For all the wonderful reasons I outlined in Part 1 – that tell you to get on that group bus and go – there are a few curly cons (minus the orange jumpsuit) that you should be wary of first. You may notice that some of the pro’s of a tour are also a double edged sword and also end up on the negative no’s no’s of why not to tour.
People are one of those sneaky little double edged daggers. People are a huge part of what makes travel amazing but it’s not all sunshine, rainbows and BFF’S. Unless you are THE zen master – people will piss you off. Very few can take every kind of personality and on any tour, you are bound to find a fellow traveller who will rub you the wrong way. It might be the self proclaimed lothario – aiming to end up in as many pants as possible – or the high maintenance, melodramatic drama queen. It might be the ever present pessimist, the insta obsessed or that one person who simply doesn’t know how to shut the mother flying fudge monkeys up. I say it now; if you are not a tolerant person – you may find after being confined for 12 hours in a bus full of people, this ‘con’ might turn you into one, jumpsuit and all.
Tours are adapting to their target audience and as such, the days are less structured than they used to be but make no mistake – you have an itinerary and you will keep to it. You find a small town you adore and want to stay longer? Too bad, so sad. Whirlwind romance with a local? Hasta la vista baby. A set itinerary is not for those who live vicariously from one moment to the next. You know what you will be doing tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after… you get the point.
You will ALWAYS be able to travel independently for cheaper than a tour – I can’t guarantee the quality, level of comfort or inclusions of that independence but it can be done. You might be sleeping in the street, but it can be done. It all boils down to how well researched a tour is, and whether it is the right one for you – but you will pay more for a service – which is exactly what a tour is. You don’t ask the hairdresser for a cut and then decide to pay her after you’ve decided how much you like it (if only). You are being charged for absolving yourself of any responsibility. You are paying for convenience – make sure you know how much you place in worth on that convenience.
Price is all about benefits. Weighing up what is included vs what isn’t. We’re all mad about price and we want the most for our buck, and sometimes we don’t get the best value despite all the best intentions. Price is about knowing what you want and understanding the value of what you want. Very few actually ever consider that the value of an experience is 100% personal. Skydiving in the Swiss Alps is 100% the best experience EVER… unless you’re afraid of heights or flying or don’t care for scenery. In which case, it’s worthless. Or, visiting 45 churches in Europe when you’re an atheist. A $15 room in Bali – shared with rats. It’s all relative and as such, so is the price.
This one goes hand in hand with the itinerary factors. It depends on the tour operators, but certainly itineraries that pack a lot in a short amount of time, won’t allow for a lot of free time. For some this isn’t an issue – but the for the traveller who likes to explore the alleyways and wander wherever their feet take them; this can be a problem. If you only have a short period of time to see it all, you can tick of the sights bam! bam! bam! and on your way you go. For those that like to peruse; to find the lesser known gems – you’ll need a Tardis to find the time.
Oh the cuisine. Pick the right tour and you’ll have food experiences that blow your mind. From local homestay dishes eaten in banana leaves on a hut floor, to Michelin star dining – they are some exceptional experiences to be had. However, pick the wrong tour and it will buffet after buffet, day after day. A large tour group can’t just pop into a cafe. More to the point, that will take nine million years to order and thats not even taking into account dietary requirements or wrong orders. Price also comes into play here and inclusions; generally the more pricey, the better the inclusions – which translates into better meals. It can mean the difference between a crushed salad sandwich and squid ink tagliatelle. I know which I prefer.
There is a movement towards small group touring for reasons like the buffet nightmare in the paragraph above. Group sizing is important for more than just food; how long does it take 50 people to get a photo of the Eiffel Tower? Or the Hollywood Walk of Fame? I’ll give you a hint; 4 times longer than a group of 12. 50 times longer than a solo mission. Let’s not forget multiple poses or filters. Alternatively any man’s nightmare; a loo stop. Two words; women’s bladders. What about catching the train? Fitting 50 people in the same carriage? I don’t think so. Or 50 people who have just done a walking tour in 40 degree heat, squashed back onto a bus. Oh the aroma. Understanding the maximum capacity for a tour is important, because the company WILL put that many on the tour if it can.
This one is pretty straightforward; for most tour companies, many departure dates are offered for one pure and simple reason; to get as many people to commit to the company as possible. Sneakily so, not all departures are always guaranteed – which can throw quite the spanner in the works when, 6 weeks out for departure, your tour is no longer running. You don’t know it, but you agreed to that risk when you popped down your deposit and didn’t read the fine print or you weren’t advised by your travel agent (which can happen). You can live large and book your airfares and the rest of your travel plans before getting a guarantee confirmation – but it will hurt when you get hit with change and cancellation fees for the other components of your travel when the tour is a no go. Once a tour is guaranteed – it can’t be revoked for not meeting capacity targets. If possible, always go a guaranteed departure. Risking it often isn’t worth the biscuit.
Sharing and Single Supplements.
They say sharing is caring. Perhaps they mean caring is how best to smother your snoring room mate. If you can’t share, seriously reconsider a tour. You will likely be sharing a room with a random (if travelling solo) or paying a hefty singly supplement (which is the charge an operator will deliver if you intend to take up a room that could have housed another. In other words; profit yo.) You’ll be sharing a bus seat. A dinner reservation. A bathroom. Moments you’ve been dreaming about for your entire life – Abu Simbel or Buckingham Palace – annnnnd moments you’d rather were a dream; vomitting numerous jagerbombs after a Prague pub crawl. Sharing your travel is often what makes travelling so magical. You build bonds with kindred spirits and imprint memories to you heart that will last a lifetime. You’ll also never forget the time you slept in the corridor because there was a sock on the door.
The key to any tour is to be educated. Understand what you want and how much that want is actually worth – dollar and personal value included. If you skimp on the basic inclusions, then basic is at best what you are going to get. If you make it rain with dollar, dollar bills – then you’ll be treated like the luxury lover you are.
There are many tour con’s or maybe con-tours (too cheeky? Ha!) that are also pro’s. But that is typical of anything in life – so I am sure you’ll figure out what you value most.
So there you have it – the con’s all done and dusted, fingerprints and all.