The ultimate buying experience is getting the BEST QUALITY for the LOWEST price. If your focus is only on lowest price, you are not an intelligent traveler as the dollar is more important to you than the experience. If this is for you, I suggest you read no further. If this is not you & you wish to take a tour, the first question is whether it is to be escorted or independent. The descriptions of independent tours are straightforward consisting of airfare, hotel & transportation combined. But in an escorted tour you have higher prices due to the hiring of a guide full time & the cost of a full time driver. In short, you have a more intense, well organized and thoroughly thought out itinerary giving you the maximum experience. However not all tours do this. If you look closely at most tours, they are routine, boring, poorly thought out & inflexible. When making such a decision, you should compare at least 3-4 tours to ensure that you are getting a broad perspective of choices.

The following are steps to take.

1. Calculate the cost of the trip per day by taking the total price and dividing it by the number of days. Doing this will allow you to compare the overall costs of the trips in general. Please realize that if each person pays $150 per night, they are staying in a room that costs $300 per night, a rate usually well beyond the reach of most people.

2. Examine the number of hotels used. A well-written itinerary will use very few hotels and each will be used as a hub location. The higher the number of hotels, the poorer the quality of the tour. You will spend half your trip packing and unpacking!

3. Look for the hotel rating (one star (basic) to 5 star (deluxe)). Ensure you will have private bath if this is a requirement. Does the quality of the hotels justify the tour price?

4. If the tour price is at least $100/person/day, you should have a FULL TIME GUIDE. If the tour operator is using guides only in the cities, if a member of your group or the driver takes over between locations, and if your tour leader does not have the history & culture qualifications in formal education, you are NOT getting your money worth!

5. How many meals are included? If the tour price is comparatively low and just breakfasts are included, it’s probably a fair deal. Just be sure that if dinners are included that you are not being charged $50 per person. No matter where you travel in this world, you can eat at any cost you choose. You do not have to eat expensive meals in hotels when there are perfectly good moderate priced pubs and restaurants right down the street. Some hotels however give the tour operator a good financial incentive to include meals & that’s to your benefit.

6. Where are you staying when meals are NOT included? If for example you are staying in the country, you might find yourself eating a la carte in the hotel because it is literally your only choice. Proper hotels should be located in the middle of many restaurant choices if dinner is not included.

7. Is your sightseeing ALL included? Obviously if it is not, you will have extra costs. Usually it is included on escorted tours but not on independent tours. Know the costs when it’s not included.

8. Identify the total number of “days at leisure”. On an escorted tour days at leisure are a total waste of your money and clear profit for the tour operator. How much money is it costing him to give you such free time? All the money he’d pay the coach company, driver and guide, he can simply keep while you shop. I love to shop, and I believe you should have the opportunity, but not at the expense of the tour. If your primary reason for travel is to shop, book an independent tour and save money!

9. How many visits does each tour make in a day? I do not recommend sightseeing at break neck speed for anyone, but a tour with 1-2 visits/day is shortchanging you when 3-4 are possible at a COMFORTABLE rate. Note that changing hotels every night makes 1-2 visits per day your ONLY option.

10. Is your day of arrival a sightseeing day? Sleeping on arrival or having the day to do as you wish is again clear profit for the tour operator and a loss for you!

11. Are your sightseeing venues a mixture of history, culture, nature, sports etc etc? Emphasis on just one of these gives you a specialty tour. If you sign up for a walking tour, don’t assume a lot of the other choices for example.

12. DO YOUR HOMEWORK! It goes without saying that if you have no idea of the various facets of your trip, than you can be sold a bill of goods. Know something about the costs, about the trip and the country itself. Only then will you be spending your money wisely!

13. Interview your tour operator carefully. They should be able to answer all your questions on the spot if they are truly knowledgeable.

14. Review the items not included in your tour price. If they add significant amounts to the tour price, the tour is being misrepresented.

In summary if you are being asked to pay more than $100/person/day, you have the right to expect at least 3 star HOTEL rooms with private bath and breakfast, a FULL lineup of sightseeing with separate guide, coach and driver EVERY DAY of your tour. ANYTHING LESS THAN THAT IS A TOUR OF VERY POOR QUALITY OR A TOUR THAT IS VERY OVERPRICED! Be an intelligent consumer!