I recently returned from a tour with Gate 1 Travel through Venice, Florence, and Rome in Italy. This was my third time traveling with a tour company, and although I’m a fairly independent traveler I enjoyed it. Several people have asked why they should pony up the extra money to join a group so I wanted to explain why I think it’s worth the price.
Why should you join a tour group?
- Meeting people and having travel companions– even if you’re traveling with someone you love, having other people around sharing the same experiences is nice. You don’t have to hang out together, but you will be happy to see a familiar face when you’re wandering around a foreign country trying to figure out if that is the right train. Most people on a tour speak the same language so communication is easy. Even if you don’t leave with friends, you will at least have someone you trust to get a good picture of you.
- Cut costs– travel groups buy things like hotel rooms in bulk, so they get cheaper rates that you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.
- Local knowledge– there is usually a free tour with a local guide included in these tour packages, who you can ask all your random weirdo questions and find out where you can get that Brazilian soccer ball in Australia.
- Saving time– part of exploring is getting lost, but getting lost in a foreign country can cause excess stress and confusion. I don’t know anyone who has been to a foreign country and has NOT gotten lost. Save yourself the trouble and listen to the guide. They will help you get around and tell you the fastest way to do things (i.e. buy the tickets online first to skip the line) that you would otherwise have to do tons of research to find out.
- Decrease stress– when someone else has to figure out how to get you from point A to point B, it’s a lot less stress on you.
- It’s good for single travelers– if you’re wandering alone for all or part of your trip, this is great venue to meet people and make some new friends
- You will see all the highlights of a city or country with the help of someone who has been there a hundred times– You may think Metro A red line is the best way to get somewhere, but your guide might clue you into the back alley way to get there that costs half as much. They are called local guides for a reason- they know what’s worth seeing and doing and what to skip.
There are different kinds of tours.
- Hosted-This basically means that you will travel with the group, but aren’t obligated to do anything with them. They will probably offer walking tours of the city and the opportunity to ask the local guide questions, but they don’t require you to do anything with the group if you don’t want to.
- Escorted-Better for older people and people who don’t want to waste time wandering around the city, escorted tours are more hands-on. They will take you to landmarks and help you get around. This will mean you will spend more time with the group, but you will see the major highlights of your destinations in this structured tour.
- All-inclusive tours– A luxury for many, all-inclusive tours are as they say – they include everything. This can include airfare, transportation between airports/on trains, meals, hotels, and more.
With all tour groups you can usually choose to purchase airfare as part of the tour or not if you want to extend or shorten your trip. Be careful though, as they may require you to leave on certain days or fly through certain airports. Most tours offer “optional” (read: cost extra) excursions such as a gondola ride in Venice, Italy.
I’ve traveled with 3 groups.
Grand European Tours– On this tour I visited London, Paris, and Rome in 2012. This tour was closer to an escorted tour as they had many optional excursions in which I did not participate. Notably, most of our fellow travelers were closer to retirement age. We had fun, but I felt like we overpaid because we didn’t participate in many group activities.
Tours start at $1699 per person
Contiki– I went on a Contiki Tour (which is geared towards people aged 18-35) when I went to Oktoberfest in September 2014 in Munich, Germany. We stayed in a hostel and had a great time. Normally I’m not the type to like sharing my space- I never lived in a dorm room for a reason- but I enjoyed this trip. My real-life roommate and I ventured to Germany and met a bunch of great people. Contiki is based in Australia, so expect many Aussies and Kiwis (people from New Zealand) on the trip. Oktoberfest itself is a party atmosphere, so we had a great time.
Tours start at $300 per person (not including airfare)
Gate 1 Travel– This was my most recent trip to Italy. We purchased a Groupon for $1500 for this trip after I did tons of research on the company. We had a great time on this hosted tour, participating in 2/3 of the free walking tours. I was very skeptical but mainly decided to purchase this because a colleague of mine had done an Ireland tour with them and had a great time. We paid about half of what it would normally cost, so this was a huge cost savings. However, we only had about 10 dates to pick from (most of which were in the winter) so you are more limited. The tour itself was just like the other tours I’ve been on.
Before you write off daily deal website tours, be sure to read their reviews and see if it’s the real thing. It goes without saying that you should check reviews on any website that does NOT belong to the tour group itself.
Lost on what kind of tour? Check out Rick Steves’ guide to choosing a tour.