Choosing the right tour for your next adventure can seem overwhelming these days! There are just so many choices! Being a travel planner, it’s what I do all day long and into the night, weekends, lol, sometimes I just can’t stop researching. Here are some tips that can help you narrow down the options and find the best tour that matches your travel dreams.
There are 5 key factors that are most important when choosing the right tour for your next adventure. Consider this list in order of importance.
- The tour itinerary
- Activity on the tour
- Group you will travel with
- Tour company reputation
BUT WAIT, before you dive in and start researching, take some time out to make some notes about what your vision is for this trip. Is this a lifelong dream trip? Do you want to visit this place because it is somewhere you have always heard about, or a friend went there and told you amazing stories, or you saw a great documentary or movie filmed there? The best way to choose the right tour company is to be very clear on what you want to get out of the trip. Picture yourself returning from your adventure and telling your friends and family about this amazing trip you just took. Write down a list or paragraph that describes what you would tell them. These variables are the things that will help you narrow down the tour companies to the one that best fits your desires.
Applying the 5 Key Factors
Ok, now you know where you want to go and you know the key things that must be achieved to make this vacation wonderful for you. Google the country, cities, key sights or activities you want for your tour, the things you listed in the exercise above. Tour companies will start to pop up in the research. Write down the names of the tour companies that seem a good match for your list. Start digging in.
Is there a good match between the places you envision going and the itinerary the tour company is offering. There most likely won’t be an exact match (for that you need a custom trip designed) but you can most likely get pretty close. Keep in mind, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ and these tour companies are experts. There may be places on the itinerary you think you have no interest in seeing. Often times, these are the surprises that end up being your favorite part of the trip. Align the basic itinerary with your desires and trust the experts with the full itinerary.
Here are some things to note as you narrow down tour itinerary choices. How many stops are there along the way and how many overnights? What meals and tours are included in the pricing? Look for notes of free time and make sure there is enough free time to match your desire to explore on your own. Look at the summary of what’s included and excluded to choose the most inclusive trip.
Activity on the tour
Here is an important tip. READ carefully the tour description. Often the places you want to visit will be mentioned in the itinerary, but when you read the fine print, you may just ‘view’ that or make a quick stop there, and you can be disappointed. Here are some tips. When you read the word ‘see’ vs. the word ‘visit’ then this is exactly what you will do, you will see the place, maybe out of the window of the tour coach or as you walk by. There most likely won’t be a stop there to go in and visit the site. If the description says ‘You might like to’ or ‘maybe’ then most likely that is an optional tour and you will pay extra to do the thing they are describing. Watch for key signal words like ‘pause’ ‘drive through’. You want words like, ‘visit, tour, walk through, join’. When in doubt, call for clarification.
Some tour companies are more active than others. Make sure you keep searching until you find a tour company that has enough activity for you. Often you will find more adventure and hands on local activity with small group, local tour companies. Some of the larger tour companies are now offering “active” tours, so that is an option if you want a larger, well known, company.
Group you will travel with
Think carefully about your own style of travel and find a tour company that attracts people who travel like you. For example, do you like to be flexible and make changes as you go along based on what is happening at the moment. Do you like the energy and opportunity to meet lots of people when you travel, to socialize and get to know the people you are traveling with? Are you patient with people who move slower than you, or who need consistent help from tour guides? Do you want to travel with people who like the same activities you do? Go back to your trip vision, are you hoping for a spiritual experience, do you want to get close to local people, try food or spirits or customs of the ‘locals’? Are you active and want to walk a lot or try a challenging or scary activity like bungee jumping or hiking up a waterfall? Choose the tour company that seems to support the experiences you want. If you are adventurous and want a lot of hands on activity, small groups would be the best fit. If you want socializing, lots of people energy, then a larger group would be great. Also consider the age group, there are tour companies that cater to 18-35 year olds and some that cater to retired seniors. Ask questions, go online and look at images of the tours, not just the pictures the tour companies post, but pictures from the travelers. Look at You Tube videos posted from travelers on the tour. Who is in the pictures? What are they doing? What is their age group? These clues will help you.
Tour company reputation
By now you have found 3-4 tour company options that seem appealing. Now is the time to look at reputation. There are so many ratings out there, Google, Yelp, Trip Advisor, sometimes it is very difficult to know who to trust. As a professional travel planner, here is my strategy. The big companies, I don’t worry, you are going to get a great tour. Globus, Trafalgar, GAdventures, etc. there will be little things that you like and don’t like, but these are companies with great reputations and great tours. If you are choosing a small local tour company (my preference for adventure travel), then consider the law of averages. When looking at rating scales, look for a lot of very goods and excellent ratings. But don’t count a company out because of some poors and terribles. Click on the rating bar and you can read just those rating comments. Read what is written, look at the dates, sometimes the complaint is something the tourist themselves caused, or an unrealistic expectation issue. The rating may be from 2014, and the current ratings are all great now.
Another strategy is to Google search the company with key words like complaint, trust, disappointed, etc. and see what pops up. Search for recent tours with the company and see if you can determine the group size, how many tours they conduct a year, etc. You can also call them and ask these questions directly. If the company has a Facebook page and there are comments entered from recent travelers, Facebook message these people privately and ask them about the trip. Travelers love to help one another.
Notice I left this until last. Obviously budget is an important variable for most travelers. If you know you can only afford hostels and backpacking, then when doing all the searching above, don’t be attracted to flashy tour companies. Be realistic as you narrow down your choices. If you are mid range budget traveler, there are LOTS of choices. Using the vision strategy and the tips above will be very helpful in narrowing down to 2-3 companies. Don’t let price be your driver. The old adage “You get what you pay for” is true. Scrimping on a few hundred dollars could be the difference between a good and great experience. Weigh out the things you will have to eliminate to keep the price low and match your end result to your original vision. Maybe a splurge will be worth it in the long run. Maybe you need to wait until next year to take this amazing trip and get everything you want! And one thing to remember, most tours do not include flights, so keep in mind the additional cost of the flight as you plan. Very important, protect your investment with travel insurance! I have seen too many sad situations where people have lost their investment because they didn’t think they needed insurance, or where the trip cost rose exponentially because of something that happened on the trip that added huge costs. Purchase insurance especially if your trip includes a lot of adventurous activities. Protect yourself and your financial investment.
Using a travel planner will certainly reduce the stress, confusion, time and sometimes aggravation of planning your own trip. We are here to help and would be honored to work with you to plan your next vacation. In addition to custom tour development, we can help match you to the best tour provider or maybe one of our small group tours will be perfect for you. It doesn’t cost you any extra money to use a travel planner and the service you receive will give you piece of mind. We look forward to the potential opportunity to help you plan a future vacation.