What should you consider so you can choose the right group tour for you?
Travelers often determine where they want to go and what their budget is and choose a group tour that fits those two requirements. More research needs to be done though as there are more than two factors that will affect your enjoyment of a trip. Don’t be too fast to hit the “book it now” button – you need to know exactly what you’re buying.
Group tours are a great option for those who don’t have the time or inclination to go the Do It Yourself route but group tours are as different as travelers and their preferences.
Before you invest your time, money and hopes we have suggestions you should take into consideration.
Things to consider when choosing the right group tour for you
What is actually covered in the price?
Whether you’re considering a land tour or a cruise know what will be covered and what will be additional and see how that aligns with what matters to you. You probably won’t be able to tell this easily from a quick glance at a website – most likely you’ll need to call and speak with a company representative.
Does that 10-day cruise for $1,500 have extra costs for port fees, mandatory tips, shore excursions, wi-fi, or dining at certain restaurants on board? Cruise companies often lead with a price that looks amazing but the total tab can easily double if you don’t get all of your information ahead of time. Be sure you know what’s an optional cost and what isn’t because an unexpected charge can easily put a damper on your bank account and memories.
With land tours there are different things to check for inclusion in the price. If airfare is included can you select the itinerary you want or do you have to take what they offer through airlines they have contracts with? If you have to take what you get it can sometimes mean long layovers or inefficient routing. If that’s fine to save the money then do it. Know what you’re getting so you can evaluate if it’s right for you. There are almost always tradeoffs involved if you’re working within a budget (even a generous one).
What meals are included in your land tour? If it only covers breakfasts then you need to build a realistic amount into your budget for other meals and any liquids you enjoy with those meals. If it covers all meals are you OK with only group dinners?
If you’re traveling on your own it’s critical to understand what – if any – single supplement you will be charged. There are huge disparities in this. If you do your research you can possibly avoid a supplement altogether or, alternatively, you may have to pay for two people even though you’re going solo.
What is the largest size the group tour will be?
The more people the company plans to accommodate the lower you should expect the price to be based on economies of scale. Some companies offer two tiers of tour packages and have a higher-priced option for a smaller group size. Often you will have to call a company to find out the group size limit. Keep in mind that if you are traveling off season you may get that lower price for a large group without the large group which can be a bargain in two ways.
Does the schedule fit the pace you like?
Some people want a trip that takes them to as many places as possible in the time allotted. Others like to have some free time in each destination and to not have to pack up their bags and leave every morning. Neither option is better – it’s what’s best for you.
If you want some time on your own it probably doesn’t make sense to do a trip that goes to a new destination every day. Touring where you visit and then getting to the next place will probably take up your day. If you have two or more nights in a destination you can choose to do something on your own even if it means foregoing a group activity.
What do other travelers have to say about this group tour company?
We put in a fair amount of time reading reviews of any company we consider traveling with. There are reasonable reviewers, people who just want to complain and the occasional obvious company booster. But if you read a good selection of reviews a pattern of pluses and minuses will emerge.
Cruises can be looked up on the CruiseCritic community boards and most other companies have reviews on Trip Advisor or a handful of other sites. Just Google “Company X reviews” and you’ll get where you need to go. BTW – if you use Trip Advisor be sure to sort the reviews to have the most recent show up first. Their default is to show the oldest first. We would rather know how things went in the last year than two or more years ago.
If you want to know more about the reviews some forums – Trip Advisor for one – allow you to ask questions of the reviewers and you can get valuable insight that way.
Companies often have reviews on their own websites. Those may be 100% legit and uncensored or they may be like asking a new mother who has the cutest baby. We prefer sources that don’t have an economic stake in who you select.
Make sure that the things others do or don’t like actually matter to you. If there’s a theme that Company X only uses 3-star hotels does that matter to you or not? Themes such as poor (or excellent) customer service, bad (or top quality) guides or frequently altered itineraries are less a matter of taste and more an indicator of the type of experience you can expect to have.
Are these your peeps?
You will be spending a fair amount of time with your travel companions so it’s wise to see if you think you’re likely to be compatible. This information can be hard to get but try to get a feel if the age group and activity levels will work for you.
Are you someone who wears your FitBit and eagerly counts every step but you’re signing up for a bus trip with a busy itinerary? You might be happier on a more active tour with free time or active options such as a bike ride or a kayak outing.
Is this a popular cruise or tour for honeymooners and you’re going solo? If so you may experience relief at being single or find yourself without people who want to socialize.
Are you a Millenial and the average traveler on this tour is the age of your grandparents? This could be good, bad or irrelevant depending on your preference (and your grandparents).
Again this information can often be gleaned from reviews and from reaching out to the occasional reviewer for more information. Advertising is also a clue. If everyone in the ads is gray-haired couples sitting in deck chairs don’t assume there will also be a cadre of young, active singles.
Have the experience you bought from the group tour company you selected
By answering these questions before you book you will have a solid understanding of what you are purchasing. You may have decided you like a company who focuses on local experiences more than boutique hotels or one that can get you a significant discount on your airfare even if it means cooling your heels for a while in an airport. If you know ahead of time the factors you weigh the most heavily you are much likelier to enjoy the experience and come home and be one of those positive reviewers.