Group tours come with many advantages. Book the right one for you and save time, money, and travel anxiety. Forget about finding out what to see and the best times to be at the museum; expert planners do that for you. You can often pocket 10-40% off the regular price because top group operators receive discounts and can pass along some savings to you. You won’t feel like a stranger in a strange land. With a busload of new-found friends sharing your experiences, you can rely on your guide’s knowledge of the region and the company’s local ground operators to take care of any problems, from a broken down vehicle to an overbooked hotel.
But these benefits exist only if you choose a reputable company and if you pick the trip that’s right for you.
How to Choose a Group Trip
Decide on the group size. The typical bus tour accommodates 40 people. For some that’s a good number within which to find like-minded traveling companions; for others, that’s way too many people. Several traditional, big bus companies also offer tours for smaller groups. Tauck, for example, has Tauck Culturious, which offers more immersive travel for groups that average 20 people.
Compare tour prices. Don’t just look at the fee. List what’s included and what’s not. Some tours cover all meals; others include breakfast and the occasional dinner.
Check the itinerary. Make sure you are comfortable with the pace on land and the hours in the bus. Is there enough time at each destination to see the sights you want without rushing through a major museum? Look carefully to see how much driving between locations the tour encompasses and how often you will be changing lodgings. Switching hotels every day gets tiresome and cuts down on the hours you spend sightseeing.
Ask about the typical composition of the group. It can be fun to travel with a diverse age group. However, you don’t want to be the only fortysomething caught in a busload of hard-drinking millennials or find you’re 20 years younger than the super–seniors signed up for the trip.
Understand the types of lodgings booked. Ask questions to find out if the “economy” room means bath down the hall or if the “luxury” room has a view of the lake or the parking lot. Use the Internet to check out the hotels’ websites as well as travelers’ reviews to make sure the properties meet your standards.
Find out about food freedom. Some operators skimp on the quality and variety of food, making their travelers dine at large restaurants that accommodate big groups by serving limited choice, bland fare plates quickly. In a rural or wilderness area, there may not be another choice. Most of the time, a good tour operator will choose restaurants with character that serve local fare. It’s often nice to be able to eat on your own at a recommended restaurant for a few nights of the trip.
Ask how long the company has been in business. It’s best to pick a company with a track record, typically at least five years in business. The longer the company has been in existence, the more opportunity they’ve had to eliminate glitches in their itinerary, hire knowledgeable guides, and develop ground contacts that can locate lost luggage or a local doctor and take care of any other emergencies.
Read the conditions. Find out about cancellation penalties and under what conditions you do or do not get your money back.