While this website tries to encourage self-planned travel, I am by no means against traveling with group tours. They can be a great way to travel that provide a different set of benefits compared to traveling on your own and contrary to popular belief…
They’re not only reserved for retirees either!
There are group tours out there for every age demographic that cater to a multitude of different people so don’t write off group tours just yet.
In this guide, I will tell you everything you need to know about group tours, including who they are for, what to expect from them, what to look for in a good tour company, and the best companies out there for every age group.
So without further ado, let’s get into it!
Part 1: Who are group tours for?
- Anyone looking to travel without having to do the work of planning out their trip on their own. Group tours are fully pre-planned and apart from getting to the starting point, there is not much planning you have to do. They will take you to all the top sights in a destination and provide both transportation and accommodation for you.
- Anyone looking to meet other travelers on their trip. Group tours are great for people who want to meet other travelers while abroad because you’ll be sharing the same experiences with the same people every day meaning that it will be easy to make friends!
- Anyone who doesn’t want to have to deal with different languages and customs on their own. If you’re worried about people abroad not being able to understand you or potentially offending someone because you’re not aware of the local customs, then a group tour can help. Group tours come with a guide who will act as personal translator for you and inform you of the local customs which may differ from your own.
- Anyone who wants to see as much of a destination as possible without having to drive. Some people might not have a driver’s license and others might not want to have to deal with driving on the other side of the road. Others might just prefer not to drive at all while on vacation, but they still want to be able to see as much as possible of a destination. Tour groups will take you to all the top sights in your destination meaning you just have to sit back and go along for the ride!
- Anyone looking to visit restricted places like Antarctica or North Korea. Some parts of the world are off-limits without a tour. For example, Antarctica can only be visited as part of an organized tour (you can’t just rent a boat and sail on over)! The same goes for North Korea which is one of the most restrictive countries in the world for tourists. There are a few other places like this in the world as well such as Iran, Turkmenistan, Tibet, Bhutan, and Cuba (if you’re American).
- Anyone who is worried about their personal safety while abroad. Tour groups can provide an extra level of safety that solo traveling cannot. Being part of a larger group gives you a sense of security as well as a guide who will help take care of you. However, keep in mind that tour groups also attract pickpockets so make sure you’re prepared with the right travel accessories to prevent them.
- Anyone who wants a knowledgeable guide that can tell them interesting information about the places they visit. Not only will your tour guide be able to translate everything and inform you about the local customs, but they will also be able to provide you with lots of information about the places you’re visiting and the things you’re seeing. You will be able to learn a lot about attractions that you would otherwise only get a basic introduction to on your own!
If any of those sound like you, then you should consider looking into group tours!
Part 2: What to expect from group tours
Group tours come in different shapes and sizes. They can range from less than 10 people to upwards of 60. The size of your group will affect your experience and the smaller the group, the easier it will be to meet other people in it and the better the overall experience you will get.
Larger group tours will be cheaper than smaller ones, but they will also be way less personal, often herding you around like cattle and taking you to inauthentic hotel buffet restaurants instead of local eateries.
The type of tour will vary as well. The stereotypical one is geared towards retirees and older couples looking to experience a destination at a slow pace, but there are also tours for young people with an emphasis on partying, tours for families with many child-friendly activities, tours for women who only want to travel with other women, and everything in between.
Some will focus on city visits while others will focus on outdoor adventures. Pick the tour type that caters to you to make sure you have a great experience.
All group tours include transportation to each attraction or destination they cover. Most tours will also provide you with free accommodation and free entry to the attractions they take you to. Some of them will also include free meals or cover the cost of a portion of them.
Make sure you’re aware of what a group tour includes before booking it!
Regardless of which one you pick, every group tour will always include a tour guide who will be able to answer any and all questions you may have about what you’re seeing. They will be able to translate things for you and let you know what to expect in every destination. Whether or not the guide is a local will vary though.
Transportation & Accommodation
Most of the time, transportation to each destination will be provided by private tour bus. For smaller groups, you may get a minibus or minivan.
As for accommodation, it will depend on the tour type. If it’s a tour for older couples or families, then you will probably be given accommodation in nice hotels. However, if it’s a tour for budget travelers, backpackers, and partiers, then you will probably be given accommodation in hostels or guesthouses. Something in between, probably boutique accommodation.
Part 3: What to look for in a tour company
Picking a good tour company is extremely important as it can mean the difference between a relaxing and enjoyable vacation and a forgettable and stressful experience.
There are many tour companies out there and a lot of them exist solely to take advantage of travelers, providing them with a very basic experience which makes them wish they planned out the trip on their own. Since that’s the last thing you want in a tour company, you need to make sure you pick a good one.
Here are the 9 things you should be looking for in a tour company:
1. A target demographic similar to yours
As stated earlier, tours can cater to a wide range of different people and to make sure you find the one that’s catered to you, you need to make sure their target demographic is one that you’re a part of.
If you’re looking for a quiet and relaxing experience, you don’t want to go on a tour full of young partiers. And similarly, if you’re looking for a fun party experience, you don’t want to end up on a slow-paced tour full of older couples or families.
Read the About page on the tour company’s website to see what kind of travelers they cater to. If it’s not listed there, take a look at their photos to see what kind of people go on their tours. You want to make sure you go on tours with people who are similar to you as it will be easier to connect with them and make friends.
2. Activities that interest you
Tour companies will try to save money by taking you to attractions that are convenient/cheap for them to visit and not necessarily the top attractions in each destination. When booking a tour of a country or region, don’t assume that all the top attractions will be included.
Find out which specific attractions they will visit and decide if there’s anything missing from the list. Pick a different tour if the attractions they visit are not of interest to you.
The same goes for any non-tourism related activities such as meals or social events. Find out which restaurants they will take you to and try to go for tours that take you local eateries instead of buffet restaurants to get a better experience.
And if you’re looking to party and socialize, make sure to check what kind of social events are part of the tour as well.
3. A balanced schedule
The point of a group tour is to sit back and relax while someone else takes care of the travel planning for you so the last thing you want is to be running around because they are taking you to 10 different cities in 5 days.
However, you also don’t want to be sitting around in the same place all day either as that would be a waste of time and money. Always ask to see the full itinerary of the tour before booking it.
One way to tell if a tour is not well-balanced is if most of their stops are only for 1 night. Try to go for tours that give you at least 2 nights in every city as it will ensure that you get a good balance of interesting attractions and free time to rest and/or explore on your own too. You also don’t want to be spending too long in the same cities either though so judge accordingly.
4. Good reviews
Part of the appeal of tours is knowing that you’ll be in good hands. A good way to make sure you’re going with a reputable tour company is by checking out their reviews. See what other people have said about them both on their own website as well as on other sites like TripAdvisor or travel blogs.
That being said, if you see any bad reviews online, take them with a grain of salt. More people will complain about a bad experience than praise a good one. Analyze a few different reviews and decide if their complaints are legitimate and representative of what to expect if you go on the tour yourself!
5. The right group size
In general, the smaller the group, the better the experience you’ll get. Smaller groups will get more personalized attention from guides, access to attractions, restaurants, and accommodation that are too small for large groups, and more of a chance to get to know the other people in the group!
However, larger groups can be beneficial if you’re looking to save money or you want to socialize with a lot of different people (like on those party-centric tours).
If that’s your priority, then more people might be ideal for you, but if your priority is to have the best experience possible in each destination, then you should be looking for tour groups that are 20 people or less.
6. A knowledgeable guide
Your guide can make or break your experience. You don’t want a guide that simply leads you from place to place and tells you when it’s time to go to the next one without providing much else.
You want a guide who knows what they’re talking about, cares about making the experience a good one for you, and explains everything you need to know at every attraction.
A local guide will be a lot more knowledgeable with regards to their home city, but being local is not a necessity. A foreign guide can be just as good provided that at the very least, they have experience with/knowledge of the places they’re taking you to, speak the local language, and be trained in first aid in case of emergencies.
Ask the tour company who your guide will be and find out this information before booking.
Be aware that some guides might also rely on tips for their income and if that’s the case, check out the Destination Guide for the country you’re visiting for a guide on how much to tip them.
7. Good accommodation in a good location
A lot of tour companies will try to save money by putting you in mediocre 2-star accommodation. Find out where you will be sleeping and read reviews for it online.
See what other people have said about it and how much it typically costs to book outside of guided tours to get an idea for its quality. If it doesn’t look like a place that you would feel comfortable sleeping in, look for another tour.
In addition, even if the accommodation looks decent, make sure to also find out where it’s located. Another way tour companies will try to save money is by putting you in a place that is located outside the city centre meaning that it will take you longer to get to and from the city than it will to actually explore it!
Accommodation that is located in the heart of your destination will provide a more memorable experience than one that is located in the middle of nowhere. Always ask for exact locations.
8. A reasonable price
Group tours will almost always be more expensive than self-planned travel, but they shouldn’t break the bank either. Pick a tour that fits your budget and make sure to take taxes, fees, and any extra charges into account.
Some tour companies will advertise a super low price, but then charge you for things that you expected would be included in the price such as meals or entrance fees to attractions and parks. Find out what’s included in the quoted price and the cost of what they consider to be “optional” activities or features before making any bookings.
Also, if you’re traveling solo, keep an eye out for tours that charge a single supplement. This is something that some tour companies like to charge solo travelers since it means they would get a room to themselves.
If you don’t have anyone to travel with, see if the tour company will put you in the same room as other solo travelers (of the same sex) without any extra fees and if they won’t, then you’re better off going with another tour company (unless you prefer a room to yourself, in which case expect to pay that fee).
9. A decent cancellation policy
Not every traveler will have trip cancellation/interruption insurance and even if you do, being able to cancel your tour and get a full refund without having to go through your insurance is so much easier. You might also just have a change of plans and decide you don’t want to go on the tour anymore.
Find out what cancellation policy the tour company has and decide if booking a non-refundable tour is worth the risk.
In addition, keep an eye out for tours that only require you to pay a deposit when booking it. Make sure your deposit will lock in the price as some tour companies will try to raise the price later if not enough people sign up for the tour.
Also, some tour companies will actually completely cancel a tour if not enough people sign up for them so try to go with one that guarantees tours will happen no matter what to avoid wasting your time.
Part 4: The best tour companies for every age group
For multiple different age groups
For the 18-30 somethings
For those aged 30-49
For those aged 50+
For women only
And that’s all there is to it!
Group tours can be a great way to travel that offer a totally different experience. There is a group tour out there for everyone and if you found one that you like, don’t hesitate to go on it!
Let me know if this guide helped you out in the comments below and if you’d like to know how to book your flights at the best prices, make sure to check out my Guide to Flights.