When we think about Group Travel, sometimes it can be hard not to think about a busload of weary passengers being shuffled between historic monuments, stopping only for minutes to take in some of the wonders of the world. But group travel has some terrific benefits, depending on the company you choose to travel with. Do your research and make sure you're comfortable with their style of travel.
• Review their agenda, starting with flight times and time between transfers. Often they will have a deal with a certain air provider, but the flight departure and arrival times and airports might not be ideal for your needs. Check what transfers are included in the cost (most should be).
• Go through the itinerary, item by item to calculate the time you will have at each stop, and what each stop will include. This will help with a preliminary packing guide as well.
• They should provide packing tips - what to take, how much to take, what weather to expect - which is extremely helpful. Try to travel light if your trip has many stops. Likely, however they will be transporting the luggage for you, and assisting in room delivery.
• Often the tour company will pair with a local tour guide, which is invaluable in getting to know the customs and culture of the place you are visiting. Check to make sure this is the case.
• Check to ensure what is covered in your costs, and what you are expected to cover while on the trip. Most meals should be included (excluding alcohol), but you might see "On your own" on some agendas, which means you are responsible for paying for that meal, outside of the tour program.
• If you are booking an "adventure tour" find out what the physical requirements will be. Some tour companies will send people home if they fear their physical safety is in danger.
• Watch that you don't overindulge on alcohol during group activities as tour groups will end your trip (normally this is detailed in your contract with them).
• If there are items on your agenda that you wish to skip, make sure you make this clear to the travel provider, as they will purchase these tickets up front for you. As well, they can make arrangements for you to do something else at that time, if convenient.
• Review start times and end times during the day. Some travel itineraries are very aggressive; make sure it fits what you want to get out of a vacation.
• Restaurants are generally thoroughly checked out by the tour group, so as to avoid any unfortunate food poisoning from happening. Still, worthwhile to check out their proposed food stops to identify any individual concerns. Of course, you should alert them to any allergies or food restrictions prior to finalizing your booking. Some simply can't accommodate.
• Tips are not included for the guides or drivers. As a guideline, you want to be tipping approximately $10 per person for the guide, per day, and $5 per person, per day for the driver, or assistant tour guide. And don't forget to tip your hotel housekeeper. Check with your tour provider regarding meal tips, as some may have been pre-arranged.
A great benefit of traveling with a tour group is of course that they set the agenda and pre-purchase all tickets and passes for tourist attractions you will travel to. The downside is that the agendas are pretty rigid. And remember because you're traveling with a group, you will be with people for a certain amount of time; people that you haven't met before and who might have a different definition of being on time, as well as potentially having different customs, manners, and cultural norms. Prepare yourself to be more accommodating when necessary.
Ask for advice from friends when booking group travel as the experience can vary a great deal. Speak to people you feel would have similar expectations as you do, to define a great holiday.