Group Tours Vs Solo Travel

Everything Your Tour Guide Wants You to Know Before You Travel

So you’ve booked your trip, taken leave from work and saving hard for your next trip of a lifetime. It’s around this time you’ll start to have many questions about what happens on tour.

Travel to: Europe

During my nine years on the road as a tour guide in Europe, the most important part of any adventure is being prepared, and I have come to believe that having realistic expectations about your trip is one of the most important things you can do to ensure an amazing experience. But how do you know what to expect when it’s your first time on tour?

To help keep your mind at ease, these are the most popular questions that almost every single passenger would ask me on day one of every tour. So, to save you the concern or queries, this is your complete guide featuring everything your tour guide wants you to know before you travel.

Are you ready for a touring adventure of a lifetime?  

two girls travelling

What happens if I miss the coach?

People who are generally punctual should never be concerned about missing the coach and it’s important to understand that passengers are never left behind, but sometimes a passenger misses the coach. The truth is, the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few and if you’re a punctual person, I’m sure you agree.

If it’s just a trip back to the hotel, simply make your own way via public transit or taxi. If neither are available, ask for help from a local. In the very worst case if you miss a journey from one city to the next, ask the hotel reception for assistance as to how to make your way to meet with the group and contact your tour guide or the tour company to let them know your plans – they’ll be worried about you!

Tip: Set your watch forward by 5 or 10 minutes – it’s much harder to be late this way!

Will I have my tour guide’s phone number?

Some tour companies have a policy that their tour guide must provide a phone number for their guests, but not all of them do. Sometimes, it is also up to the individual tour guide. What we can recommend, is you keep your hotel list with you which is usually provided with your travel documents, or upon joining the tour.

The hotel’s phone number is the best way to get in touch with your tour guide if you find yourself stuck, or you can also call the operator’s emergency phone number or your booking agent in case of emergency.

How do I know where to meet my group at the start of my tour?

This information is shared either on your tour voucher or trip notes. It’s usually in the hotel lobby at 9 am, but if you don’t have this information in your tour documentation, ask at reception upon arrival as your tour guide will usually post a notice in the foyer or leave a note for you at the reception. Also, look out for other travellers also wandering around looking kind of lost because they’re probably going to be joining your tour.

When should I arrive in the city where my tour starts?

Some tours begin in the morning, but many will start in the evening. If the tour begins in the morning, you should arrive the day before and stay overnight in, or nearby the tour hotel. If your tour begins in the evening, you can comfortably arrive on the same day – just check the itinerary first.

It’s best to look for a flight which arrives around midday, as by the time you get to the hotel, you should be able to check in and most hotels worldwide, will allow check-in around 2 pm. If you arrive earlier and want to explore the city on your own, most hotels will allow their guests to store luggage at the hotel before check-in. If in doubt, just ask.

How will I find my way around in my free time? What if I get lost?

Navigating a foreign city on your own can be daunting, but often results in some of your best travel stories. You have many options to find your way around, including city maps (available at most hotel receptions and tourist info centres for free if not provided by your tour guide), guidebooks, metro maps (found in metro stations) and good old Google maps.

If you don’t have data on your phone, you’ll be happy to know many destinations offer numerous cafes, bars and other public spaces with free Wi-Fi where you can download an offline map. It’s also a good trick to ‘star’ or favourite your hotel, or the coach meeting point and time on your map wither it’s digital, or on paper.

Also, ask for directions. Locals are often very friendly, so even if you don’t speak the language and they don’t speak yours, pointing to a place on the map is a universal language. If you speak English, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised as to how many people in popular destinations are able to speak a little too if you need it. Simply ask your waiter or a shopkeeper and you’ll be on your way in no time!

Something people also tend to forget, is there are taxis everywhere. If you need to get to the meeting point in a hurry and it’s a bit too far to walk, or you want to head back to the hotel and have had enough of public transit, jump in a taxi and show the driver your map.

What about laundry?

Depending on the length of your trip, I would always recommend avoiding needing to do laundry while on tour. For small, light items, you might like to hand-wash them during a 2 night stop, or perhaps your hotel has a laundry service, which although usually expensive, is a 24-hour turn-around and very convenient.

Your tour guide may be able to direct you to a laundromat if there is one nearby, but who wants to spend their vacation doing laundry?

Should I bring cash or cards?

Cash machines are easily found in most locations but check first, what fees your bank is charging you for withdrawals or purchases. It’s always a good idea to have some cash on you, but less is better! Best to check out travel card options where you can withdraw when you want in the local currency

What sort of people will be on the trip?

Lovers of travel, just like you! Some tour groups are open age, others are restricted, for example to youth travel aged 18-39 or exclusively for families with children. Tours are sold globally, so you’ll usually have a good mix of nationalities on your tour, but you’ve likely booked an English language tour, so you’ll probably find the majority of your group come from countries where English is the native language. Tours are popular with solo travellers, but also with groups of friends and also couples.

What if I have particular dietary requirements?

Communication is the key when it comes to anything you need while on tour and dietary requirements are no exception. Your booking agent will communicate to the tour operator, any information you’ve outlined at the time of booking so your tour guide should already be aware of your request.

Nonetheless, it’s always best to touch base again with your tour guide on day one when you join the tour. Requirements such as gluten-free, no red meat and vegan are all very common requests and can be easily catered for in most destinations. You can download multi-lingual cards on the internet which you print and keep in your wallet in order to overcome language barriers when you are eating at your restaurant of choice on free nights.

It’s important to note though, dietary requirements are exactly that – restrictions on your diet for health, or religious reasons, covering intolerances, allergies and omissions. Tour guides are generally unable to cater for simple food dislikes. 

What does my tour guide do?

In many destinations these days, in order to walk around a city, explaining monuments to a group, you must be licensed for that particular destination. Many tour operators have a tour guide and driver who facilitate the tour, but your tour guide is different from a local guide. Knowledge and experience will vary from one tour guide to the next, but generally speaking, your tour guide is there to coordinate your tour and to help you enjoy your trip.

Do I need to advise if I have a medical condition?

While your health is somewhat of a personal issue, it’s important your tour guide is aware of any pre-existing medical conditions that might affect your trip. This puts them in the best situation to offer advice or direction should you need medical assistance while on tour, or seek out help in case of emergency.

How much time will I spend on the coach?

Naturally, this depends on your itinerary. If you’re curious, you can search the distances on Google maps before your trip which will ensure you’re closer to accurate expectations, but the mere distance you travel is not the only thing to consider when estimating driving times. How long you’re on the coach will also depend on the types of roads you’re on (highways or B roads) and unforeseen circumstances like poor weather or traffic.

Always overestimate when setting your expectations for drive times! In general though, on a typical driving day, you’ll set off from the hotel around 8 am or 9 am and arrive at your destination around 5 pm to check into your hotel. You’ll stop en route for comfort stops every 2-4 hours for a bathroom or food break, and on some days, stop to visit points of interest along the way too.

Is there a toilet on the coach?

Larger coaches are usually equipped with a toilet, but they are generally not the most pleasant of places to go! Your tour driver and tour guide will be making regular stops, so you can always ask how far you are from the next break before you make any decisions!

Are my belongings safe on the coach?

Tour drivers are very proud people and a good driver treats his coach like one of his own offspring. While coaches are always locked while unattended, just like cars, they can be broken into, unfortunately, so it’s not recommended you leave valuables in there for extended periods. If you do choose to do so, you do at your own risk.

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What’s included on my tour?

This information is outlined in your trip notes and also online. It’s important you’re familiar with the inclusions so as not to be surprised while on your tour. Typically, on many group tours, all accommodation and tour transport is included, along with some sightseeing, plus your breakfasts and some evening meals, but lunches are rarely included.

Premium tours may also include certain experiences like a cooking class or performance, but no tour is the same as the next, so it’s always best to familiarise yourself with your particular tour inclusions before setting off. Museum entry fees, shopping, food and drink, plus things like taxi fares, should you choose to do your own thing in a city, will be at your own expense.

I am travelling solo and booked twin share, who will I share my room with?

Most tour companies who offer for solo travellers to be paired with another traveller will pair you with someone of the same gender. The pairing of solo travellers is usually done at random, so remember, communication is important. If for any reason, you are unhappy with your roommate, the best thing to do is to speak confidently with your tour guide. There may or may not be a possibility to swap with someone else, or you may be given the option to pay for a solo room upgrade where available.

It’s important to note that some tours which offer accommodation in multi-bed dorm rooms will offer only mixed gender accommodation.

What should I pack?

Aside from the essentials, like comfortable walking shoes and suitable clothes for the season you’re travelling in, you might also want to pack some smart casual evening wear. My absolute essentials are a phone, phone charger, adapter and wallet and I always double and triple check for my passport. It’s not a bad idea to photocopy your passport and leave a copy in your suitcase, and it’s also wise to have duplicate bank cards, which you should also leave in your suitcase.

It’s also a good idea to wear a watch as you’ll have many meeting times on a tour and also a pen for marking your map. Remember too, that many things like clothes and toiletries can be bought in-destination if you’ve forgotten them, (many better hotels also offer basic toiletries at reception), but if there’s anything you need to buy, your tour guide can tell you where to find them.

Tip: When packing, less is more! Your luggage will be easier to manoeuvre and you’ll have more room for things you’ve bought.

Do I have to tip my tour guide and driver?

A gratuity or tip, is, by definition, your choice as a traveller and while unusual in some cultures, it’s common practice in many cultures and within the tourism world. Usually, the tipping etiquette for your particular tour will be covered in your tour documentation, but it’s always up to you. Giving a tip is an opportunity to express gratitude to your tour guide and driver for a job well done.

A final word: as told by a tour guide

Travel truly is a delight for the senses. Taking in new sights, sounds, foreign cultures and foods day in, day out is always going to be a step away from your day to day back home and often makes for a good night sleep at the end of the day. Take the time to slow down while on tour, to stop for a coffee and watch the world go by and to take a breather. Drink water too, active people need nourishment!

Most of all, be open-minded and considerate of others. It’s impossible that everything always goes to plan, but this is the joy of not only travel but life too and where the best stories come from! Be patient and teach yourself how to say ‘oh well’ when things are not within your control. After all, holidays are for relaxing!

Finally settled down in Vienna after 9 years of leading tours in Europe, Leona first joined TourRadar in 2016. She speaks four languages and enjoys cooking authentic traditional recipes, walking in the hills around Vienna and arranging beer coasters so they're all facing the same way.

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