The benefits of traveling with a tour group are obvious. You don't have to worry about planning, transportation or logistics. You learn about the places you visit by traveling with local guides who know the area and can help you make the most of every day. Your guide is with the group each day, ready to resolve problems and handle unforeseen issues.
But there's a down side to traveling with a tour group, too.
It's loss of control.
You don't control your schedule or itinerary. You can skip certain parts of the tour - a good tour guide will help you figure out how to reunite with the group later - but you can't miss transfers to other cities or destinations on the itinerary. If the schedule requires you to be ready to travel at 6:30 a. m., you will need to get up before sunrise to make that happen. On rainy days, no adjustments are made.
You don't get to choose the members of your travel group. You may be able to travel with a friend or group of friends, but the rest of the people in your group will come from all walks of life, backgrounds, and birthplaces.
Depending on the tour you select, you may not be able to choose what you eat, at least part of the time. If you have specific dietary preferences or food allergies, this might be problematic.
Why Are Tour Groups Popular, Given Today's Travel Trends?
Today's seniors and Baby Boomers look for authentic travel experiences, not "monument tag" itineraries.
The emphasis is on local culture, which includes not only the best-known sights but also the food, history, art and community life of the places they visit. Tour operators know this and have changed their itineraries accordingly. Local guides add authenticity to the travel experience. Food, wine, and beer tastings introduce travelers to the best of local cuisines.
Behind-the-scenes tours present new perspectives on famous sights and attractions.
In short, you don't have to sacrifice convenience in order to gain authenticity.
But What About That Loss of Control?
Regardless of the number of authentic experiences and encounters on your itinerary, you will still be traveling on someone else's schedule with a group of people you do not know. Given these two conditions, here are our best tips for managing your tour group expectations.
Ask Questions Before You Book Your Trip
No question is too small. What time will you need to wake up each day? How many hours will you spend in the motorcoach? How many bathroom breaks will be given, and how long are they? How much free time is built into the schedule? How far will you be expected to walk? How many staircases must you climb? Can group dinner menus be changed to accommodate your dietary requirements? Knowing what to expect will help you understand how tired you will be at the end of the day, decide what shoes and clothing to pack and, ultimately, determine whether this trip is a good fit for you.
Ask Questions During Your Trip
Your tour guide will tell you what to expect each day. Many tour guides also post a handwritten schedule of the next day's events in a public place.
If you don't get the information you need, ask very specific questions so that you know what to expect. This is especially important if you are skipping part of the pre-set itinerary; find out where you will be dropped off when you leave the group, when you are expected to rejoin the group and how to get back to your hotel before you strike out on your own.
If your itinerary includes free time, ask your tour guide to offer sightseeing and dining suggestions.
Accept That You Can't See Everything
Whether you travel on your own or with a tour group, you can't see everything at every stop. There just aren't enough hours in the day. Give yourself permission to see the things you most want to see and have time to see and let the rest go, especially if weather conditions make sightseeing difficult.
Consider Skipping Part of the Tour
A good tour operator will be flexible enough to allow you to skip part of the day's events, as long as you are able to be on time for the trip to the next stop on the itinerary. If you want to linger over a delicious meal, take a nap or spend extra time at a museum, skipping part of the tour will give you that downtime. Be sure you know when and where to rejoin the group.
Smile and Be Friendly
You may not get along with everyone in your tour group, but you'll be on good terms with most of your fellow travelers if you smile, ask a few friendly questions and listen to your fellow travelers. After all, you all chose the same tour, so you must share at least one common interest.
Try Something New
Whether it's a new food or a different mode of sightseeing, you'll get more out of your trip if you take a few steps beyond your comfort zone. You don't have to like every new food you taste, and you certainly don't have to rent a bicycle or go to a zip line park if you feel nervous. Instead, attend a performance that's new to you, such as traditional folk dancing, or take a walk in a place that's very popular with locals. (Tip: The things you try that don't work out will probably make great stories when you return home.)