Much like tourists and travellers, tours come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. If you do choose to see the world via a tour, how do you know which one is right for you?
What and where?
Be clear about where you want to go and what you want to do.
Do you want to spend your time relaxing on a beach or on an island? Do you want to be involved in local activities? Do you want to work/volunteer? Does the tour go to all the places you want to visit? Will you go on your own, with a friend or with a group?
Consider the average age and size of the group
Do you want to travel in a younger crowd (18 – 30 year olds) or would you prefer a more mature age mix? Are you looking for a big party of 20-somethings who enjoy a big night out, a family retreat or a grey-nomad retirement holiday?
You can keep to yourself or have a larger selection of people in a bigger group. A smaller tour group can be more efficient and flexible but it might mean that you could be stuck with someone unpleasant.
Consider the total costs and inclusions
Don’t be caught short while you are on your tour. Do your homework and shop around for the best deals. Sometimes budget tours can be more expensive when you add all the extra costs and upgrades.
Tip: Look out for tour deals at travel exhibitions, in travel magazines and online. If you are located in London, try the TNT Magazine Travel Show, usually held in spring and autumn each year.
Not everything is included. You will need to take extra local currency for souvenirs, shopping, extra food, bottles of water, tipping, some activities and nights out.
Other costs you should consider:
- Flights/getting there – Can you get suitable flights? A cheaper fight might increase accommodation costs and on the ground expenses.
- Single supplement – It might be more expensive to travel alone.
- Sleeping – 4 or 5 star hotels vs. a single bed in a hostel dorm room vs. camping in a tent? Are linen/sleeping bags included?
- Eating – Are any meals are included is it self-catered? What are the approximate costs of local food?
- Transfers – Are transfers between the airport and hotel included?
- Upgrades – Some tours offer upgrades, while other tours will have these as standard. Upgrades can include activities, better accommodation, or a bed instead of a reclining seat on an overnight train.
- Museums and attractions – Some tour companies will charge you extra for museum and attraction entrance fees.
- Activities – Activities such as hot air ballooning, snorkeling, and white water rafting are usually not included.
- Tipping – Tipping culture is very important and expected in many countries. Does your tour include a tipping kitty? This still might not include your drivers and main tour guide.
Consider the length and pace of the tour
Day tours can be fun and allow you to be shown a specific city or tourist attraction by an experienced guide without the hassle of hiring a car or battling public transport in an unfamiliar place.
Multi-legged tours will generally cover a number of different cities or regions, sometimes across multiple countries. There is little flexibility but your activities, destinations, accommodation and transport are already sorted, making it easier to budget and eliminating the stress of organising the logistics yourself.
Take into account transit time. You could spend hours sitting on a bus, ferry or train between cities and regions.
Do you want a fast-paced tour or a leisurely paced tour? Some longer tours will include travel days or free time, which can eat into your itinerary. Other tours are planned down to the last minute, with plenty of sightseeing and activities that can be exhausting and sometimes overwhelming.
Understand your itinerary to avoid surprises or disappointment.
Consider the activities on your tour
Some adventure tours will involve hiking, riding, walking, climbing and paddling. Consider your level of fitness and your keenness for such adventures. Even an island hopping tour on a yacht might require some level of swimming (or floating) ability.
Consider the tour company
Some tour companies, such as Contiki, Travel Talk, Top Deck, On The Go and Vodka Train, target younger travellers who might be budget and time conscious. Their tours tend to be fast paced and seem to be more about quantity. These tours are good for first time or younger travellers who want to see plenty of landmarks and attractions while having fun (getting drunk) and meeting friends.
Fanatics, BusAbout, PP Travel, Stoke Travel, Haggis Adventures, and Pillow are tour companies that are perfectly suited to young at heart travellers that want to have fun on the cheap. They mainly cover festivals and events that are once in a lifetime experiences, such as Oktoberfest in Munich, the World Cup in Brazil, King’s Day in Amsterdam, Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, La Tomatina in Valencia, sporting events and more.
BusAbout has a variety of tours but also offers a unique hop-on hop-off network of coaches that cover most capital cities across nine European countries.
MedSailors, SunSail, YachtHoliday and Sail Croatia are some of the many tour companies that offer island hopping experiences on a felucca, yacht or ferry, mainly in the Mediterranean. There are a variety of self-charted day trips or fully charted and chef options available.
Quality and adventure tours
Check out Intrepid, Encounters, Exodus, G Adventures, Barracuda, Gravity, Oasis Overland, Abercrombie & Kent, Wild Frontiers, World Exhibitions, Tucan Travel, Yomads and Expat Explore for adventure tours in slightly more off the beaten track locations, sometimes with smaller tour groups and local guides.
They are designed for people who are looking for variety, adventure, culture and who might be a little more flexible on budget and time. They also offer short breaks, wild life experiences and family itineraries.
For those interested in a relaxing, luxury, all-inclusive packages, a cruise ship might be the way for you.
You can cruise through the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Baltic, Asia Pacific and other parts of the world with companies such as Thomas Cook, P&O, Princess, Cunard, Royal Caribbean, and Jetline, to name a few. Other popular cruises explore the Nile River in Egypt, the Danube and Rhine Rivers in Europe and the River Yangtze in China.
Region specific tours
Some tour companies are country or region specific. These types of tours will generally have a local or experienced guide and be more specific and unique.
Some tour companies include: Micato Safaris (Africa and India), Butterfield & Robinson (Europe bike tours), Scanbalt Experience (Scandinavia and Eastern Europe), The Dragon Trip (China), Kiwi Experience (New Zealand), Haggis Adventures (Scotland), Shamrock Adventures (Ireland), Vodka Train (Trans Siberian Railway), Outback Spirit Tours (Australia), Freedom Australia (Australia), Black Sheep Touring (New Zealand), and Italy on a Budget Tours (Italy).
Activity specific tours
To name a few, Abercrombie & Kent offer Everest Base Camp tours, Whole Journeys offers culinary adventures in a variety of countries, while Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours, Tauck and Off the Beaten Path offer food and wine focused itineraries through France. Intrepid and other larger tour companies also offer activity specific tours such as safaris, cycling or wildlife adventures.
Bespoke / Tailor made tours
There are many companies around the world that offer luxury, tailor made tours. These are generally personalised depending on your tour group and destination wish list. Of course, the target market for these tours tends to be those who have a larger budget and more time on their hands, such as retirees and families.
When deciding on your tour, always check out traveller reviews and ask others for recommendations.
No matter what tour or activities you choose – be prepared and know what to expect. Read the itinerary, take the required items and tipping money, and if you are unsure, contact your tour company for advice.
Want more travel advice? Check out Never Ending Honeymoon.
Bitten by the travel bug? Check out the tours over at TNT Tour Search
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