I have some thoughts around booking tours. With the Internet being such a strong player in planning a trip these days, tour sometimes become a default way to see things simply because after you buy your filghts and book your hotel, you’re excited and you start Googling for sights seeing and all that. What comes up? Tours.
In our experience, some things we have found you need to book while others we found you can save money by not booking things. In general I don’t like to be hearded around on a bus all that much, so I like to tour selectively. Basically, if the tour doesn’t provide you access you can’t get otherwise, or information you couldn’t get otherwise, I’d bypass the tour and visit on your own. That’s just me. Bypassing a tour can save money and sometimes you can get a more intimate look at whatever you are visiting. If you can get by without booking tours, you can maximize flexibility in your holiday as well. Not bookings means you can go with the flow and follow the weather and other such factors.
What about cost?
One of the big things we found is that those companies who are paying to run websites with booking features have a higher bottom line. Makes sense. The up side is that you might want to have everything explained to you and these tour companies are great at taking you places and telling you all about them. But it costs to have comfortable buses with knowledgeable tour guides that you can book with a snazzy website. So my advice is to think about what kind of experience you want before you book a tour. Sometimes tours get access that you can’t get on your own, so that’s something to consider. For example, a cave visit almost always had some kind of guide and has to be booked. Unless your into spelunking, you just can’t safely visit a cave; especially with kids.
What about the Grand Canyon on the other hand? The primary reason to visit the Grand Canyon is to see it. You’ll want to stand slack-jawwed at its edge and imagine, against your will, what falling into it might be like. All of this you can do on your own. Unless maybe you want to fly over it in which case you probably need to book something, but then we are kind of talking about access again. You probably don’t need a guide though. If you want to know all about the history of the place or the physical stats, you might want a guide but then you can probably get all of this from a visit to an interpretive centre too.
What about travel?
A car rental which can be shared by four adults is only $60 a day, so at $15 a head, you’d have to be on a pretty inexpensive tour to be able to beat that travel cost. So again, unless they limit access to the place to tours only, you are going to save money to take yourself. Further to this, is you can take little detours and visit places on the way. Something a tour bus may never take the time to do. For example, when we visited New Zealand in 2009, we rented a car for the trip from Invercargill to Christchurch on the south island. On the south island there is a main highway between Invercargill and Christchurch but if you go to Google Maps and zoom way in, you’ll see there is a far more intriguing road that runs right along the east coast. It’s really windy and sometimes it was gravel, but we saw lots of coast line and small villages. I’d bet it was a far more interesting drive than the highway would have been.
What about safety?
Here is topic for which the tours win out. If you are touring a place that can have hidden dangers, you might want to be on a tour. The guide will know how to do it safely. This would be the case for the cave example I gave, but safety is a factor when considering things like a Safari, or a river trip. Guide know when its time to get off the river and they know which animals might be unpredictable. So unless you have some training in a area, you might want to bring along someone to help. Especially if you are touring with kids.
So when should you you take tours?
A tour can have some advantages. Wine tours come to mind. Built in designated drivers! Of course there is also the comfort you get from a big coach and the fact that you can sleep or read instead of drive, which might be an attractive feature of a tour. Then you also have the guide which can provide information that you want, but I submit this is only helpful for tours to certain kinds of places.
Don’t limit yourselves
So when planning a trip and considering tours, think about some of the above and remember that not everything worth seeing in a place has a website attached with someone selling a tour. If you only saw things on you vacations through the windows of a tour bus, you would most certainly be missing out on some of what a place has to offer. So unless information is key, or danger looms around every corner, or you drink a lot, or you want to simply pay to be driven, I think you should consider self-tours.