Much like tourists and travellers, tours come in all different shapes and sizes. This easy guide can help you work out which tour and tour operator will fit into your schedule and time.
Group tours can be lots of fun. And there’s nothing wrong with following a generic itinerary or staying on “the beaten track”. You should always travel the way you feel most comfortable and in a way that you will get the most out of the experience.
Hubby and I like to mix it up. We travel with friend or on our own and stay in anything from a tent or hostel to airbnb or hotel. Other times, we’ve chosen to travel with a tour group. And, looking back, I am so glad that we did!
So, if you do choose to see the world via a tour, how do you know which one is right for you?
In no particular order, here are a few things you should consider when deciding on your tour:
What and where?
When shopping around for a tour you need to have some idea about where you want to go, or 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 such as cooking or hiking? Do you want to take a selfie at every wonder of the world? Do you want to experience the culture or learn about the history? Do you want to work/volunteer?
There are so many options to consider and this will have a big impact on which tour you choose.
Does the tour go to all the places you want to visit? If not, will you select an additional tour, or choose to travel onwards on your own?
Will you go on your own, with a friend or with a group? If you are wary of travelling on your own in an unfamiliar city or country, a multi-day or multi-destination tour might be a fun option.
Consider the average age 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?
Consider the group size
Do you want a bigger tour group or a smaller, more intimate tour group?
Sometimes a bigger tour group will mean that you can keep to yourself or have a larger selection of people to choose to spend time with. A smaller tour group can be more efficient and flexible but it might mean that you are more likely to be stuck with the group weirdo. Unless you are the group weirdo…
Consider the total costs and inclusions
Tour costs can vary depending on the number of days, activities 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.
Don’t think 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 – You might be able to afford the tour, but can you get suitable flights? Sometimes the cheaper fights mean that you have to fly in earlier, or leave later, which can increase accommodation and on the ground expenses costs.
- Single supplement – If you are travelling alone, you could be charged a single’s supplement. It might be cheaper to go with a friend or in a couple.
- Sleeping – Some tours offer 4 or 5 star hotels and accommodation, while others offer a single bed in a hostel dorm room or camping in a tent. Are linen/sleeping bags included?
- Eating – Sometimes meals or breakfasts are included in your tour costs. Other tours are self-catered. Find out which meals are included and what is 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 certain activities or better accommodation. Upgrades could also be the difference between a bed and a reclining seat on an overnight train, or a cruise on luxury ferry instead of a communal felucca.
- Museums and attractions – Some tour companies will charge you extra for museum and attraction entrance fees. Others will include all basic attractions and charge you only for optional attractions.
- Activities – Some activities might be included. Activities such as hot air ballooning, snorkeling, and white water rafting are usually not.
- Tipping – Tipping culture is very important and expected in many countries. Sometimes your tour cost will include a tipping kitty, which means that you might not need to tip throughout your trip. However, this still might not include your drivers and tour guides.
Consider the length and pace of the tour
Day tours can be fun and allow you to see a specific city or tourist attraction without the hassle of hiring a car or battling public transport in an unfamiliar place. You will usually be guided by an expert or local who can help you discover and learn about places you may not have had the chance to visit otherwise.
Multi-legged tours will generally cover a number of different cities or regions, sometimes across multiple countries. There is little flexibility on tours spanning a number of days or weeks due to tight schedules. 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.
Some longer tours will include travel days or free time, which can eat into your itinerary. Rest days and free time can be good if you want to explore on your own or take some time off to relax. Other tours are planned down to the last minute, with plenty of sightseeing and activities that can be exhausting and sometimes overwhelming. Decide on whether you want a fast-paced tour or a tour that takes a more leisurely pace.
Ensure you understand you itinerary and what you have booked so that you are not surprised or disappointed by the length and pace of your tour.
Consider the type of activities on your tour
Most tours offer fantastic experiences in incredible locations, but these experiences can change depending on the tour company and the activities they offer.
Some adventure tours will involve hiking, riding, walking, climbing and paddling. Consider your level of fitness and your keenness for such outdoor adventures before signing up for these tours.
There is a big difference between walking 30km per day for 30 days between rustic Spanish villages on the El Camino trail and white water rafting in New Zealand or volcano boarding in Central America. All require different levels of fitness, but the El Camino probably requires more mental strength and dedication. Even an island hopping tour on a yacht through the Mediterranean might require some level of swimming (or floating) ability.
Other tours might involve very little exercise if you are sitting on a bus between tourist sites, or drifting between beaches on a cruise.
Consider the tour company
Big experiences on a budget (18 – 35 Year olds)
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. But that is not to say they don’t have experienced tour guides who will teach you a thing or two, whether you are there to learn or not. 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… though depending on your alcohol intake, you might have to go again to remember them… They cover experiences such as Oktoberfest in Munich; World Cup in Brazil; King’s Day in Amsterdam, Running of the Bulls in Pamplona; La Tomatina in Valencia; Szigets Festival in Budapest; Kazantip in the Ukraine; Sonar Barcelona, BBK Live in Bilbao, Glastonbury Music Festival, Royal Ascot races, British F1 Grand Prix, St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, 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 + chef options available.
Quality and adventure tours
Other tour companies offer 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.
Check out companies such as Intrepid, Encounters, Exodus, G Adventures, Barracuda, Gravity, Oasis Overland, Abercrombie & Kent, Wild Frontiers, World Exhibitions, Tucan Travel, Yomads and Expat Explore.
For those interested in a relaxing, luxury, all inclusive package, 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.
Read more about romantic activities for couples on cruises.
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 & India), Butterfield & Robinson (Europe bike tours), Scanbalt Experience (Scandinavia & Eastern Europe), The Dragon Trip (China), Kiwi Expereince (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.
Finally, when deciding on your tour, always check out traveller reviews and ask others for recommendations.
I can’t remember where this quote came from, but I tend to agree with “a tourist is an amateur traveller, and a traveller is a professional tourist.” It doesn’t matter how you travel, or whether you call yourself a tourist or a traveller, the point is that you are doing what you love and creating memories to last you a lifetime.
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.
Check out the tours we have been on here:
Nubian Adventures and Beaches with Encounters Travel
San Fermin and BBK Live with PP Travel
12 Day Anatolian Adventure of Turkey for ANZAC Day 2014
Looking for more travel inspiration?
Check out my recommendation on what to do in:
Amsterdam, Bali, Berlin, Brisbane, Bristol, Budapest, Cambridge, Canberra, Cappadocia, Chamonix, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Istanbul, Kotor, Kyoto, London, Lyon, Madrid, New York City, Noosa, Paris, Riga, Scotland, Tokyo and Washington D.C.
Constance16/04/2014 at 2:10 pm
This will really help me planning my next trip!
Hopefully there are some experienced globe trotters like you!
Thank you so much for this detailed method!
Ken C09/12/2015 at 1:01 am
Loved the tips here. Great blog!
Casey02/03/2018 at 4:10 pm
Hey thanks for this. unfortunately a lot of these all inclusive tours dont actually include anything like meals/drinks and are super pricey… has anyone actually found a cheap option!? i’m talking 700 or less?
Jacqui11/03/2018 at 6:05 am
Hi Casey, some good tour groups, like Intrepid or Encounters Travel, have inclusive deals and will often have up to 40% specials if you book at the right time. Shop around!