This post—about travel tours—is the first of a series where I will provide insight into how I handle the various aspects of travel I encounter. When traveling, some people enjoy an overnight tour where most expenses and arrangements are wrapped into one pretty package. This option can be great for the person who doesn’t want to plan the details or solo travelers looking for a less-solitary trip. I prefer independent travel where I make my own plans, but I love to include small-group day tours in my itinerary…so these travel tips will revolve around those types of tours.
Since you want any event you plan to enhance your vacation, I’ve compiled a list of some things to consider when picking a day tour so that you have an experience that is the perfect fit for you.
Things to Consider:
- Type of tours—There are many different types of tours: sightseeing, adventure & sporting, food & drink, shore excursions, and hop-on/hop-off buses to name a few. Do you want to snorkel with sea turtles, go beneath the Colosseum’s arena floor, ride in a hot-air balloon, sample several courses of the regional cuisine, or just jump on a bus and listen about the city while riding to your next destination? Whatever your pleasure, there is a style of tour for you. Make sure that you’re picking a tour company that specializes in the type of tour you prefer.
- Guided v. audio tours—Audio tours are generally quite a bit cheaper and allow you to go at your own pace, see what you want, and leave when you want, but you can’t ask questions or interact in any way and the commentary tends to be quite unimaginative. If you’re taking a guided tour, you will also want to consider whether you would prefer a private guide, a small group, or a large group. Private guides are generally the most expensive, but may be a good value for a big family as they often charge by the hour instead of per person.
- Size of group—I prefer small-group tours (14 people or less is optimal for me). Small groups allow me to ask the guide questions and stay close to her/him so that I don’t have to rely on my headset, while still giving me the chance to meet and interact with new people. I’ll make exceptions on tour size when participating in free tours (though these still require a tip), but generally I want a more intimate size. Tour companies offering small-group tours usually highlight this feature; if you don’t see the tour size then be prepared for a large group.
- Level of activity—Do you like walking around a city or would you prefer to see the sites from a car, bike, or scooter? Even walking tours have varied degrees of activity, with some requiring a lot more exercise than others, so make sure that you are selecting one that fits your desires. Not sure how much activity will be involved? Look for tour companies that indicate levels of exertion.
- Degree of intellectual intensity—Some tours are more academic than others. If you prefer a more extensive study of a city or site, you will want to seek out a professional guide with the credentials and experience to give you an intellectually-stimulating time.
- Special features—A tour worth my money will deal with any potential transportation logistics and also include special features like exclusive access to a site (time alone in the Sistine Chapel with my group—yes please!), unique experiences (like a water taxi in Venice that would otherwise be quite costly), or skip-the-line access to crowded sites. Note: skip-the-line access may be available just by booking online, so make sure there is more to the tour than just that feature to get your money’s worth.
- Price—Make sure that the tour includes the fees associated with its agenda. I like to comparison shop to see how much it would cost if I went it alone and then add in the value for the expertise of a guide for “x” amount of hours, special features, etc. When is a tour not worth the price? If there is no value added and you could easily do it yourself, you should probably consider doing just that.
- Vibe—What is the website like? Does the tour company have a staid and boring site or do they have videos, blogs, information about their guides, and such? I think websites say a lot about how the tour will be. I also consider ease of booking as part of a well-designed website. Reach out to the tour company on social media and see if they interact with you. Since you want this to be a special experience, you want a company with a vibe that blends well with your personality.
- Reviews—I like to look at the reviews on the company’s website, TripAdvisor, and Google. Also, I investigate what bloggers have to say. Since bloggers will likely have been on several tours over the course of their travels, their reviews tend to capture different details than a person writing a review on TripAdvisor that has no other experience to compare the tour to. Although bloggers may get free tours, I don’t know any who would risk their reputation by giving a false review. When I take a tour from a company, I let them know that I will only write the truth. If I’ve had a good time and think my readers would enjoy it too, then I write about it—if not, then I don’t tell about my experience. For instance, I’ve had such a great time on Roman Guy tours that I love writing about them, have recommended them to family and friends, and even became an affiliate (see disclosure below).
I hope these travel tips help you when planning your next vacation. If you have taken a great tour, or have additional tips, please share with me. I love to get cool new ideas.
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Disclosure: Roaming Historian may derive revenue from affiliate links and other sources, which helps offset the costs of bringing you the information we do. The blogs and reviews posted on this website are of our own opinion though.