taking the hassle out of planning your own adventure, with so many options to choose from, how do you pick something that’s right for you?
Here's what to consider:
Large and small group tours both have their pros and cons. Most opt for small group adventures which allow greater interaction with the guides, a more intimate travel experience and the opportunity to reach places that large numbers simply couldn’t. Big group tours are typically cheaper and spread the risk of spending your vacation with someone you might not get along with. You’ll typically find that the gap year tours, due to the age of most travelers, are larger and cheaper, packing plenty into the itinerary.
Deciding early in the planning process what activity level you're interested in for your vacation is key to picking the right travel package. Some are all-guns-blazing adventures with white water rafting and horseback riding. Others are slowed paced allowing you to appreciate the destination through food and culture. For example, a tour of New Zealand could be primarily focused on adventures like bungee jumping and hiking, but the country has a delicious food and wine scene that you might not want to miss.
There's a big difference between how group tours are designed. If you want to go heavy on the things to do, you can often find yourself hurried around from place to place. If you’d rather explore a place at your own pace, opt for one of the tours which simply supports the journey through accommodation and transport, leaving you to take in the sights at each location yourself. Take one of the multi-day tours through Thailand, for example. Some might whisk you through Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket in a matter of days, while others might linger in each destination, giving you the chance to really immerse yourself in the local culture.
How your travel from one place to another can vary immensely with group tours. Some use coach travel for the entirety of the trip. Others mix it up with public transport like trains and ferries like the gap-year group tours across Europe. Some fly across country on included domestic flights. Others drive across in private minibuses. Any of these can drastically change the cost, comfort and experience.
Don’t make a booking before you’ve studied the inclusions and exclusions of a trip because there are huge differences — even between group tours which seemingly have the same itinerary. If there’s a cost difference, you’ll likely find that some include meals, while others just a few. For example, some of the longer gap year tours might have bare bones inclusions like transport and accommodation, while a more premium adventure might cost more but will include all your guided tours and daily meals. Some group tours might include guide tips, others will expect them. Knowing what’s included or not gives you an idea of how much extra money you might need.
The Travel Agents
While travel agents can be an invaluable resource for information, be careful about accepting all their suggestions. Their relationships and commission levels with particularly tour operators make it inevitable that they’ll steer you in the direction of particularly group tours. It’s simply the nature of the game. If you’re booking a long trip, perhaps across Asia or Latin America, take the information away and do some comparisons with other travel agents.
The guides can often make or break at tour. If possible, find out who your guide will be and look them up to see if they have reviews. Some guides are there to simply support a group. Others are more specialist and provide a more immersive experience when it comes to the history, food, architecture or cuisine. More expensive tours may even have an expert guide in each location or for each tour, but don’t expect this on budget adventure. For example, if you’re taking an architecture tour of Barcelona, you might be better splurging on one of the premium tours led by a Catalonian architect, while a simple walking tour of the city can often be just as good with a knowledgeable local.
One of the simplest ways to gauge whether the tour is any good is to simply look at the reviews. TripAdvisor is a great resource for looking at single-day group tours like wine tasting trips in France or walking tours of New York, while other review sites like TrustPilot or Google are handy for building up a picture of a tour operator with multi-day adventures. Some even have reviews and testimonials on their own site, but these should be taken with a grain of salt.
Of course, the biggest factor in dictating which tour you buy is your budget. However, not all tours are made equally. By sizing each one up using the tips above, you can make a judgement about finding the best value for money. Remember, you don’t have to book a group tour. If you’re on a shoestring, you might be better off booking all the elements of the trip by yourself leaving you in complete control. There are plenty of resources from Skyscanner.net to Booking.com which make planning your vacation a breeze.