Pros and Cons of Booking Tours in Asia

Should you book packaged travel in Asia or make your own way?

A large tour group in China
Greg Rodgers

Deciding whether or not to book a tour in Asia can be a tough decision. Unfamiliar places may seem daunting to sort out at first. Going with a tour group certainly seems the safest option, however, adhering to a strict itinerary will radically alter your experience on a trip. Intrepid travelers may be disappointed by being corralled from one place to another.

Tours aren't for everyone, and choosing a responsible company can be tricky. Use this guide to determine if you would thrive in organized group travel and learn how to choose from among the most sustainable tour agencies in Asia.

The Benefits of Booking a Tour in Asia

Booking a tour in an unfamiliar place helps eliminate the guessing game of organizing transportation, choosing hotels, and lining up activities. Having someone cover all of the groundwork for you not only reduces stress, it allows you more time to focus on what you came to see in the first place.

  • You can easily meet new people because you are sharing a common experience.
  • Time is often used more efficiently — a plus for travelers on short trips.
  • A knowledgeable guide will provide insight about the local culture that otherwise may have been difficult to discover on your own.
  • You will have less daily decisions to make for eating, sleeping, and transportation.
  • You won't be as vulnerable to local scams that target tourists.
  • You won't have to worry about driving in Asia to see sights that are spread out.

See some examples of top tours in India.

The Benefits of Traveling Independently

The benefits of traveling independently as opposed to being part of a group are obvious. If freedom and flexibility are high priorities, opt to make your own way in a new place so that you can set your own rules.

  • You can choose your own itinerary based upon your own personal interests.
  • You can travel at your own pace and linger in places that interest you the most.
  • Traveling independently is usually cheaper than going with a tour. See these 10 budget travel tips for independent travel.
  • You can choose when and where you will eat and sleep.
  • You can pick and choose new friends rather than being stuck with the same group.

Considerations for Booking a Tour

When it comes to tours in Asia, you don't always get what you pay for. Don't just focus on the tour cost alone when booking a travel package:

  • Choose a tour that meets your time and energy requirements. You shouldn't end your vacation weary and in need of a vacation!
  • How much free time is allotted in the itinerary? Although you'll certainly want some personal time to process all that you've experienced, why pay for what you could have done for free?
  • Consider the target audience of the tour so that you are surrounded by people with similar desires on the trip. Many tours cater to specific age groups and nationalities.
  • Find out exactly what is included in the tour and what is not. Ensure that the agency is transparent about additional costs (tips, permits, camera fees, entrance charges, etc) and hidden fees that may put a damper on enjoyment later.

See a tipping guide for Asia.

Choosing a Responsible Tour Agency

Tour agencies, especially ones with a high turnover of customers, have the ability to change a place forever — and not always for the better. Avoid contributing to environmental damage and cultural deterioration. Choose wisely and vote with your money.

Does the tour agency participate in damaging practices? If so, avoid them altogether. Some examples of poor practices seem harmless but cause damage over the long term:

  • Feeding fish, wildlife, and encouraging unnatural behavior in the wild.
  • Tour agencies that don't give back to local communities in a sustainable way. Do they employ people from local villages?
  • Encouraging cultural mutation and inflation by making local businesses "compete" to become a part of the itinerary. Believe it or not, some large tour companies wield power like local mafias; they can make or break the businesses they choose as partners.

Opt for Local Tour Operators

Just because a tour agency comes in near the top of search engine results does not mean that they offer a quality experience for the money. In fact, many tour agencies are Western operated, set up by expats who saw an opportunity to exploit a place for money. Many are actually far more expensive than their local counterparts. Some Western-owned tour operators underpay their local contacts and don't give back to the communities that are making them rich.

Note: Don't believe everything you read online about tours in Asia. Agencies regularly pay people to leave positive reviews on popular travel websites.

One option is to consider waiting until arriving to book a tour. By going with a local tour agency, there's a better chance that you'll support the local economy rather than put money into the pockets of owners who may live overseas most of the year.

Waiting to book your tour in Asia also gives you a better feel for a place and provides an opportunity to speak with travelers who may have just finished tours in the area. Real-time advice from travelers who just finished tours is far more valuable than dated advice found online.

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