When is booking a tour worth the splurge over doing-it-yourself?
Although I’m mostly a do-it-yourself traveler, over the years I’ve found many excellent reasons to book a tour in order to create a more unique, personal, fun and memorable trip. I’ve taking anything from an “11 European countries in 21 days” tour, to one day tours, activity tours and of course food tours.
If saving time and traveling deeper is important to you, consider some of the following options:
I don’t hate on tours
There’s a tendency for independent travelers to think tours are only for the wealthy or the “vacationers”. Some think that those, who book tours are unimaginative or don’t value an authentic experience. This is simply not the case. Taking tours has advantages and prices can range from expensive to free. In some cases, it’s cheaper to take a tour vs planning it on your own.
Tours are especially helpful for solo travelers, who want to alleviate some of the weight of trip planning and minimize their getting lost time.
A do-it-yourself trip doesn’t always mean cheaper expenses or experiencing more authenticity. Going local does no good if you don’t understand it. The latter, I can attest, is very frustrating, especially when I want to understand foodie cultures and what I’m seeing of temples or religious rituals.
Reasons travelers should splurge on a tour
- Easy navigation
- Easy and quick access to difficult or tricky locations
- Local insight into the culture
- You have someone to answer your questions
- Safety and safe experiences
- You can indulge in personalized experiences
- Learn a new hobby, skill or activity.
- Minimize the stress of getting lost
- Minimize the stress of planning a day’s itinerary and transportation
- Experience more in a shorter time
- Create a more interesting trip itinerary
8 Reasons to book a tour
1. Full package tours
Full package tours are all-inclusive from hotels, transportation, food and activities. They cover a large sample platter of the country in a compact schedule. Best of all, you get a tour and local guide, who assist with any travel upsets from lost baggage to getting sick to interpreting the culture. Recommended Trip/Day Tour sites: Check out G Adventures or Intrepid Travel ; both operators are focusing on responsible tourism tours.
Drawbacks: Package tours stick to a tight schedule and itineraries occasionally slide in commission shopping. . At the end of the tour, you’ll have to assess a tip for both, your tour guide and local guide for the amount of days you’ve been with them.
Tip: Book your tour in the country versus online. Online sellers are merely a middleman reselling a local tour. Also, don’t assume all package tours are expensive. In some countries like Vietnam, booking a tour is actually cheaper than doing it yourself.
2. Day Tours
Full/ Half Day tours: Day tours range anywhere from half day to full day, allowing you to see city highlights in a compressed amount of time. Some tours are all-inclusive, offering a general sightseeing experience, occasionally fattened by a shopping excursion and a quick lunch. Some tour fees only cover the admission to the main landmark, while additional stopovers on the itinerary are your responsibility to pay for if you want to enter. I find them either through travel agents on the street or via reputable search engines like Viator.
Drawbacks: they stick to a tight schedule and there’s no flexibility. Can be a hit or miss.
3. Free city walking tours
I always do a Google search for “free city walking tours” .Some cities offer free walking tours, run by a volunteer organizations or a government tourism office. Remember my Kolkata Food Tour video? The foodie tour I took was volunteer run, based on donations.
4. Hire a guide
Hire a guide if you want insight, guidance and flexible itinerary. The experience is of a personal nature and you can tweak the amount of time you spend in a spot. Often, you find guides lingering around landmarks offering their services. Some you can find through a tourism office, tour agent or your hotel.
5. Specialty: Cultural and Activity Tours
Specialty tours are focused around specialized activities or interests. They last anywhere from half day to several days. Independent boutique companies run personal tours, mixing unique local experiences with sightseeing landmarks. …Like a cooking class that takes you shopping at a local market or a tuk tuk tour to see Bangkok at night. Foodies appreciate a city food tour (this was a fave tour of mine) .
Aside from booking through local agents, I recommend Viator as a reliable and trustworthy tour operator.
6. Hire a Driver and Car
When a country is large and landmark sights are spread apart, a driver and a car will offer flexibility and control in your itinerary. Drivers come with preset itineraries; others, not. You book them by the day or package. Drivers are not always tour guides. If an English speaking driver is important to you, you should request it with your agent.
7. Hop on, hop off tour buses
Hop on hop off buses take a circular route and you can hop on and hop off at whatever destinations you want, spending whatever time you need in a place. Prices range upon what country and city. Take your guide book with you. They are not known to have English speaking guides. Fave hop on-hop off buses : Seoul, Delhi, Busan, Athens
8. My secret: Booking Point to point travel
I like to wing a lot of my travels, so the next tip is a big secret to how I plan my trips… booking point to point travel through local travel agents. I rely on tourism offices and local travel agents to find me the best deal. Going through a travel agent is easier and speedier; usually, his/her commission is worth the loss of a stressful three hours researching on Google. Travel agents have knowledge of their city, activity tours and transportation timetables.
Tip: Shop around for a travel agent you trust. Visit backpacker districts for a flux of agents. Ask your hotel or local travel agent to book point to point travel for you.