How do you pick a tour?

So you’ve read Part 1: When does it make sense to go on a package tour, and you’ve decided that you want to go on a tour.

There is a wide variety of tours and tour companies available. However, the general premise of a tour is as follows: you read a brief description of a trip on a web site (or in a brochure), pay your money, and join a group of between 12 and 40 people. The group is lead by one or more tour leaders (sometime local) who take you to a predetermined set of locations, hotels, and attractions. All or some meals may be included in the cost. The amount of compulsory activities (included in the price) versus optional activities varies with the tour and company.

So how do you decide what tour is right for you?

A tour doesn't have to be on a bus. It could be in a big expedition truck in Africa...or on a sailboat in the Galapagos...or on a bigger ship in Antarctica (but not this one because it sank in 2007).

 What kind of company

Do you want to go with a small group of adventurous travellers who use local transportation and stay in small local guest houses, or do you want a more luxurious tour, travelling in a large private coach with A/C and staying in five-star hotels? These two types of tours will have a different price tag as you may expect, but the experience will also be very different. The more active the trip, the younger the participants tend to be. Tour companies usually fall into one of these two categories, even though there are some that try to please everyone by offering different “styles” (or levels of comfort) for the same trip. Some companies also specialize in a specific activity such as trekking, or cycling, appealing to sport aficionados.

Do a search online, talk to people who have done trips similar to the one you’re considering, and find a few companies that appeal to you. Some travel magazines also list some of their picks. (Or read to the end of this article for my personal recommendations). Many companies offer tours to participants worldwide, although they may be headquartered in a specific country (usually Canada, US, UK, or Australia for English-speaking tours).

Pay attention to the following:

  • Does this company limit its tours to people within a specific age-range (over 50, 18-35)?
  • Is there a compulsory single supplement if travelling alone, or can you share a room with a passenger of the same gender (guaranteed share)?
  • Is this an international company with passengers coming from all over the world, or a local outfit where all the passengers leave from the same airport?

 Which tour

After narrowing down your choice to two or three companies, look at their offerings. A decent company website should allow you to search by destination and perhaps also by trip length and activities.

Peruse the tour description for the following information. If the answer applies to most tours, this information will likely be located on an overview web page (or on the front/back pages of a brochure).

  • What is the maximum size of the group?
  • Is there a minimum age (in case you want to bring children)?
  • Does the tour require a medical certificate if you’re over a certain age?
  • What is and isn’t included in the price? Camping trips will often include a “kitty” (to cover food purchases) whose cost is listed separately.
  • How many nights are spent in each location?
  • How long are the bus/train journeys? Any overnights?
  • What is the standard of the hotels? Is any camping or homestay included?
  • Are the hotels near the centre of towns, or in suburbs?
  • How much free time is included?
  • Is there a choice of activities or is everything set?
  • Is it a guaranteed departure ? (No minimum number of passengers required.)

 Making a decision

Once you’ve answered all these questions and are satisfied with the answers, it’s time to contact the company with any additional enquiries. There is one caveat however. Tours operators, obviously, are in the business of selling tours. For this reason they may not always provide the most objective information when asked questions such as “I am thinking of booking a tour with your company in August. Is August a good month to visit Thailand?”. Or “Is it dangerous to visit country XYZ on my own?”. Their answer, without being a lie, is likely to be biased in favour of you travelling with their company. For this reason, you should try answering questions such as these yourself. Given the scope and accessibility of the web these days, there isn’t any excuse. Or you can just contact me with your question and I’ll try to answer to the best of my ability. (Answers to the questions above by the way are “no” and “probably not”).

After all your questions have been answered, it is time to book your tour. This usually requires a non-refundable deposit. Always read the small print before making your deposit (booking conditions, cancellation policies). The tour company may also offer to book your flights, if those are not already included in the price. If you have the time, confidence, and desire, you may want to do a little research on your own to see if you can beat their price. (My free report, that you can get by subscribing to my newsletter here on the right side of this page, talks about this.)

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 Recommended companies

These are tour companies I have used before and liked:

  • Intrepid (Australian company offering trips worldwide. I’ve travelled with Peregrine and Guerba, which were later acquired by Intrepid.)
  • Enchanted Expeditions (specializing in Ecuador and the Galapagos)
  • G Adventures (Canadian company. Offers trips all over the world, different lengths and styles
  • Trek America (convenient to explore North America if you don’t have a car)

Which other tour company would you recommend to your fellow travel nuts, and why?

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