Group tours are usually synonymous with big buses and tourists clicking to record a camera in a country. It’s about being taken to tourist destinations, cheesy attractions, authentic restaurants, and a host of other inauthentic travel experiences.
This idea that touring is bad is an old and outdated perception.
These days, tour groups have become more adept at the changing landscape. They offer smaller groups, more authentic experiences, better environmental impact and more local guides.
I love group tours.
Even though I’m an independent traveler, I find group tours very fun, a great way to meet people, learn more with a knowledgeable guide, go places you normally can’t, and get wet. feet while travelling. My first trip abroad has been organized. I didn’t know the first thing about traveling and this tour gave me the confidence to travel on my own. It was the taste test I needed to become addicted to travel. Tours allow many people to fit into the “traveler lifestyle”.
Unlike in the past, today’s tours are eco-friendly, cater to all travel styles, inexpensive, and use local guides and transportation. And many destinations (like Halong Bay, Serengeti, Machu Picchu, Antarctica, Everest) are virtually inaccessible without a group tour!
In this article, I’ll walk you through how to find the best tour company so you can get one that’s inexpensive, eco-friendly, offers local guides, and gives back to the local community:
- Research the costs– With travel agencies, it’s not always true that you get what you pay for. Many tour companies pay you tons of money, while some are really good at maximizing the value of every penny. Ask how your money is being spent to find out if you are really getting what you pay for. How much of your costs are their overhead? Are you paying for top notch hotels but in two star guesthouses? You want a transparent company that explains why prices are what they are. Also, be sure to ask if there are any additional fees to pay when you arrive. Many companies require you to pay additional money at the start of the tour or do not include entrance fees to parks or attractions.
Also, avoid the single supplement. Many travel companies charge you only one extra, i.e. more money to have your own room. They do it because they don’t want to mix and match people. This is outrageous and penalizes solo travellers. Never, ever pay it. The best travel companies will match solo travelers (of the same sex) in the same room. If there is no one else, you will have your own room by default. If you find a company that charges you extra for traveling solo, avoid it.
- Make sure you are the audience – Is the tour aimed at older couples? Young people? Families? You don’t want to end up on a loud gang of drunk 20-somethings when all you want is a quiet vacation. There’s a travel agency for everyone – just make sure you don’t find yourself in a situation that isn’t yours. Most tour companies list the demographics of their guests on their “About” page, and you can usually see the name of the guest in their tour photos.
You can also tell the audience based on their accommodation: if it’s hostels or guesthouses, it’s usually for backpackers and budget travelers; if you like digging, this is for older travelers and families.
This is very important, because these are the people you will be traveling with. So you want to make sure that’s the kind of person you’re traveling with. I’m still friends with the people from my first tour in 2003 because they were people like me. The Japan tour that was filled with older families? Not really. We didn’t have much in common. Great people but we didn’t connect. I always look for tours that have my demographics in them.
- Get Local Guides – Guides can make or break your trip. They will explain everything to you and keep the tour flowing. I don’t want them to hire a young lad, a non-expert, or someone who doesn’t know the place well. I’ve done guided tours where the guide was a walking encyclopedia, and somewhere the guide was a glorified timekeeper.
Make sure the company uses knowledgeable, local guides. The guide should be a local resident or at least a long-term resident, know the local language, have travel experience and knowledge of rescue techniques.
If you are unsure of the guides, call customer service and ask them about their guides!
- Safety Record – Ensure that the company meets all appropriate safety requirements and is accredited by the local government, the government with which it is registered and any other appropriate commercial organization.
- A balanced schedule – You pay them to occupy your day. How do they do this? Are they doing that? Did they organize many activities or do they leave you to yourself? Be sure to get a schedule of all activities and choose a balanced tour. Running will leave you wishing you had a vacation, but you don’t want to sit all day either.
I love doing small group tours as they always have a good balance. Any tour that requires you to be on a
Remember that most people only write a review if something is wrong. Someone might give a travel company one star because their eggs were runny. Find the mean. Someone might hate a visit because it was so hot. Seriously. Here are the negative reviews of tour operator Thomas Cook: