There are times when you want to travel on your own. You want the freedom to create your own itinerary and follow your own schedule. But sometimes, group travel provides an inviting alternative to planning everything yourself. After all, organized group trips take the hassle and worry out of travel. And such vacations can provide an easy way to see a lot of land in a little time.
From my years of leading tours for Disney and Contiki Holidays, I’ve seen plenty of people sabotage their trips from the very beginning, and then wonder why they were unhappy. But I’ve also seen people who have had the time of their lives.
Want to ensure a fantastic group tour experience? Then check out these important insider tips:
1. Lose the Luggage
Packing light is always a smart idea. However, packing light on a group tour is a necessity. Most tours only allow a certain number of pieces of luggage, and there may not always be an elevator to ease your load. I’ve had tours on which people brought so much luggage that the extra baggage had to be crammed into the lavatory from floor to ceiling, rendering the toilet useless and creating some foul smelling luggage. It’s not the best way to make friends!
2. Even in Australia, There’s Only 24 Hours in a Day
Face it, you won’t have enough time to do everything you want to do. Only in Paris for two days? Even if you didn’t sleep, you won’t be able to see half of the museums and monuments in the city. Do some research before the trip and pick out two or three attractions that you definitely don’t want to miss. Trying to experience an entire city or country, and take in their culture requires more than 48 hours. You can always plan an extended stay later on in the cities that you especially enjoyed.
3. Speak Your Mind
Dreaming of owning some authentic Native American pottery from your trip out west? Want to buy authentic wooden clogs in Amsterdam? Let the tour manager know. He or she isn’t a mind reader, and will likely only mention the hot spots that tourists gravitate to. However, they often have other information simply for the asking. Most tour managers can fill you in on little known attractions, or can investigate and have the information ready before you arrive in the city. Don’t wait until the day that you’re there, though; tour managers can’t work miracles.
4. Show Me the Money
Tour managers are often willing to recommend that you eat in a certain restaurant or shop at a particular store. Take their advice with a grain of salt. Many stores and restaurants give tour managers commissions on purchases made at their establishment by the tour group. Not all tour managers will give unbiased information, and even if the tour manager is making a commission or receiving an incentive for bringing you to a certain locale, it still could be the best around. A little curiosity and questions on your part, though, will possibly yield a more authentic experience in your destination cities.
5. Forget Fancy Food
Meals may be included in your tour package, but don’t expect gourmet grub unless you’re on an extravagant tour. Chances are, the food will be small and simple. Sure, some meals will offer variety, but others may lack imagination, much less taste. You might just get cereal and milk for breakfast, and a piece of chicken and a salad for dinner. If you’re a picky eater, have dietary restrictions, or have a voracious appetite, buy some snack food at a grocery or convenience store to keep on hand. Also, let the tour manager know of any dietary restrictions so that he or she can make prior arrangements for the entire tour ahead of time.
6. Don’t be Stupid
Personal safety is essential regardless of where you are in the world. Many travelers believe that when they are on vacation, removed from the trials of their normal life, that the perils of the real world can’t touch them, but nothing could be further from the truth. On one of the tours I led, our coach was broken into, and any personal items that had been left onboard overnight were stolen. On another, two female passengers were tied up in their hotel room, and their money and valuables were stolen. Situations like this can be avoided with just a few simple precautions: always be aware of your surroundings, don’t pack any valuables that are not essential, don’t accept a ride back to the hotel from anyone you meet while on the road, and never let anyone other than your roommate into your hotel room.
7. Cash Counts
Credit and debit cards are an excellent way to receive the best exchange rate and to simplify spending, but you’ll also need cash or traveler’s checks. Some tours can only accept cash or traveler’s checks for optional programs or activities. Taxi rides, snacks and your tour manager and coach driver’s tips will need to be paid for in cash, as well. Your best bet is to wait until get to your destination, and then find an ATM or bank and withdraw money in that country’s currency.
8. Optimizing Optionals
Group tours usually include a minimum amount of meals and activities in their base price. Other meals and activities are available at an additional cost. Some are fabulous, some are not. To make the most of your time and money, quiz the tour manager before signing up. Ask questions such as:
* “What is the age group of the other passengers on the excursion that are not from your tour?” (You don’t want to sign up for a boat cruise with lots of boisterous teens.)
* “What would the cost be if I did this on my own?”
* “How much time will this take out of our day and what other activities will I miss?”
9. Inspect the Insurance
Check out your insurance policy before leaving to find out if you’re covered while away from home. Touring the country for an extended time wears down your body, and makes you more susceptible to injury and illness. Once one person gets sick on the coach, others will follow as the germs are recirculated in the stagnant air. If your health insurance doesn’t cover you, consider purchasing additional traveler’s insurance. While you’re thinking about your health, be sure to pack additional days worth of necessary medicine and extra vitamins to keep up your stamina and prevent illness.
10. Cultural Curiosities
The purpose of traveling away from home is to explore new horizons. With that experience comes different customs, languages, food and manners. The money won’t look the same, cars might not travel on the same side of the road, and government laws will be different. Instead of finding fault with the way things work elsewhere, embrace and enjoy these differences, even if you don’t agree with them. You will be going back home soon enough, and you’ve paid for this experience so enjoy it!