Hi Frugalistas! Have you ever been tempted to book a guided tour rather than organise a trip yourself and go it alone? Because not all guided tours are the same, choosing a guided tour needs to be something you research well. Your trip should be what you want it to be, not what others tell you it should look like so before you book that tour, here are some important things to consider when choosing a guided tour:
1. How many people will be on your tour?
Any reputable company should be very transparent as to the number of fellow travelers you will be enjoying your journey with. A good tour will limit the trip to under 30 (and many will be in the 22-24 range), but some large operators may have trips of up to 50 people – that’s a lot of people to wait for to get on the bus each morning or to queue for the loo! guide to choosing a guided tour
2. What meals are included and what types of meals are they?
Your tour should include breakfast each morning as a minimum. Note the type of breakfast served – there is often a big difference between a continental breakfast and a continental buffet breakfast for example. You should avoid tours where every meal is included – whether it’s out of your comfort zone or not, you do need to get out and organize your own food for at least one meal every day.
3. What language or languages is the tour conducted in?
This is often in the fine print so read carefully. Some tours are multilingual, so decide if that is good for you, or whether you would prefer all English speaking companions. guide to choosing a guided tour
4. What is included in the cost?
Does your tour cover the cost of porterage and tips, entry to the sites you will be visiting? You will need to budget for tipping your tour guide and driver – unless it is specifically included in the cost. Either way, you need to be comfortable with the idea of having to tip your guide and driver – it is considered very poor form not to in many places. guide to choosing a guided tour
5. Looking closely at the itinerary, are you actually getting what you think you are getting?
For example, are you getting to climb the Eiffel Tower or are you just “viewing” or driving past it? In Athens, is visiting the Acropolis part of the itinerary, or an “optional” tour (for which you will need to pay extra)? guide to choosing a guided tour
You do need to be careful here as optional tours can be expensive and the costs can add up quickly. In fact, on cheaper tours it is often where the operators make their real money.
Look for tours where the things you really want to do and visit are included in the base price.
If you want to visit a particular place for a particular reason, for example you want to eat tapas in a Barcelona bar will you actually get the chance to do this? If the whole point of going to Barcelona is to eat tapas you need to be sure the itinerary on offer either includes this, or will give you the time to do it on your own.
6. Where are the hotels used on the tour?
The itinerary should provide you with either the name of the hotels used or a detailed explanation of the types of hotels used. If the names are included, you can do your own research and decide if they are right for you.
You need to take particular note of where the hotel is located. If the hotel is well out of the central part of the town or city you are visiting, you are potentially missing out on a lot of opportunities to get out and explore at night or earlier in the morning. If you were a tourist in your own town, would you think it better to be right in the town in the centre of things, or out in the suburbs, surrounded by houses or industrial estates?
7. How much free time will you have and where will it be?
You do want some free time away from organized activities. It’s good to get away from the larger group, do some shopping, have a coffee in a café or do any of the special things you want to do that aren’t included. Organised tours are busy, and can be quite grueling and relentless so you will need a rest on all but the shortest tours. If you have free time scheduled, where is it, and what will you do to make it time well spent?
8. Who is the target market for the tour?
Obviously some operators and itineraries are specifically designed for younger or older travelers, but looking at the pictures in brochures (either hardcopy from the Travel Agent, or you can download and view online) will give you an idea of the type of traveler they are trying to attract.
9. How fit do you need to be to do the tour?
A good guided tour company will be very clear about the level of fitness required to undertake the tour. If you are disabled, or less fit/mobile make sure you understand what, if any, arrangements can be made for you.
10. Is the itinerary on offer good value for money?
The range of guided tours and their costs can be confusing, but calculating the value for money of your tour is actually not difficult. The trick is to look at the REAL cost per day to you as an individual, rather than the cost per day quoted by the operator. Here is how to do it:
Look at a variety of itineraries and short list three preferred ones.
Next go through each itinerary in detail and strike out any days that look like something you aren’t really that interested in, or that seem to be just traveling days. Are the first and/or last days just get together and say hello/good-bye, or is it a “real” tour day? If it’s not a real tour day, delete those days from the itinerary as well. guide to choosing a guided tour
Subtract the number of days you have struck out from the total number of days the tour is marketed for. That is the real number of days you will be enjoying and getting value for money for your tour.
If you divide that number of days by the cost of the tour you will get a much better idea of the true cost and the value for money. guide to choosing a guided tour
Then add in the cost of any additional things that are not included. That is the cost of your trip. The point here is that what looks cheapest isn’t necessarily the cheapest for you.
Remember, it’s your holiday, so regardless of how you travel, do it your way, and make every trip your best trip ever!