The most important decision you’ll make before you travel with a group is which travel company you should go with. With various costs, sizes and targeted demographics, the tour company and type of group can make or break your vacation. Here are some factors you’ll want to consider prior to choosing.
What Demographic Do You Want to Join?
Tour companies often cater to a set age group – for example, 18- to 30-somethings, middle-aged adults or 55+. Think about the crowd you would want to be around, not the age group you fit into.
Many tour companies that cater to younger crowds attract travelers who want to explore the nightlife and might not be into visiting museums in the morning. If you’re in your 20s and not interested in partying, consider joining a tour that caters to a slightly older age group whose interests may be more in line with yours.
Similarly, many companies that cater to middle-aged adults will offer slower-paced tours, requiring less walking from place to place than a younger tour would. If you’re active and can handle a fast pace, you might want to consider a tour group that caters to a younger crowd. Ideally, you want to join a group with like-minded individuals who want similar experiences as you do.
What’s Your Travel Style?
Everyone has a different style when traveling, so you want to pick a tour group that aligns with what you’re looking for. Are you always on the go, or do you prefer a leisurely pace? Most companies offer tours that require different activity levels, from slow-paced with minimal walking to fast-paced, where your day is more physically demanding and most days are spent on the go. This is particularly important if you have a disability or aren’t as physically fit.
Similarly, tours differ in how much group time they offer. Some have the entire day scheduled with group activities, while others optimize your free time. If you want a tour that sets your schedule for you, you can choose an option that includes more excursions. If you want to do your own thing, you can choose a tour that just gets you from point A to point B.
What’s Your Budget?
Are you on a college budget looking to travel as cheaply as possible, or do you want to splurge on a luxury vacation? Many companies offer budget and luxury options going to the same or similar destinations, which vary in terms of length, type of accommodation, and how many additional excursions and meals are provided.
If you’re on a budget, keep in mind that the cheapest option isn’t always the best option. Some tours don’t include extras such as day excursions and meals, while more expensive tours tend to include entrance fees, meals and even travel insurance. They also might include flights and airport transportation, which may cost you more if you purchase them on your own. Make sure you do your research ahead of time and understand what is and isn’t included in your tour.
With any tour company, search online to find discounts. Sometimes they offer senior or student discounts, and there are sometimes discounts if you buy two trips at once or book before a certain date.
Do You Have Any Non-Negotiables?
There are certain aspects of traveling that are non-negotiable. For example, if you have a physical disability or mobility limitations, you might need additional assistance. Does the tour group you’re looking into have the accommodations you need?
If you’re a single traveler like me, you probably don’t want to pay a singles supplement fee, so pick companies that won’t penalize you for going solo. There are many companies out there, so research several to find out which can accommodate your specific needs and wants.
When I began researching tour companies for my own travel needs, I found TourRadar.com helpful, as it compared different tour groups and companies. Once I was more familiar with the types of trips available, I booked the tours I wanted directly through the tour companies’ websites to avoid third-party fees.
While comparison sites won’t give you details on all travel companies, they can oftentimes break down the costs of various trips per day and show what’s included. This was a great place for me to start when I was overwhelmed by all the choices.
For People Ages 18 – 35
Contiki allows you to explore destinations around the world with 18- to 35-year-olds who share a passion for adventure and good times. With Contiki, you’ll create memories “that define what it is to be young, wild and free.” They offer 270 budget-friendly trips worldwide, starting at about $100 per day. You pay a deposit upfront and can pay the rest in installments, which is great for college students on a budget.
Contiki plans theme nights several times a week, allowing travelers to explore the local nightlife. Friends of mine who have used Contiki say many of the group members partied a lot, so if you’re looking for great nightlife, this may be for you.
Bus about is one of the most budget-friendly companies, offering tours as well as the “hop-on, hop-off” bus option. This is a combination of independent and tour group travel, offering you transportation and the social aspects of a tour while allowing you to determine how long you stay in each location and what you do each day.
They take care of the transportation and recommend hostels for you to stay in, eliminating much of the work involved in planning your own travel. During the day, you’re on your own. This is perfect for someone who wants to spend most of their time solo but would prefer someone else to plan the details.
Tuscan Travel offers reasonably priced tours all over the world for every age, ranging from two-day to 182-day trips. I traveled with them through the Baltics last year. I was the youngest traveler at 23, but most people were in their 30s.
They took me all through the Baltics and Eastern Europe for a little more than $100 per day. The tour was a bargain to begin with, but I also received a 5% discount for being under 26 and an additional 10% off for a special they were having. Plus, they assured me there would be a few late nights but more early mornings, perfect for someone who is too old to go out every night but still wants to have an eventful experience.
Looking for something that the whole family can do, including your tweens and teens? Wait – teenagers, really? Yes! G Adventures offers reasonably priced tours that you can bring your tweens and teens on! Several sites offer travel for this demographic, but often they’re not for the entire family or are quite pricey.
G has trips specifically geared toward the kiddos in your life who are old enough to do more exploring and activities with you while still being able to appreciate the culture around them. They offer tours with a maximum of 12 people to destinations around the world, with teen adventures going to the Amazon, Morocco, Vietnam and Costa Rica.
For People 55 Years and Up
Complete with “leisurely paced days, fun-filled wholesome entertainment, and unparalleled service,” Seniortours offers trips all over North America and even Cuba. Whether you want to explore a few of the U.S.’ incredible national parks, take a cruise to Cuba or join the American Civil Rights Trail tour, there’s a tour for you.
Famous for their low-impact tour, they take a leisure pace with shorter travel days and frequent refresh stops. Your safety and comfort are their top priority, so there are no major physical activities involved or rushing. They offer comfortable accommodation and an open bar with snacks on every bus. Plus they will store your wheelchair, walker or scooter on the bus for free.
ElderTreks, “the world’s first adventure travel company designed exclusively for people 50 and over,” offers more active and exotic tours in over 100 countries. Most of their tours include outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking, but they also visit museums, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and nearby villages/towns to meet locals.
Their tours have a maximum of 16 people and include most if not all meals. The accommodations are geared toward comfort and location. ElderTreks supports local businesses and tries to give you an “off-the-beaten-path” experience, unlike many companies that try to pack as many people in as possible and only support the businesses with the most cost-effective services.
For a more academic experience, check out Road Scholar. This travel group prides itself on offering 5,500 “learning adventures” featuring expert-led lectures, field trips and creative workshops. The tours center around specific topics or activities (bird watching, painting, baseball spring training, storytelling, etc.) and include destinations in all 50 U.S. states and 150 countries.
Nearly 25% of their guests are solo travelers, and many of their trips allow you to have your own room at no additional cost. If you’re on a budget, you can book the general hotel option, but some tours offer a luxury stay option, so you can splurge if you prefer.
With dozens of tour companies available, there’s a group for every age, budget and travel style. Make sure you consider what you want to get out of your travels and do your research ahead of time to ensure your travel experience is perfect for you.
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