How to choose a guided tour

Hi Frugalistas!  Ever been tempted to book a guided tour rather than go it alone?  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, ask yourself some questions:

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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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 Rome, is visiting the Vatican part of the itinerary, or an “optional” tour (for which you will need to pay extra).  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.

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Instead of staying in the centre of Venice, many tours will stay on the mainland. Think about that if wandering the canals in the twilight is part of your plan…..

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?

If you want to do that all important shopping, make sure there's plenty of time, in the right place, to do it!

If you want to do that all important shopping, make sure there’s plenty of time, in the right place, to do it!

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?

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.  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.  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!

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16 Comments on “How to choose a guided tour”

  1. gemmafottles 02/04/2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Ahhh this is a good guide! When I was backpacking Australia I did a lot of guided tours, and the majority of them turned out to be amazing experiences – all the same kind of people with the same kind of budget. But last summer in Costa Rica, I booked a 14 day tour as I was alone and a bit apprehensive about being such. Such a waste of money, I was with families and holiday makers with a budget to match. I spent two weeks being very jealous at all the activities every one else could afford to do whilst I walked around aimlessly. I had a great time nonetheless, but would have been a lot better without the tour!

  2. stedmaninfrance 06/07/2012 at 12:16 am #

    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

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 06/07/2012 at 8:58 am #

      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

  3. irenelevine (@irenelevine) 21/04/2014 at 9:34 pm #

    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!

  4. Travel with Kevin and Ruth 22/04/2014 at 12:49 am #

    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!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 22/04/2014 at 7:52 pm #

      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.

  5. Nancie 22/04/2014 at 8:42 am #

    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.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 22/04/2014 at 7:56 pm #

      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.

  6. Doreen Pendgracs 24/04/2014 at 12:21 pm #

    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!

  7. Linda ~ Journey Jottings 25/04/2014 at 12:40 pm #

    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

  8. Travelling Times 28/04/2014 at 9:04 am #

    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! 🙂

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 28/04/2014 at 10:05 am #

      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

  9. Bev 24/06/2014 at 11:09 pm #

    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.

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