Travel Tours

Booking a group tour to lead you through a strange region isn't a bad idea for new or inexperienced travelers. Group tours essentially do all of the planning for you. They book your accommodations, set up your itinerary and take care of all of your transportation requirements. All that's left to do is sit back and enjoy your trip. For these reasons, budgeting for a group tour is much easier than going on your own because you will pay all of your money in advance for virtually every expense you come across. Tour organizers can keep the prices somewhat lower for their customers by getting groups rates on everything they do and working with the same organizations for every tour.

However, traveling within an organized tour is not for everyone. Some travelers find packaged tours to be very rigid and overly structured. You don't have the option of staying in one place for a longer time period just because you would like to explore more. When the bus pulls out, you've got to be on it. Your itinerary is pre-planned so there are no opportunities to spontaneously change directions.

The most important drawback of tour groups is the fact that they have a tendency to stay isolated from the authenticity of the local people and their culture. Traveling in a group of ten or twenty people, you have very little chance of immersing yourself in the ways of the locals. Zipping by on a minibus doesn't really help either.

Here are some interesting points about many bus tours that may help you understand how they operate:

  • they make their profit on the last few available seats, so they will try hard to fill up every available space on the tour
  • if you are paying the absolute minimum for your tour, chances are the tour company is making most of their earnings from kickbacks on your shopping, tour-excursions, etc. For this reason, they often take you to pre-determined markets and stores where these arrangements have been made.
  • tour guides want you to shop, and they will use many different tactics to get you to make purchases in establishments that are paying them a percentage.
  • hotels capable of hosting large tour groups are often not the "quaint and authentic" variety in the heart of the city.
  • the easiest and most frequent stops include those that are easiest for the bus to reach, requiring large parking lots with a close proximity to highways and on major routes. Hitting the small roads in search of the out-of-the-way attractions is highly unlikely.

If you do plan on joining an organized tour group, make sure you look into the age and maybe even the nationality of the rest of the group. You will probably want to travel with people of a similar age and language (or maybe not). Try to find out the size of the tour group you would travel in. A smaller tour will be better experience - the more people you have to wait for (for everything), the longer everything will take to do. Other tour features to look into include:

  • how reputable is the tour operator?
  • how many guides will there be?
  • will the same guide(s) be with your group for the entire tour?
  • what kind of accommodations will be used?
  • what type of sight-seeing opportunities will you have? I've heard of tours that boast "You will see the Louvre in Paris" and then drive by on the bus without even stopping.
  • how much will you see in a given time? A tour that promises to show you "all of Israel" in one week will barely begin to scratch the surface and dig into the details of this amazing country.
  • what is the refund policy should you not be able to make it?

There are pros and cons for every method of travel. When considering booking with a tour group, think about your priorities. If increased safety, pre-planned itineraries and meeting lots of people is what you are looking for, then a guided tour may be for you. If you are on a tour that lasts for two or three weeks, you can always continue traveling on your own after it is over. Then you will have the opportunity to go back and see a little more of what you want, when you want, for as long as you want.