March marks six months on my South American adventure and what an adventure it has been. During this trip I have been able to do more than I ever dreamed, I’ve tried new things, faced fears and developed my skills.
With everything from adrenaline activities to cooking classes, you name it, I’ve probably given it a go. Although the main purpose of these experiences is undoubtedly to enjoy myself and get as much out of my visit as possible, I am pleased to say that trying out different tours and companies has been a learning curve in itself.
I know there is a lot of snobbery within the travel community about organised tours but I can honestly say that the trips I have taken in South America have only enhanced my trip. Some helped me to explore the most talked about attractions while others helped me to get off the beaten track.
In some instances, tours are the only way to visit certain places. The Inca Trail, parts of the Galapagos Islands and North Korea are all examples of places where you must be accompanied by a licensed guide to gain access.
More often than not, the secret to finding a good tour is always with finding a good provider. But with so much competition when it comes to tour agencies, it can be difficult to know who to pick. Here are my top tips for finding a good tour company and getting the most out of your trip!
Know what you are looking for
Different companies specialise in different kinds of experiences for travellers. Some agencies market themselves to those on a luxury budget or visitors of a certain age. Know what kind of tour you are looking for and the type of people you want to be spending it with.
For example, if you are looking for a honeymoon Halong Bay trip, you want to make sure that you are not going to be spending your time on board a crazy party boat crammed with teenagers!
Check the safety record
Depending on the type of trip that you are looking for, you could quite literally be putting your life in someone else’s hands. For worriers like me, this is a huge concern.
A perfect example is flying over the Nasca Lines in Peru. According to World Nomads, after a spate of accidents which actually resulted in travellers dying, there are now stringent precautions in place to ensure passenger safety, including the need to have both a pilot and copilot on every flight.
Always do your research when it comes to safety standards and don’t be afraid to delve into the company’s incident record. Activities like canyoning, zip lining and diving all sound great fun but come with risks. A savvy traveller will always consider what could happen if something went wrong and make sure their operator knows what to do in the worst case scenario.
Go local if you can
When it comes to choosing a good tour company, it is never as black and white as ticking one box. Ideally, you want your agency to be the whole package: good prices, safety record and reputation.
However, if you can choose a company that boasts local guides, then you definitely should (assuming they are not lacking in other important categories).
Local people tend to have more knowledge about the place they are taking travellers to and can negotiate any complications if they are able to speak the native language.
Choosing a company that uses local guides means that your money is far more likely to be invested in local communities. Making sure you know where your money is going is an important part of responsible travel and something that should definitely factor into your considerations.
Find out about the agency’s environmental policies
There is nothing worse than going on a tour to find out that the company are blatantly screwing up the planet. Do your bit to travel more sustainably and only go with companies with a proven track record when it comes to waste disposal and being environmentally friendly.
I was planning a visit to Iquitos in Peru during this trip but when I read that the only boats within my budget were well known for dumping their trash in the river, I reconsidered. It is only by boycotting companies that refuse to care for the planet that we are able to force change.
Reviews, reviews and more reviews
Most importantly, the best way to ascertain whether a company is reputable is to check their reviews. Sites like TripAdvisor are a great place to start, as well as Google and Facebook. Don’t look only at the ratings but actually take the time to read what people have said.
Tourists can be very picky and sometimes leave completely unjustified negative reviews. I was recently volunteering at an animal sanctuary where somebody left a review to complain that a large falcon wouldn’t be reintroduced into the wild. What that person had failed to include within the review was that the falcon only had one eye so it was no longer able to hunt. As a result, it would die in the wild, meaning that captivity was the only option.
By all means, read the opinions left by other travellers but use your own discretion to weed out which accounts are useful and which are not. A good tour company can be a surprisingly subjective thing!
If you think that you have settled on a tour provider, make sure to ask all of your burning questions. Group size, dietary requirements, inclusions… these are all important factors to take into account when booking your tour.
Hidden costs sadly come up often so make sure you know exactly what is included in the price of your tour. You may find entrance fees, meals and alcoholic drinks are not included. Ask how much these extras will cost you and then factor in the price of the tour. Is it still a bargain?
Another good piece of advice is to watch out for the singles supplement. Some companies will try to charge solo travellers more because they do not want to mix groups. Avoid these companies as they are exploiting those who travel alone. There are plenty of alternative operators that will pair single travellers together to help keep costs down for the customer.
How important is your money?
Okay, so there is a simple answer to this question. Money is always important. However, it is important to weigh this against the importance of the trip.
Sadly, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. Companies offering seemingly incredible trips for next to no money nearly always come with a catch. Whether it be accommodation, equipment, guide knowledge or food, there will nearly always be a compromise in order to be able to offer rock bottom prices.
When planning my Machu Picchu trip, I agonised over prices and getting a good deal. In the end, I went with one of the more expensive companies. When making this decision, I asked myself ‘How important is this trip? Would I rather spend more money and have an amazing time or take a gamble on a smaller price tag and end up hating the experience?’
While it isn’t always true that you get what you pay for, this generally isn’t bad advice to live by. Cheaper companies will cut corners for profit and it is the traveller that loses out. Of course, money is important but there is no point in travelling if you cannot allow yourself to splurge occasionally and enjoy what you’ve come to see. Memories are priceless after all.
What are your recommendations for choosing a good tour company?
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