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!
Beoing in Amsterdam at the moment I have taken as many walking tours as possible and learned heaps and heaps. It is SUCH a good way to get info on a nw place
It’s also a great walking city too! I spent 5 days there for a conference last year, and the only time I used public transport was to go between the train station and the hotel – walked everywhere else all the time and loved it!
thanks for taking the time to comment
irenelevine (@irenelevine) says
These are all great questions to ask! The “right” tour can make for a wonderful experience. I would add asking about the qualifications/personality of the tour guide to the list of questions. That’s where the proverbial rubber hits the road!
Travel with Kevin and Ruth says
Good advice for those who like guided tours. We’re pretty independent and like to do our own thing, but I think for single people, these types of tours could be a good idea. We like your comment at the end of the post!
Great suggestion Irene! Thanks for adding to the discussion,
This is a wonderful guide. I don’t usually do extended tours, but will often do a day tour when I really want to see an out of the way place. I am also a big fan of walking tours. I often take advantage of the “free” tours, and usually find the guides to be very knowledgeable. They’ll often go that “extra mile” because they derive their income from the tips they generate.
Thank you. I like to go it alone too, but appreciate not everyone does. The comment at the end of the post of one of my guiding philosophies that has served me well.
Thank you Nancie. I tend to travel independently, but often take day tours as you do. I use exactly the same principles for choosing a day trip as I have included in this post.
Doreen Pendgracs says
Wonderful tips! I think we all need to think about all of these points if we are going to join a group for travel, as one size definitely does NOT fit all!
Exactly. I think these tips would work equally for day trip planners
Linda ~ Journey Jottings says
That to me is the scary thing about doing a tour – will they do enough of it ‘my’ way?!! Putting one’s self into someone else’s hands can be as stressful as being out there and simply doing it on your own – which is kind of funny since the whole idea of doing a tour is that its all taken care of for you! 😉
Worrying about whether all those questions you’ve sighted above are taken care of… and the possibility of being lumbered with people not on my wave length?
No – I think I’m a grumpy ole f**t and am better off on my own LOL
Well done Linda! That is the true spirit of frugalfirstclasstravel!
Travelling Times says
Excellent advice, particularly the hotel location. I’ve been on one coach trip. It was in the UK, and my biggest concern was getting back to the bus on time. The schedule can be a bit tight, especially if you are a photographer, or if an unexpected interview crops up. Not the usual headache for the average traveller, though, I guess. And…nice shoes! 🙂
Yes, having been on guided tours previously, the pressure to be back at the bus on time can be quite stressful!
Thanks for dropping by
I’m more of a self guided traveler or a day tour type, but these are great questions to make sure that you get the most out of your travel dollar investment.
This is a great guide! Though I’d venture to say that organized touring comes in lots of different packages. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about organized touring is assuming that all organized tours are large groups, and enjoyed mainly on a tour bus!
There are lots of other options like customized touring that blends small-group and private touring. This is great if you have a small group that you’d like to travel with, or if you’d prefer to go with a local guide without being too nailed down to a set itinerary. It costs more up-front, but it often saves costs in the long run as you avoid the usual pitfalls of losing money (like booking trains, planes, etc).
What do you think – I’d love to see a blog about customizable touring, and see your thoughts!
You are very right Karen, not all tours are created equal – which is really the point of the post. We have done small group, customised trips and had a great time
We’re normally individual travellers and almost never do group tours. But about two years ago we booked on a bus tour in Germany. It was Ok and we saw things we probably wouldn’t have otherwise, but we didn’t really enjoy it. We realised that many of the (mostly) older Americans and Canadians on the tour were making a fuss of us because they hoped we’d invite them to stay at our home in Oz. But we hadn’t really taken to any of them so didn’t give out contact details at the end of the tour. They were v disappointed. As you warned many of the special things were extras tacked on that you had to pay a lot more money for. Mostly though they involved meals in luxurious places and we weren’t interested in going in a group to places like this. You never get the same personal service as you do when dining as a couple and group food is rarely as good.
At the end of the tour after we’d all completed guide/driver reviews and handed over our tips – they dropped us off miles away from the airport terminal entrance in Frankfurt – in the rain. During the tour they made a point of saying that they’d paid extra to be sure to be able to park close to the places we were visiting. But at the end after they had our tips and good assessments they dropped us miles away and made a speedy exit. There was one woman in a wheel chair and her poor husband struggled to push the chair to a point, go back for the bags and then come back to her. Felt so sorry for them but we couldn’t help as I walk with a stick and husband had our bags to looks after in the rain. Will never go on another group tour.
But private tours are another matter. We’ve had some wonderful hols with our own personal tour guide/driver in a private car/wagon. They’ve all been wonderful – different tours have been in Hungary (in the end our wonderful Hungarian driver took us from our hotel in Budapest to our hotel in Vienna – so relaxing. Didn’t have to touch our travel bags or worry about taxis – and at our request he also made the trip a great scenic one, even took in a beautiful church service and received the Peace Greeting then stopped at a super restaurant for lunch), St Petersburg and Provence. We’ve been to lovely places, great meals and the guides have looked after us superbly. Also we can tell them where we want to go and they arrange the trips around our preferences but also using their advice. We’re now great friends with our Provence tour guide. This holiday, even though we’re not going to Provence she’s probably coming down to the Riviera to see us. We also meet up with her brother in Paris. Best wishes, Pamela
You’ve made a very good list of criteria to make a decision to take a guided tour or not. I work as a guide and run guided tours in Iran as you know.
I believe those who participate in a group tour must have group mentality and understand that the tour works for the group, not individuals. This makes life easier for everyone on a tour.
I enjoyed reading your post.
That’s a really good point Rahman – to participate in a group tour you need to be prepared to work as part of a team, not as an individual.
I’m really enjoying your blog, reading a lot of older posts as well as the new ones. The question of group travel is difficult. I have no travel partner so my choice is to go it alone via bus or train or take a tour. (Car rental is out as I have no desire to drive alone.) Going solo is great if you speak the language and feel safe. I have done this and enjoyed it although it can be a bit lonely at times. On the other hand, tours can get you to places hard to reach on your own and there is a safety factor. It’s a real quandry for me.
Hi Laura, yes it is. I must admit I do take day tours sometimes if I am travelling to somewhere where the public transport is poor – I don’t drive in foreign countries either