Finding and Choosing the Perfect Tour
GoNOMAD MINI GUIDE
Finding and Choosing the Perfect Tour
By Berne Broudy, GoNOMAD TOURS GUIDE
From outdoor adventure to cultural immersion, wine tasting to mountain climbing, the travel world is full of educational, inspiring and exciting tours to make your journeys more fulfilling. There are so many options, how do you choose? The following guidelines can help you pick a tour that fits your interests, needs and budget.
Where do you want to go?
Are you interested in visiting the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, or someplace closer to home? Do you want to explore a single destination, or would you prefer to cover multiple destinations within a region? Do you find diversion in urban centers, rural areas or both? Selecting a destination or region helps narrow your tour choices considerably. Think about what combination of familiarity and newness will suit you.
What do you want to do?
Do you have a specific passion or hobby you would like to pursue? Culture? Nature? History? Arts? Outdoor activities? From cooking to caving, there are tours that cover almost every conceivable activity. If you want to try a variety of activities, some tours are samplers of active adventure and cultural exploration, and include instruction. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
While many tours operate year-round, while some are only offered seasonally. Many tour operators will design a custom tour for you or your group if the scheduled dates don’t work for you. Also, check the weather in your destination for the time you wish to travel. Instead of heading to India during monsoon season, you might consider different dates or locations.
A few hours, a weekend, a week or longer? Do you want to spend your whole vacation on a tour or just a portion of it? If doing a tour the whole time isn’t your interest, or if you want to combine a tour with independent sightseeing, consider using local outfitters or tour operators who can help you book pre- and post-tour activities.
Are you keen to see or do as much as you can in the time you have, or are you interested in exploring one region at a more leisurely pace? Some tours pack up and move each day, while others stay a few days in each place, using it as a home base for excursions. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, depending upon your goals. Determine how much time you want to spend moving around, and check to make sure a tour can accommodate your desired pace.
Are you planning to adventure solo or are you traveling with a partner, friend or family? If you are traveling alone, watch for single supplement costs on many tours. If you are traveling with others, you will want to take their needs and interests into consideration. If you are traveling with children, be especially careful to search for tours that accommodate families or offer child-friendly activities, accommodations and meals.
While a two-day camel safari might be relatively inexpensive, a three-week customized, all-inclusive Thailand tour could be pricey. Make sure to ask all tour operators what is included in your fee and what costs are additional.
Determine how much you are willing to spend per day on all your travel needs. If you are planning an all-inclusive tour–where transportation, lodging, meals and guides are paid for in your fee–divide by the number of days to get your daily cost, add a little extra to cover miscellaneous expenses like shopping, and see if it is still in your budget. Don’t forget to add in your airfare if it’s not included in your package.
Many tours do include airfare, which can reduce your overall costs if you arrive and depart on set dates. If you are touring for only part of your vacation, these restrictive flying times may not work for you. Some tour companies do offer a “Land Only” price. Some also give discounts for seniors, children, multiple travelers or last minute bookings for tours that aren’t full. Review your interests and your budget carefully and choose a tour that fits your wallet.
Most tours are with groups. Some are small–3-12 participants–while others accommodate larger numbers. Ask yourself if you want to be with a group, and if so, what size? In addition, certain tours and tour companies attract different age groups and different clientele. There are single’s tours and women’s tours, family tours and tours for seniors, only. If you’re not sure, ask the tour company to give you the names and numbers of previous tour participants, so you can get a first-hand account of what traveling with that group and operator is like. Many group travelers report returning home with new friends, and even travel partners for future adventures.
If you are hesitant about traveling with strangers, consider a custom tour. Some tour operators will design a tour just for you, your family or small group. You can choose what you want to see and do, and even build in more time to explore on your own than some group tours allow.
FITs (Fully Independent Tours) are gaining popularity, and many tour companies are starting to offer them. With a FIT, you book particular activities and accommodations, as well as a driver and guide who are at your disposal. It’s like traveling independently except the details and payments have been taken care of in advance. FITs are a good choice for those who want independence with the security and dependability of a tour operator.
Self-guided tours are another option in some locales. You purchase a map and a list of accommodations (sometimes pre-booked for you), rent a mode of transportation (bike, car, etc. sometimes included) and you’re on your own. No schedule, no set itinerary. If you prefer to travel by bike or on foot some tour operators will shuttle your bags from point to point. Self-guided tours are a good choice for those who prefer to be independent, but don’t have the time or inclination to make their own arrangements.
Are you comfortable with lower-budget accommodations, experiencing the often rugged living conditions of the developing world, or is a Relais Chateau the only option? If you want villas and fine restaurants, then bypass camping tours in rural areas. On the other hand, many off-the-beaten-path tours offer unique and luxurious accommodations, service and food, even in remote locations.
What else do you need to be comfortable?
Hiking the Inca Trail may sound appealing, but not if you can’t walk 5 hours a day and can’t live without your hairdryer. Think about what you need to be comfortable while you travel, and what your limits are. Think about your diet, too. Some tours and destinations cannot accommodate specific dietary restrictions. Assess your needs and determine how flexible you can be.
A trekking tour through the high Himalayas might not be ideal if you have back or respiratory problems, but a culinary tour of Italy might be perfect. Consider your physical abilities (and those of your traveling companions) carefully (and honestly!) when choosing a tour. Check all the literature carefully, and talk to the tour operator if you’re concerned about the difficulty of the trip.
If you are planning an active vacation and using the tour as an excuse to get in shape, remember that when the calendar pages turn and it’s time to go, you need to be ready or your vacation might be less than ideal. Be realistic about your desires and abilities to shape up and make sure you give yourself time to train before you go.
Once you have defined what you are looking for in a tour, you are ready to search for something that meets your needs and criteria.
Research your options
Visit our TripAdvisor site for lots of day trips and other attractions for destinations around the world. You’ll also find reviews of hotels and tour operators that can give you an unbiased view of what it’s really like.
If your Internet search comes up short, try travel magazines, newspaper travel sections, guidebooks and activity-specific magazines (skiing, biking, etc.). Tell your friends about what you want to do. Sometimes, the best information comes through the grapevine from friends, family or other acquaintances.
Compare your information
Request information and brochures from several tour operators or outfitters. Read all program literature carefully. Make sure you’re clear on time frame, costs, accommodations and other details. If you have questions, contact the tour operator and get answers. Also, ask for references from past customers. Contacting others who have taken the tour is a great way to determine what to expect.
Once you have booked your tour, get your visas, make all your travel arrangements (unless your tour operator does these things for you!), pack your bags and get ready to go!
And don’t forget to purchase trip insurance. Many companies cannot or will not refund deposits or full payments if you have to cancel the trip due to a health, family or work emergency. Trip insurance is a great way to protect yourself and is relatively inexpensive. Many tour operators also offer it when you book your tour through them.
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