“In life, it’s not where you go – it’s who you travel with.” -Charles Schultz
Methods of travel can be as varied as the individual traveler or the endless adventures to try around the globe. Perhaps you enjoy traveling independently or prefer traveling with your friends and family. My favorite way to travel is to grab my favorite travel buddy, my sweet husband, and take off, just the two of us.
Over the years, one method of travel for us has been by group tours. These have been escorted, custom trips through a local travel agency and they have been great experiences in awesome places. We found that traveling with a group tour is a great option depending on your destination and the sites you want to see but there can be pros and cons you will want to consider.
PROS FOR BOOKING A GROUP TOUR
Your trip will be planned for you
Group tours can be the most carefree way to travel. All you have to do is pick the tour and pay for it! Most tour companies will plan everything for you, well in advance, including all travel, lodging, coordination of your luggage, tours, and attractions with all fees as part of your package, and some, if not all meals. Some tour companies may also offer excursions above and beyond the core itinerary as well as local experiences that they offer their travelers exclusively. Ultimately, a group tour means that you don’t have to worry about the logistics of your trip at all.
Group tours often cover a lot of territory
We’ve taken group tours in Ireland, Italy, Scotland, England, and Canada, and those trips have covered hundreds of miles, seeing spectacular sites in roughly 7 to 10 days. Group tours are great ways to cover a lot of ground and learn about the highlights of a given destination without having to give much thought and effort to how to get from one location to another.
Group tours also work out logistics for attractions
Some tour companies have local connections or partnerships that can give your tour a taste of local flavor. As for the main attractions, entrance fees are generally included in the cost of your trip, and entrance tickets are often pre-purchased so there is limited waiting in lines. Even better, tour coaches often have special parking requirements so the group is often dropped close, if not on the doorsteps of most attractions.
A great guide will make any trip more memorable but some of the best guides we have ever had have been with us for an entire group tour. In our experiences, our guides have been locals and they have made us feel like family, welcome in their home country, and we have left our trips sorry to say goodbye to our new friend! What a way to travel! We’ve even had guides that will take us off the scripted tour to show us spectacular local sites and restaurants. Granted, that doesn’t happen if you’re on a scripted tour, but when escorted by our travel agent, our trips have thankfully offered the tiniest flexibility.
Enjoy traveling as a group
Whether you travel as a solo traveler, as a couple, or with friends, joining a group tour can certainly enhance your experience. To me, travelers often seem to be kindred spirits and when you travel as a group, you share an experience together, meals together, and it’s a great way to connect with people who share a passion for travel.
CONS FOR BOOKING A GROUP TOUR
Group tours can be expensive
Some group tours can be nearly all-inclusive and since your trip is pre-planned for you, there is no ability to save some money and comparison shop for flights (if included), hotels, or other features. For some, this can be a big con! Evaluating what is included in the trip is important as you consider the right group tour for you.
Strict time lines and pre-planned schedules
The timing of a group tour is set in advance so be mindful that you’ll need to enjoy the time and places you get to enjoy. Because of strict timelines, there will be times when you may feel rushed through an area where you would rather spend more time. I always cringe when we arrive at a destination and the guide gives us an hour to grab a rest break, food, and see the sites. I always feel like I’m missing something and in traveling with a group, I honestly have felt like I have on many occasions.
On the other hand, there have been stops where we had more time than we felt like we needed. The timing of a group tour is a real trade-off and can be a bit frustrating for those of us that travel this way from time to time. Not enough time or too much time for any given stop can indicate a trip that is not well planned or factors such as traffic, crowd sizes, or the time the driver can drive for the day may be at play.
This has been my biggest point of frustration with group tours but I try to think of it this way; if I missed something, it gives me a reason to return to visit again!
A lot of time on a coach
As already noted, a group tour covers a lot of ground. This means that you will spend a lot of time on a coach between points of interest. Some days can be short little hops while others can be long travel days.
Group tours are not generally a restful vacation
Group tours are action-packed vacations with very early wake-up calls, some late nights, and long travel days. Most tours move every one to two days so there is little time to unpack and on some travel days, luggage calls will be very early. As you consider a tour, look for schedules with “free time on your own” built into the schedule that you can use to rest or explore on your own.
Tour companies make their money when the coach is full. So, depending on the size of your coach, you could be traveling with roughly 60 of your closest new friends. Be aware that there are tour companies of all shapes and services or that can do customized tours so make sure to look for what would best meet your needs and budget.
Tips are always part of travel that can be tricky. On a group tour, you should expect to pay per-day tips to your primary guide or escort that will likely be with you throughout your trips as well as any driver(s) that navigate the coach. You should also be prepared for additional pop-on-pop-off tour guides that supplement expertise throughout the tip. It can be difficult to anticipate how many tips you may need to be prepared for and it can sometimes feel like each day is another round of unexpected tips to pay. Keep in mind that for the guides who welcome you and enhance your trip, this is their job and how they get paid. It’s wise to have extra cash in local currency so plan accordingly.
PICKING A GREAT TOUR COMPANY
Overall, a group tour can be a great way to travel. As you consider whether to take one, as with any method of travel, considering the pros and cons are important but choosing the right tour company for you is also vital to your experience.
Consider the price
Cost is always a consideration when planning any vacation, right? However, I always agree with the adage that you get what you pay for and with choosing a tour company, this is true. There are tour companies that specialize in whatever you are looking for from first-class, luxury travel, middle tier in terms of cost, and others that offer budget trips. Group sizes also vary from company to company and this too can impact the cost of the tour. My advice is to try not to totally hinge your decision on price alone.
Itinerary and what is included
Together with price, considering the itineraries offered by tour companies will likely be the biggest piece of your decision. Choose the best itinerary you can afford!
Finally, make sure you can understand the answers to the following questions before booking a group tour:
-What are the accommodations during the trip? If a list is provided prior to booking, you can better determine your comfort level with the quality of the accommodations and their locations.
-What is the maximum number of travelers that are set for the trip you are considering?
-How much time will be spent on the coach over the course of the trip?
-With regard to the itinerary, how many nights are included at each stop, what are the morning meeting times or times for luggage out?
-Is luggage handled for you or will you be responsible for your luggage? Are there any restrictions for luggage size/weight and are there any space prohibitive issues regarding carry-ons?
-What are the expected costs above the cost of the tour such as tips, meals, and side excursions?
-What, if any, are the tipping policies of the tour company you are considering?
-What side excursions are offered, if any?
-What meals are offered? Be sure to declare any dietary restrictions and inquire about options.
-If you are a traveler that needs special physical assistance, how strenuous are the individual day tours? What accommodations are available to you? Be sure to declare any assistance that is needed in advance.
-In what language will the tour be conducted?
-Are children allowed on the tour you want to take?
-How much free time is part of the tour and is there any flexibility to the itinerary? Are you able to venture off on your own on a tour day instead of following the day’s scheduled tour?
-Understand all tour policies and cancelation policies of a given tour company. Read the fine print and understand all aspects of your trip.
-Look for reviews or recommendations from fellow travelers.
If anything unexpected happens on the road, be sure to calmly chat with your guide about the situation and let them do what they can to address the issue. Even on a group tour, hiccups can happen. A great guide will work with the tour company to do all they can to address the issue.
If you opt to take a group tour, doing some research in advance is a good idea. Most tour companies will offer an “insider” experience, offering you some options that you could not plan on your own. Others are very specialized in the tours they offer. The time you invest in your choice of the tour company and the itinerary you will take will be time well spent when you start your tour.
Wherever you go, be sure to enjoy your vacation.