Going on a guided or escorted tour can be a good thing. If you need a confident boost about being alone abroad or nervous about handling your airfare or other arrangements, a guided tour can help you feel a bit more at ease while getting you closer to seeing your destination.
While many tours often include stops at major attractions in the country you’ve heading to, these companies can differ in many ways. Based on my experiences with them, here is my advice on what to keep in mind while choosing a tour company.
1) See Who’s Going
Group tours can have quite a mix of travelers in age and background: older, younger, couples, families and solo. Depending on how you feel or your approach to travel, and if it makes you feel better about fitting in, check out what types of travelers often go on the tour company you might be interested in.
For example, Contiki is more ideal for college-age/twenty somethings while Trafalgar often attracts retirees and many from the UK and Australia as well as the U.S. Tour companies also center on different travel styles. G Adventures is suited to outdoor types and offers locally-owned accommodations and physical activities. More general tour companies like Gate1Travel cover key points and often have a broad spectrum of customers.
2) Judge Your Free Time
A planned out itinerary can be nice but pay attention to what’s included – and particularly what’s not. Tours may cover brief visits to major museums and monuments (perhaps hour-two hours) where you have to make quick choices about what to see. Or just a quick stop for a photo opp. Some areas may be seen only through your tour bus window, often while in route from one location to another.
I often go with tours that include a reasonable amount of free time. It’s good because you can check out maybe a place not included on your schedule. In the case of a change of plans or have some solo time, you still have the opportunity to see something quickly.
3) Judge the schedule.
Like No. 2, see about the schedule. As common as tours are to stop at must-see attractions, it’s also important to look at overall what’s included on your itinerary. I get leery of tours that seem to push places where there is a lot of shopping to do but some people might like that.
It might be good to first read up on the destination you’re looking at going first, and then do a comparison against the itinerary of a tour company you’re interested. Also, some tours will make stops and/or stays all at major cities in Italy but maybe one or two might also include time in a town like San Gimignano – which is beautiful – that is along your route.
4) Look at Features
Tours are now offering a lot of optional side choices or experiential activities. While you don’t have to necessarily do all of them, see which ones stand out to you. I like doing ones that seem to replicate the area (like musical locations in Nashville) or may get you to a place that is off your route but definitely will get to (like a stop at a famous beach side hotel in Coronado, California).
Also consider getting airfare through your tour company. Some offer this choice, others leave getting there entirely up to you. If I’m maybe traveling in the U.S. — where I live — I might be opted more to book my own fare if I find a lower rate. If you’re going overseas, and a bit nervous about getting from the airport to the hotel on your own, in most cases your tour company can take care of that transfer for you. Or you can book your airfare through them instead of having to do it yourself.
5) Read Their Reviews
From review sites like TripAdvisor to even Facebook, checking up on personal reviews can firm up your decision. Some may have had snags in their trip while others just have their own good things to say or general gripes about trips, but the more opinions you need can give you a better sense about what you might be getting into.
Also, consider signing up for e-newsletters, as tour companies from time to time offer special discounts or price breaks. Some even may give you a discount for everything from early booking (six months in advance). Unfortunately, solo travelers can get stuck with a single person fee (due to hotel rooms) but some companies might have a room-sharing program where if you can be paired with another single passenger then that fee is waived.
In all, enjoy your tour.