Guide to booking the right tour

Fresh from a recent group tour with our law firm in Taiwan, I have a few thoughts on booking the right tour for your next trip. If you are like me and enjoy the idea of a DIY a trip, then head over to my post on itinerary planning. I would normally prefer to do this as it saves on cost and I can personalize it to fit my travel style. However, there were times when booking the right tour ended up to be the most enriching experience that I will gladly pay double for.

At the onset, there are so many things to consider re booking a tour. We are fortunate to be given several options that consider costs and travel priorities. The travel industry is a major business that caters to every wanderlust-ing millenial. From full-on packaged tours to highly-customizable ones, you can truly tailor fit your tour to your travel style.

Let me just say that I am, by no means, a tour expert. I do not own nor am I affiliated with any travel agency. I have been on various kinds of pre-booked tours, but like I said, there are so many exciting options out there that I cannot speak for all those that I have not tried. If you are on-the-fence about booking the right tour, then I hope this post will be helpful. You may even use a few tips here before contacting your trusted travel agent to assist you in customizing a package tour.

1. The all-in/full-package tour

Tour Bus
This involves the “x-day/x-nights” tour package that is commonly plastered on the flyers of any travel agent. It usually covers flights, accommodations, meals, and transportation, together with the itinerary. Everything is basically planned for you, except for the free time/day that these packages almost always include. Why is this so great? The tour has got you covered! No need to worry about the little details. It’s basically a stress-free (hopefully!) trip.

Most of the places included will already cover the major tourist attractions. The important thing is to make sure you know the specific inclusions of the package. There may be exclusions that will merit your concern such as entrances to sub-attractions from a particular place; hidden fees/charges; absence of certain meals, etc. I suggest researching each place thoroughly. There may be parks or areas within that place which you still have to pay for because it is excluded from your packaged tour. Note that some travel packages bought from travel agents include stopovers at certain places affiliated with the travel agent used in that country. These are mostly local shops that your guide will take you for souvenirs, food, local produce, etc. You do not have to buy anything usually. But it is an arrangement with the local tour company to give chance for those shops to introduce their products to tourists.

Forbidden City, Beijing -

Taken at the Forbidden City, Beijing, China, while we were on a private tour. Most of the 80,000 visitors per day travel in packs and securing tickets may not be as easy. Go get a tour when visiting this place.

These types of tours are great if you are a large group/family with kids, or in a country where it is difficult to communicate or physically travel around. This is also a good option to consider for those traveling for the first time in that particular country/destination. For our Beijing trip last July, it was clear that taking a tour was the way to go. It was not practical at all to take in our ourselves considering the language barrier and the area we wanted to cover for a very short duration. We opted for a private tour, which allowed us to be more flexible with time and have a more intimate discussion about the sights, history, and culture.

The advantages are great. Apart from having comfortable transportation covered, you get an actual tour guide. Someone whom you can ask all sorts of question ranging from history, culture, language, to the local hotspots that you would like to visit on your own. There’s nothing like having a local help you out on your own trip. In your research, try to note the name of the tour guide recommended by previous tourists and thereafter coordinate with your travel agent for a request. Search for the travel agency and the tour provider online. Take note of the accommodations (as they usually partner with hotels) and the kind of vehicles or transportation provided. On the other hand, a packaged full tour could be tiring. You will have to abide by a schedule or else waste your time/money otherwise. You may not exactly be excited about some of the destinations.

2. Day tours

Grand Canyon, Arizona -

This is a photo of me and the breathtaking Grand Canyon. We booked a day tour because we didn’t have a car. Staying in Las Vegas, there were several reputable companies that include hotel transfers, meals, and other interesting perks. It was a very long tour, but totally worth it.

Day tours may be full or half-day. It may include only a few places and not necessarily any accommodation or transportation. The options are far and wide with the Internet. My sister and I usually book via Klook or Viator if we are looking for a particular tour. Those websites have so many promotions or coupon codes online. Do a Google search for “Viator promo code” or “Klook coupon.” Make sure to read the description of the tour and the reviews. Note the previous comments about the quality and the duration of the tour. Will it be a full day or just couple of hours that I can still visit another place after? Check the meeting place and drop-off of the tour. Some of the tours usually provide service transportation to a lot of known hotels.

Go get a day tour for certain places or sights that are difficult to get passes or tickets to; for sights that are logistically-challenging or for those that just offer a good deal. Compare ticket prices between the original website (actual SRP) and those advertised to see if it is indeed worth it. If you’re also into theme parks like I am, my sister and I check Klook or Viator before purchasing at the actual website to see if there may be interesting tours/deals apart from the actual entrance ticket, such as the inclusion of hotel transfers. For history buffs or those who clearly want a more immersive experience, booking a day tour is something to consider.

Link to check out: World’s Best Walking Tours

3. Hop-on Hop-off Tour

Hop On Hop Off Tour in Washington D.C. -

Taken during our trip to Washington D.C. back in 2013. This is their Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour and I would highly recommend this experience.

This is a unique tour that is mostly available in certain cities or countries such as the US, UK, Australia, etc. Try to do a google search if the same is available in the country you are planning to visit. The best part about this tour is that it allows you to control your time and pace.  Once you sign up for one, you will be given a map of the designated stops along the way. The bus/vehicle has a designated route with corresponding stops to major attractions and sights. You may opt to only stop at a few places you are interested in. When you are ready to continue the tour, simply hop back on at any of the stops along the route. The disadvantage includes the possibility of being caught up in traffic.

We booked a trolley hop on hop off tour during our trip to Washington D.C., U.S.A. It was a last minute booking that turned out to be such a good decision. D.C. is one of my favorite cities and it was a great place to book a tour like this. It allowed us to take our time with the sights without worrying about transportation as the bus route was pretty much spot on.

4. Activity Tours

The Internet is not short of more exciting tour options to suit every traveler’s need. These tours allow for those looking to inject some interesting experiences in their travels.

For the foodie at heart, a food tour/crawl is a great way to experience the culinary delights of a certain country. Japan’s cuisine is, personally, unparalleled. Actually devouring authentic Japanese cuisine in their country is enough to convince me to find affordable tickets to book a trip soon! They also have several amazing food tours to consider, especially since there are a lot of options to consider. European jet-setters who aim to spice up their evenings can book a pub crawl or one of those insane party tours. It’s both a great and safe way to hang out with your friends, meet other travelers, sample the local drinks, and experience the kind of nightlife you might be hesitant to do here in your home country. From thrill-seekers, mystery-loving folks, to those with unique or quirky interests, the list is limitless as there is now basically a tour for every particular activity you wish to do. A simple google search will do.

My advice is to find the most reputable companies with an established clientele and a solid star rating for that particular service or activity. Splurge for quality and safety. Do not simply book the cheapest ones. Try to schedule it strategically on a day where there is probably fewer people doing the same. And if you have questions about the tour, go email them prior and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the activity before purchase.

5. Boutique Tours

If you want a little bit of the above, and wish to have the perfect travel itinerary, then perhaps an ultra customizable tour (probably made for a millenial traveler) is right up your alley. These tours will tailor fit the kind of travel you wish to have. A seasoned professional trip “designer” can make your travel dreams come true and customize the perfect itinerary for you and your group. You can allow yourself to “be a local” or request for a picnic for two inside a private castle. The tour company can open doors that are usually closed. Of course, this bespoke experience comes at a steep price. I have never tried one, but I bet if I did, it should be worth it.

6. What to consider

During the research process of figuring out what to book, it is important to not only consider your budget. Try to study the pace and length of the tour. Consider the length of time you will spend in transit, either by a bus or a boat. The hours spent in transit is also vacation time lost. Try to use my itinerary planning technique of using Google maps to determine how long it takes to get from one destination to another. If you can afford it, I would suggest considering a private tour for a more intimate setting (unless of course, this is a party tour or some social tour). Always do your research, and if you have any question (no matter how mundane), go ask your tour company/travel agent/website agent before making any purchase.

Image Credits: Riku Lu, Preston Zeller, Pearl Margaret Ganzon, Rubie Ganzon, Josh Wilburne, Ishan (@seefromthesky)