Booking a tour is equal parts exciting and nerve wracking. Tours aren’t just a financial investment, they’re also vacation time commitment, so today I want to walk you through five questions you should ask yourself before booking a tour.
These questions will not only help you choose the right tour but also book confidently when the time comes to push that buy button (or if you’re working with a travel agent, give them the thumbs up to go ahead with the purchase).
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As you’re planning your next tour, take the time to ask yourself the following five questions. They’re fun, serious, and illuminating, and chances are they’ll become a regular part of your trip planning.
1. What’s my idea of a perfect tour?
Before you get concrete and start researching specific tours and itineraries, spend some time daydreaming about what a perfect tour would look like. The point of this exercise isn’t to set your expectations up for perfection (that’s never a good plan when it comes to travel), it’s to give yourself a structure that will allow you to figure out what’s most important to you.
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When you imagine the perfect tour, is it in a small group or large? Are you non-stop sightseeing, lingering over elaborate meals, or mixing group activities with independent time to explore on your own? Since there really are so many types of Europe tours, for example, taking the time to tap into your essential hopes about a trip is an incredibly useful way to guide your research.
2. What’s my pace?
This is a big one and will make or break your experience. You’ll have the best time if you match your preferred pace to the right tour, since tours vary drastically in how fast-moving and physically demanding they can be.
Do you want to pack as much into every waking moment as you possibly can? Are you up for long walks and activities like bike riding? Do you prefer to go on one shorter outing a day, and maybe spend more time just sitting and soaking up the scenery?
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When you’re looking at the pace of tours, you’ll need to check on two aspects. Most tour companies rate the physical activity of tours; for instance, Road Scholar sorts its tours by activity level, and OAT has a detailed Physical Requirements section for each tour that outlines the general pace.
The other thing to note is how many activities and how much moving around is scheduled into the days. Most tours are geared toward people who want to do and see a lot, so if you prefer a mellower pace, consider an option like a river cruise (where you can stay on the ship and relax if you want to opt out of an activity), a tour such as a Smithsonian Cultural Stay that uses a city as its home base so you’re not moving from place to place, or simply a tour that is specifically less active like Road Scholar’s At a Slower Pace tours.
3. What are my priorities?
As the tour industry has grown over the last decade, tour companies have become increasingly creative about the tours they offer. There are still plenty of coach tours that hit the biggest sites in a country, but there are also tours that take a different approach.
You can find off-the-beaten path tours (great if you’ve already been somewhere and want to go a little deeper), culinary tours that highlight the food and cooking of a region (and often include a cooking classes along the way), and tours that focus on a particular lens such as history or nature.
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Before you default to traditional sightseeing, think about what you actually want out of a visit to a destination. Would it mean more to you to see a rare bird than a famous museum? If it does, you know it’s time to adjust your search.
4. What are my specific needs and limitations?
This ties in a lot with the questions you’ve already answered above, but for anyone with a medical condition, a physical challenge, or a cognitive impairment (or anyone traveling with someone with any of these), you’ll need to honestly assess each option through the lens of: Will it bring me joy? And, can I actually do this?
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Pushing yourself a bit is part of travel, but only to a certain extent. After a point, you move from rising to a challenge to finding yourself in potentially dangerous territory. Answering this question is something that only you (sometimes with the help of a loved one or medical professional) can answer, and it will help you find the right tour experience for you right now.
5. What tour companies do I feel confident booking with?
You want to be sure you’re signing up with a company you can trust with your money, your safety, and your travel experience. Inspired by questions from TourScoop readers, we regularly profile trustworthy tour companies. (This is an ongoing project for us, so if you don’t see a particular tour company it doesn’t mean they’re not credible, simply that we haven’t gotten to profiling them yet!).
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Other ways of choosing a tour company you feel comfortable with include asking friends and families what tour companies they’ve been happy with, and looking at a tour company’s rating on a site like Feefo or, if they’re accredited by the BBB, their accreditation score.