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2 notes &

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

Filed under big group cosmos family globus group tour insight land tour tour touring trafalgar travel traveler traveling traveller travelling travels vacation travel planning plan a trip trip vacation vacay tour bus europe usa

1 note &

"Group Tour" Myths

One of the things people debate about when planning a trip abroad is whether to go “ON YOUR OWN (OYO)” or “WITH A BIG TOUR COMPANY (WABTC)”. I felt like writing about this particular topic because I’ve encountered so many people who’ve dissed and talked badly about traveling on a group tour because of supposed “myths” they’ve heard around the grapevine, when actually, traveling WABTC is not that bad at all.

As a preamble, here are some of the myths I’ve gathered from said skeptics:

  1. "Westerners" are rude and leave us "Asians" behind
  2. Your tourmates are unfriendly and smelly
  3. Discrimination against us (“Asians”)
  4. It’s cheaper to go on your own
  5. Wake up calls are too early
  6. You won’t be able to do what you want
  7. And worst of all, there’s no bathroom onboard

Now mind you, these are just some of what I’ve been hearing from friends, acquaintances, random people in travel expos, and so on. I may be no expert, but I think I’ve been on enough of each kind of travel (OYO and WABTC) to have some sort of say on the matter.

In my years of mild jetsettedness (Around 15 years give or take—I don’t think you can count the first few years because I barely remember any travel from when I was very young), I’ve been on four multi-day group tours (Insight in the US, twice Trafalgar in Europe, and Trafalgar in Turkey), a handful or so of group day tours (Local companies in Australia, and a guided visit in Cambodia), and loads of travel OOO (ON OUR OWN) too.

So just to insert my two cents out there, here’s my reply to those myths:

"Westerners" are rude and leave us "Asians" behind

Not true. A lot of our tourmates come from different parts of the world, and not just the typical “Westerner” you may picture in your head. Although majority of our tourmates often come from Canada, the US and Australia, we also get to travel with people from India, South Africa, Ireland, and more! And while it does take a while to get acclimated to the mix of different cultures and personalities, we’ve never encountered a single “rude” person, and they most certainly have never left “Asians” behind. You have to understand that in a group tour, everyone has to be considerate of everyone else, and the tour operates on a tight schedule. You might get left behind if you’ve shown up shamelessly late at meeting points, but they always have someone wait for you to escort you to the bus or to the next “pitstop”, and this sort of policy most certainly does not apply to just “Asians”—only to “inconsiderate douches”.

Your tourmates are unfriendly and smelly

Again, we have never encountered anyone unfriendly/rude. In fact, we have never encountered anyone “smelly” either—and odor is so subjective, is it not? Our tour coaches (buses) were always in tiptop shape and smelling perfectly neutral (unless food’s onboard, of course). But odor aside, what you’ll be surprised to discover is that most people try to learn as much as they can about other people’s cultures. Depending on how you take it, it could come off as nosy or pesky, but really with good intentions at heart. I myself am a pretty reserved person, especially with a group of strangers who are more outgoing and openly chatty than me. But you also have to remember that you are in a group of curious minds, and they have probably never met anyone from where you’re from, and vise versa. So if you embrace that, you’ll find that their curiosity is really coming from a place of genuine interest.

Discrimination against us (“Asians”)

Bollocks. There is always the unwritten rule that we should be considerate of everyone and be open to embracing other cultures—otherwise, why travel?

It’s cheaper to go on your own

Not necessarily. Most tours run at about USD75-150 a day, which includes accommodations, all breakfasts, some lunches, some dinners, fees for the included attractions, porterage fees, etc. Which is not expensive at all compared to what you would be paying for accommodations on your own.

*Some first class tours or tours to certain destinations like South America can run up to around USD500 a day

Now, as with everything, price is dependent on the situation/nature of your travel. Some people opt to go full on budget travel mode—staying in hostels or friends’ apartments, going sparse on the most basic food, and so forth. Whereas some people turn their noses up at “group tours” and would rather chill out al fresco in a cafe than go walking around all day. If you are either of these, then group touring is most likely not for you.

Wake up calls are too early

Early, most of the time, yes, but not unreasonably so. Wake up calls are usually around 6-9am, with time alloted for breakfast. This may be too early for some people, but you have to remember that in a tour, they are also trying to give you more bang for your buck, so getting an early start is really more cost efficient for you.

You won’t be able to do what you want

Contrary to what people think, touring actually is more flexible than it seems. Apart from the included excursions and sights on your tour itinerary, there are several optional tours you can take on your own volition. And if you choose not to go on them, the time is yours to do whatever. Also, there are hardly any touring things done at night, so going for a nighttime stroll and such is definitely a possibility. Sure, you won’t have as much leisure time as you would if you were on your own, but it is a bit of a compromise to be able to go to more places in a shorter amount of time. Again, it’s sort of like a condensed, “introductory” visit, with an option for you to extend your stay on your own afterward, or for you to plan your next visit to whichever place you wish to return to.

And worst of all, there’s no bathroom onboard

Major tour companies (Insight, Trafalfar, Globus) have facilities onboard. This is pretty much a must because you’re traveling by bus for hours at a time. If you’re iffy about using the onboard restroom though, there are  scheduled pitstops every 2-3 hours in gas stations or restaurants, but be prepared to pay up because most of them charge for use of the facilities.

Personally, we usually combine a tour with some time OOO—for example, when we went to Italy in 2010, we took a 13-day tour around Italy, and then another 10 days in Rome on our own. Touring can help open up locations and towns that you may never choose to visit OYO, but they can turn out to be some of the most beautiful places to visit. Going with a group has its benefits, but it also requires a bit of compromise.

On the plus side, you will be relieved of the headache of looking for accommodations for each city you visit, and you’ll have a go-to guide and translator with you onboard. You often skip the lines for busy sights like the Colosseo or museums, and there are added perks of having local tour guides share their insider knowledge with you. No need to pore over pages and pages of text online to try to plan out what to do and how you get there, because you’ll have your trusty tour bus all day, and you can leave your stuff onboard, like extra bottles of water or an extra coat.

Downsides of course include having to make nice and be cheery with a bunch of strangers, which, to one as antisocial as myself, is really a chore, but in the end, you learn a lot from them and their respective countries too. The early days and late nights of course can be tiresome, but when you think about all that you were able to see and accomplish that day, the wee bit of tiredness is really worth it.

Touring is not for everyone, but as I’ve said, it can be a great introduction for future reference or trips you plan on taking. It’s not always the cheapest option, but you have to do the costing and weigh the cost against the benefits you get as well as the headache you save yourself from. You also have to take into consideration where you’re going, if you even need a tour at all (tours are especially helpful for visiting non-English-speaking countries), and when you’re going (there are usually big discounts if you book at an expo, or in the low season).

Also check among the different tour companies. Usually traveling with a major one like Insight (which also owns Trafalgar), Globus (which also owns Cosmos), Brendan (an affiliate of Trafalgar I think), and the like, will be safer, as they are more established and also are more professional and organized. I’m not too much a fan of joining local tours going abroad, because part of the group tour experience is getting to know people from other countries and their cultures too. Also, local tours’ fees are not cheaper, and in fact a lot of the time are more expensive than major companies.

Look through brochures for touring styles and routes that appeal to you and go to where you want to go. The major companies usually have the exact same tours in their arsenal, but with slight differences in hotels, meals, order of visits, etc. They also differ in price—Insight is usually the most expensive, as well as Globus. Trafalgar falls in the upper mid-range, while the low-cost Trafalgar brochure is a bit cheaper. Cosmos is the low cost version of Globus. Don’t be fooled by the price, though, because sometimes a Trafalgar tour can come out cheaper than a Cosmos one, depending on what sights they’ve included, how much their optional tours are, what meals are included, what hotels they stay at, etc. It helps to do a table of sorts (this is what my OC sister does, btw. hahaha) to be able to compare similar tours across different tour companies.

In short, do your research! :)

Photos of our tour itinerary & bus from our Trafalgar tours to Italy, and Turkey: Canon 450D + 10-22mm

If you have questions/comments, please do drop a line! I’m no pro, but I’m glad to share my own experiences from traveling and to learn what you know as well :)

Filed under group tour group tours tour companies travel traveling traveler tour trafalgar cosmos globus insight topdeck contiki