This is Part 3 of 3 in the Everything You Need to Know About Travel Tours series. Part 1 started off with an introduction to travel tours. Part 2 elaborated on what to look for in a tour. In this post, I will cover where I go to book tours and walk through a practical example for an upcoming trip.
(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links from an affiliate marketing network, which means I may receive a small commission if you purchase using the links. )
Where to Book Tours?
I book most of my tours through Viator.com (subsidiary of TripAdvisor)
Viator is a reputable tour distributor specializing in travel tours; this means they are not tour operators themselves. They aggregate the tour options.
- They vet tour operators, so it gives me confidence that things are more likely to work out.
- Because they specialize in tours, they have more tour options.
- The website is very easy to use. It has detailed descriptions, a list of inclusions and exclusions for each tour, clear cancellation policies, and reviews.
- The hand-off to tour operators is seamless once booking is completed.
Another common way of finding tour is through word-of-mouth referrals. Generally, I prefer guides and/or drivers who are affiliated with a reputable company or network. It ensures a minimum level of quality and proper licensing as checks and balances, and more importantly, it gives me a better peace of mind if issues arise.
PUTTING IT IN PRACTICE: BEIJING, CHINA
I am looking to do a tour for an upcoming trip to Beijing with my family. Following Part 2 of this series, I researched and got my shortlist of attractions, listed in the order of priority:
- Great Wall of China
- Olympic Sites (Birds Nest and Water Cube)
- Forbidden City
- Tiananmen Square
- Temple of Heaven or Summer Palace (optional)
IDENTIFYING TRAVEL TOUR CANDIDATES
I plugged these places into Google Maps to get a better sense of how far these attractions are from our base in Wangfujing. I quickly decided that two of them are good tour candidates:
- The Great Wall of China: I am most interested in visiting the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, which is about an hour and a half from our base. I’m eyeing a full-day tour, simply because the roundtrip travel time will take 3 hours out of the day.
- The Olympic Sites/Park: Getting to the Olympic sites will take a few transfers, so this attraction seems to pair well with the Great Wall outing.
Both Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City are of walk-able distance from Wangfujing, so we could do leisurely strolls at these attractions on our own.
The Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace are both situated a bit further away. Given our limited time in Beijing, we will likely opt for visiting one of the two sites. The Temple of Heaven seems to be easily reachable by subway systems. The Summer Palace is further away and may be better as a tour option if time allows.
I’ve narrowed down the two attractions I want the tour to include: Great Wall at Mutianyu and Olympics Sites. That was easy!
NARROWING DOWN TO THE RIGHT TOUR
Given our short stopover in Beijing, I am interested in a small group tour or a private tour. With these parameters in mind, I browsed through Viator and found 4 tours that matched my exact needs. They all include hotel pickup and drop-off. Two of the tours include a shopping stop. One is to a factory stop and the other is a tea ceremony stop, neither of which I’m interested in. I put the options out to my family for a quick vote: Save money or save time?
The vote was unanimous. Time IS money. We want the tour to work for us, and not the other way around. We are skipping the shopping stops.
What remains are two options: a small group or a private tour. (We decided to go with the private tour)
The heavy lifting of the research is done. Admittedly, the planning is far more structured than usual because there are very specific places we want to visit. With limited time, I’m not as interested in a more “general” group tour.
Being the neurotic travel planner that I am, I will run a similar search on Expedia and on the web just to see what else is out there. The process is the same, but the good news is that I know there are two options that matched exactly to what I need!
Do you take a similar approach to travel planning, or do you just pick a random tour and “hope for the best”?