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On Group Tours

If you’re planning on trying out traveling on a group tour, a good start is using one of the major tour companies as a peg, and going from there*

*This is mostly for people traveling from the Philippines, but the general stuff could be applicable to anyone who’s thinking of this type of thing~ :)

*Land tours, not cruises or adventure tours

Some Major Tour Companies & Their General Profile

Insight Vacations - booked through Rajah Travel Corporation in the Philippines - First class tours, usually the most expensive

Trafalgar Tours - booked through Pan Pacific Travel Corporation in the Philippines - First class tours with several low cost alternative tours (i’ll explain below), usually a good balance between first class and low cost

Globus - booked through Baron Travel Corporation in the Philippines - also First class and one of the most expensive; Globus’ low cost version is Cosmos

Cosmos Tours - also booked through Baron Travel Corporation - Globus’ low cost tour company, usually cheapest but missing lots of inclusions (i’ll explain below)

(Insight & Trafalgar are actually sister companies under the same umbrella, The Travel Corporation. Contiki and other familiar companies are also sisters)

Insight

 

Insight is usually the most expensive of the lot. Note that the marked price difference between each tour company is not necessarily in the quality of the tour or the number of places you go to, but in the hotels you stay at and number of included meals. You’ll notice that Insight usually uses a lot more Big Name hotels like Hyatt, Hilton, Radisson, Swissotel, Mariott, Conrad, and so on. Big Names do not mean best location, though. A lot of the time these hotels are located outside of the city centers and so walking at night might not be an option. Also, depending on the country or places you visit, hotels won’t always be Big Name ones (ie when going to small towns, it is possible that the best hotel there is actually a motel sort of place), or tour companies may opt to choose hotels based on capacity because group tours usually bring 30-50 people. Insight tour directors have been great so far (we’ve gone on a USA one and my sister has gone on a Europe one).

Trafalgar

  

Trafalgar is our most usual option. Usually it falls somewhere in the middle of a superior class and a low cost tour, and so far we’ve never really had any problems with them. Trafalgar is a first class touring option, but not a “superior” first class like Insight is, its more expensive sister. It is not a budget tour either. Again, don’t be fooled by the classes, because the tours are all essentially alike, differing usually in the hotels you stay at or the tour and meal inclusions. Trafalgar is a pretty good middle ground because it’s affordable enough that it gives you value for your money (sometimes Insight prices are quite exorbitant), while giving you the luxuries of first class travel—hotels are usually a mix of named and semi-named hotels. In certain cases, as with most, location is given priority over a hotel’s number of stars, but it’s a good compromise.

Low Cost Trafalgar

Trafalgar’s low cost brochure is essentially the same bunch of tours but with less named hotels and usually less sights included. What this means cost-wise is that you get a lower base price for the tour compared to the first class Trafalgar, with the freedom to add on the optional tours as your budget allows. Basically, if you go on all the optional tours that would give you the same itinerary as the first class version, you’re pretty much paying the same price. For example, a first class 10-day tour of Country X is USD2,750, while a low cost 10-day tour of Country X is USD2,250. The case, usually, is that the low cost tour will just make into optional tours some of the sights that are included in the price of the first class tour. So for USD2,750 you visit 10 sites, while in the USD2,250 tour 6 sites are included, and 4 are optional. I hope I explained that right. Hahaha

Globus

 

I have never been on a Globus tour, but its price range is nearer to Insight, and it is also the first class alternative of Cosmos.

Cosmos

 

Cosmos is the budget/low cost tour class of the Globus family of tours, and while I haven’t been on one, my family’s actually trying Cosmos next year when we do the Central Europe tour (we still prefer Trafalgar actually because we would also get a frequent traveler discount on top of a group discount, but the departure dates just didn’t work for us). My cousin’s been on around 2 Cosmos tours though, and she said it was great, so at least I can breathe a little easier on that front. When comparing tours, Cosmos is usually the most misleading for me. This is because they usually print the cheapest prices, but they exclude a lot of the sights. Meaning, if you compare a Country X tour of Cosmos with a Country X tour of Trafalgar, and you add up the prices of all the optional tours you have to go on with a Cosmos tour to match the same itinerary as that of its Trafalgar equivalent, Trafalgar sometimes comes out cheaper. Or the price difference between a low cost Cosmos and a first class Trafalgar is so little that you’d opt to go with the first class tour instead. Also, Cosmos does not have complimentary hotel/airport transfers, so it’s an additional USD200 per person for a roundtrip to the airport, whereas Trafalgar and Insight tours include it.

Common Terminology: SEE vs VISIT

Almost all of the brochures, you’ll notice, are pretty wordy, and go on and on in flowery sentences about all the wonderful countries and places you’ll get to experience. Don’t be fooled though, once you’re on tour, when you just see a castle from inside the bus or if a palace is just pointed out in the middle of a walking tour. You might argue that the brochures said you would get to go to those places in the itinerary, but these tour companies will tell you that the brochures state if you will just “SEE" a place (meaning you literally just see it or pass by it or spot it from a distance without actually going inside) or actually "VISIT" a place (meaning you actually get off the bus and do a proper visit of the site. There are also "ORIENTATIONS" which usually mean walking tours with a local guide, ie an orientation of a medieval city. We usually type up or jot down a quick table of what sights are "SEEN" or "VISITED" so that we won’t be under any illusions while on tour. You can also compare the SEEs and VISITs for parallel tours among the different tour companies to see which tour will give you the most value for your money. Sometimes the cheaper tours have more SEEs than VISITs, so you want to be careful with those.

OPTIONAL TOURS

In order to give you some free time, tour companies usually allot a number of hours for going on optional tours, which you can opt to join or opt to spend on your own, exploring the city or getting some extra shuteye. Optional tours range from cultural shows to walking tours to local meals and the like, and prices vary quite a bit. Usually tours which are packaged with a meal will cost more because they jack up the price of the meal, but in actuality the cost of the show or cruise is not that high. For example—a cruise only option is 35EUR, but it becomes 60EUR with a meal. And usually the meals aren’t even that good. In some cases, tour directors will allow you to cut out the meal, so always ask. Also, a list of optional tours is usually made available online so it’s best to do a bit of research on them so you know what to spend for. Sometimes the tour description sounds great but it turns out to be a tourist trap. It doesn’t hurt to do a bit of Googling :)

MEALS + ACCOMMODATIONS

While this is really dependent on the country you visit, most tours include all breakfasts and most meals, give or take a few. For example, in the Best of Turkey tour, all breakfasts and almost all dinners were covered, so you really just had to spend for lunch, which was usually at a traditional cafe in a gas station or pitstop where we would stop in the middle of the day. But for some other tours, such as a multi-country Europe tour or the Best of Italy tour we went on, all breakfasts and only a handful of dinners were covered, so you still had to spend for most dinners and all of your lunches. This can be a cramp in your budget considering that meals in Europe, especially the big touristy cities like Paris and London, don’t come cheap! Don’t think that going fastfood is going to improve your budget though—fastfood chains are really expensive too. The best thing to do is to stock up on food from breakfast! (Sneaky and a bit embarassing, but everyone does it—only not everyone admits it!)

There are a lot more topics to tackle but I think this bunch is a good start. Feel free to ask me anything else! :D Attempting sage wisdom.

Logos & brochure covers were Googled. Tour photos by my sister, Stephanie: Canon 450D + 10-22mm + 24-70mmL; post-processed by me; from our Best of Italy tour with Trafalgar

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