Three Reasons You'll be Happy You Booked a Tour via @TravelLatte.net

Reasons to be Happy You Booked a Tour

It’s July, and you’re in Rome. You can’t wait to see the sights! But it’s hard to appreciate the beauty when you are covered in sweat, standing in queue with a couple hundred of your newest friends. Centuries of history are close enough to touch, only you can’t. Because you are standing in line. And, judging from the pace, your place in that history is not coming any time soon. This could take, I don’t know, forever? You begin to understand why Rome is called the Eternal City.

Over there, however, is a fast moving line with happy tourists. What’s the deal? Those, my friend, are people on tours, replete with peppy, knowledgeable guides, bottles of cold water, and coveted Skip the Line entry.

Reasons to be Happy Booking a Tour via @TravelLatte.net

“Sign says, Stay Away fools…” Unless you already bought a ticket. Then you come in the much shorter line. THAT line is for people waiting just to get tickets. Too hot for that!

Many people hear the words “guided tour” and immediately assume a defensive posture, as though it’s a frontal attack on their abilities and acumen. The usual objections are time, money, and the belief that anyone can buy a guidebook and have a great time. Oddly enough, those are exactly the reasons why, in some cases, you SHOULD take a guided tour!

Spend your time in the right place.

Chances are, you’ve spent a sizeable sum getting to your destination. Now, the most valuable part of your trip is your time. You should not spend it standing in line or seeing the wrong sights. No matter what your budget is, you want to make the most of your time, and this is where a guided tour can help the most.

Reasons to be Happy Booking a Tour via @TravelLatte.net

The chaos that is the line to enter the Roman Colosseum. On the far right, with raised hands, our tour group slips past the queue.

That’s not to say you should always take a tour, but sometimes it is the best investment you can make. When research says to expect long lines, start looking for ways around them. Sometimes, it’s as simple as buying tickets in advance and strolling right up the front gate. (You would be surprised how many times the longest line is just to buy tickets.) Other times, tour groups have the advantage, whether that’s a separate entrance, a different queue, or hours that get you in earlier or later than the general public.

Tours that get you into popular attractions outside of normal hours are especially worthwhile. When visiting the Vatican, for example, skipping the line only gets you past the throngs waiting outside. Once past the gate, your tour group is among a sea of humanity during the busiest times. Instead, look for tours that start before the gates open. Yes, that means your day will start early, but that also means you will be in the Sistine Chapel with a group of just ten or twenty. Later in the day, the room will be stuffed to capacity. That early morning experience alone is worth so much more than the price of the tour.

Reasons to be Happy Booking a Tour via @TravelLatte.net

What’s missing? All of the people! In the hallway of the Vatican, on our way to the Sistine Chapel before the museum opens, we had the place practically to ourselves!

Spend your money on the right tours.

Be aware that there may be different tour types at popular attractions: some start after you’ve gone through line, some go through the queue as a group, and some skip the line altogether. (In all cases, the cost of tickets is not always included; be sure to ask.) Obviously, the last type is the one you will usually want, but this isn’t to say that skipping the line is the only value in a guided tour.

Some tours have multiple stops, and can be very helpful in getting you in and out of each one, and understanding how they are related. These tours are great for minimizing the legwork. They take care of tickets at different venues, transportation between them, and figuring out the best itinerary. You’re in charge of enjoying the sights. While most of these tours only hit the highlights, they are good for getting to see a lot when you only have a little time.

Go beyond the Guide Books.

A substantial part of what you pay for with a guide is their local knowledge. You could buy a guide book to Barcelona and learn all about Bario Gotico and la Sagrada Familia. In theory, you have a plan. Once you put boots on the ground, though, do you know the best way to get from one to the other? Do you know what to avoid today, or what hidden gem is around the next corner? A local does, and that information can be priceless.

Reasons to be Happy Booking a Tour via @TravelLatte.net

Even in familiar places, a good tour guide can show you new things. Like just where to see the best night view in Washington.

Beyond being a fountain of knowledge, your tour guide is a living, breathing, human-type person. Believe it or not, they want you to talk with them. They want to know what you are interested in. Tour guides know that “cold and impersonal” are great ways to have a short career. Particularly in a country where you don’t speak the language, your tour guide may be one of the few people you’ll have a real and localized conversation with.

Ultimately, the cost of a tour is measured by the quality of the experience. A seasoned guide will make sure you get more than your money’s worth with inside information, anecdotes, and insights that you might not find without tons of research.

Reasons to be Happy Booking a Tour via @TravelLatte.net

We read all about El Caracol, “the snail” at Chichen Itza, but learned from our math-teacher-turned-tour-guide that the Geometry at the top is completely off…for a reason.

Reasons to be Happy Booking a Tour via @TravelLatte.net

We found the people! This is what Vatican hallways look like during normal visiting hours. Ready to escape the crowds? Pin this post to save it for later & share with friends!

TravelLatte Recommendations

  • Don’t feel you always have to take a tour, but anywhere the lines are long, there is a lot to see, or you are completely unfamiliar, it’s worth considering.
  • Look for tours that match your interests: Art history in Florence, or archaeology in Mayan Mexico, for example.
  • Research your options; there are frequently several tour companies to choose from, and some may fit your style better than others.
  • Call the tour companies and ask if tour guides are certified, and ensure they meet any special needs you have.
  • We have had the best luck with tours booked on Viator and Walks of Italy, and we recommend both.
  • We also recommend due diligence: read reviews, check social media, and look for posts in travel blogs to help reach a decision.

What’s your preference? Do you go it alone, join a tour group, or mix and match? We would love to hear about your choices and experiences!

19 comments on “Reasons to be Happy You Booked a Tour

  1. Pingback: Favorite Travel Quotes: Vacation is Not Complete Unless… - TravelLatte

  2. I have nothing good to say about those group tours that shepherd a busload of people around with one tour guide. You can never hear or see what the guide is talking about!

    That said, while I used to scoff at organized tours in general, like you I have come to appreciate them. For example, we had an excellent Viator guide through the two museums in Florence. She got us in quickly, showed us things we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise and gave us insights into the lives and times of the artists. Far better than a guidebook!

    Another good resource is Tours by Locals. I like that they charge per group, not per person, and I think that they would be a great option for a day in port or for getting out during a long layover.

    • Yeah, we’ve had those experiences, too. Maybe there should be a Part Two: Tours to Avoid! Good to hear that you had a good experience with Viator – we did as well. I should have mentioned Tours by Locals – I did notice them at a port of call (Livorno, maybe?) and heard good reviews. A good clue is to look at the group size they promise, and read up on the reviews! Thanks for your thoughts, Linda!

  3. We are not totally against guided tours though we do prefer to go it alone and at our own pace, but as you mention, the guided tours have their advantages. We do them usually when we are hard pressed for time and want to cover a lot of places within a short time. It helps as you do not miss out on important places and do not waste time asking around.

    • Honestly, we spend more time NOT taking tours in most places. But when there’s a good skip-the-line opportunity, or when we’re completely unfamiliar with a place, we think tours make great sense. Thanks so much for your comment!

  4. Well-put and I couldn’t agree more! I tend to join guided tours around a city or a specific tourist attraction for the very reasons you mentioned, and also because I just don’t have the time to do a lot of in-depth independent research into the place that I’m visiting. Time is the big limiting factor for me.

    • Thank you, Michelle! Time really is a big factor – no sense wasting it in a line, or wandering around lost…especially on vacation. (I mean, at work maybe, but not on vacation!) Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I have done both – tours by guides or locals, and just on my own. A lot depends on how long I’m planning on being in an area (and whether I get to explore or take the “express” route). It is very true about guides giving you good information, insight, and sometimes the “skip the queue” line.

    • We’re a mixed bunch when it comes to exploring on our own, and in most places that’s the option we go with. But that “skip the line” deal is handy! And sometimes, we just don’t know enough about the place to make sense of it on our own. Thanks for your comment, Rhonda!

  6. We booked a tour of the louvre. It was worth it to skip the line and to be with someone who knows their way around that labyrinth of a museum. The experts insights into what we were seeing a nice art history refresher — was the icing on the cake. I agree with all your points. #wkendtravelinspiration

    • Eileen, I think the Louvre is a great example of when a guide or guided tour is worth it. I took one look at the map and a list of what to see, and my head exploded. It’s also nice to hear some of the insights and background that guides have. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Like you mentioned, a tour or even booking an entry first thing in the morning can make a huge difference. You will be surprised that many people do not think this is not necessary. Last time I went to Europe, I was telling a friend about the problems I had with my credit cars while trying to book trains or tickets to attractions. She couldn’t understand why I was doing those things beforehand. Well,I simply do not want to spend vacation time doing those things (and I save money booking before hand in some occasions). Tours are also nice when you are interested in a topic. For example, I like to do food tours.

    • Hi Ruth! Thanks for your comment. You’re right – always better to book in advance and not waste a second of vacation time! That’s also very true about tours devoted to a special topic – that’s a great way to learn a lot more when visiting someplace. As always, thanks for stopping by!

  8. This is such a useful guide. I loathe queues and I think in really touristy places at the busiest times of year it’s very advisable to take a tour to avoid the queues. Like you say, tour guides can be a fountain of knowledge and tell you all the stories you might not find out by reading your guide book. That said, I wouldn’t always take a guided tour myself – it’s obviously much more expensive and in some places there’s nothing to beat wandering around yourself at your own pace. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Thank you, Clare! One of the best deals is having the chance to explore after a tour. That way, you have a little more idea what to go back and explore more. And sometimes, just getting past the line is the golden ticket! 😉 Thanks again for visiting our blog!

  9. Agree tours are well worth it for gaining entry outside visitor opening times. We do both a mix of exploring by ourselves, but a big sight with lots of history we generally consider a tour, or a personal guide, especially in Asia and China, personal tour guides are fairly cheap.

    • Hi Garth (And Phil!) I’ve heard quite often that personal guides are a great option in Asia. Our style is much the same – Tours mixed in with lots of exploring on our own. Thanks so much for your comment!

  10. Tours are a great way of seeing a new place and we have travelled extensively this way! Sometimes our entire holiday has been an organised tour so we didn’t have to think about anything, other times we have researched the odd tour online and booked prior to our departure and, of course there are tours you book when you are in a new place. I am a huge advocate for tours – for all the reasons you have mentioned in this post! Happy travelling I say!

    • Hi guys & thanks for your comment! We have never done a whole holiday as a tour…though we have been pretty tempted! I that’s especially helpful in areas where you don’t speak the language and are completely unfamiliar. We’d love to visit Bhutan, and that seems the only way to go. Thanks again for stopping by our blog!

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