Whether it’s your first group tour or you’re a seasoned pro, these 10 tips will help make your next group tour experience a smooth and drama-free one. I interviewed dozens of tour guides to find their pet peeves, horror stories, and tips on how not to end up on a tour leader’s blacklist.
How You Should (and Shouldn’t) Act on a Group Tour
Be on Time
The one thing that all group tour guides have in common, is that unpunctual travelers are one of the most annoying things to deal with on a group tour. One of the greatest benefits of group tours is that everything is pre-planned so you don’t have to put extra thought into things like transportation and what your next activity will be. Showing up late is not only disrespectful, but could ruin the day’s schedule—which you (and everyone else) paid for.
“Being late, even by 10 minutes, not only holds others up but can also mean you miss out on important moments,” says Gary Willment of Trafalgar. “The sunset that will bring you to tears over the city, or your front seats at a local show.”
Nelle Lees of G Adventures shared a tactic some tour guides use for chronically late travelers: “Some guides have been known to plot with the on-time travelers and pull the bus out of view, to give the procrastinators the brief feeling that they missed their ride,” Lees says. “It’s done in good fun, but it helps make a point when the procrastinator doesn’t listen.”
As Johannes Reck from GetYourGuide says: “Tours aren’t lectures, they’re conversations.” That means you should be participating by listening and asking questions.
“Trained guides usually possess a wealth of knowledge that goes far beyond what they’ve planned to share on a given tour, so it’s up to you to engage them,” Reck says. “Odds are, if you’ve got a burning question, someone else is wondering the same thing.”
That being said, asking too many questions can get annoying to a tour leader, especially if you’re holding up the tour group or you question an expert guide’s knowledge. So, ask relevant questions when you have them, and trust your tour leader’s answers—it’s their job to be right.
Get to Know Your Fellow Travelers
Group tours tend to be longer than your typical vacation, so use the opportunity to build some life-long friendships. Trafalgar’s Willment has an easy suggestion for this: Don’t always sit with the same people.
Kristen Mack of Tauck agrees. “We’ve had many incredible friendships (and more than a few wonderful marriages) launched among guests who first met on tour,” she told me. “Seeing the world with a group or like-minded, curious people truly enhances the travel experience.”
Even if you don’t get along with everyone in the group, be respectful. When you’re traveling with people from other countries, keep in mind that customs and routines may differ. If you’re traveling with someone you know, don’t talk exclusively to them—make an effort to include everyone in the group.
Tour leaders also say that one of their biggest pet peeves is travelers who constantly only think of themselves first, whether they’re hogging the front seat of a van or insisting on having their photo taken first. Don’t be that person.
This is oftentimes forgotten on a group tour because there’s a stigma that you already paid for the trip and expect a certain type of experience, or level of service, in return. And while that may be true, you should still thank not only your tour guide every so often, but remember to show appreciation to locals, wait staff, hotel staff, and other guides you encounter.
This includes tipping. If you’re wondering how much or why, Cristina Lombardi, owner of Follow Me New York City Adventures says: “Guides expect to be tipped. The tip should be a reflection of the number of hours and days the guide spent with you and how pleasant, knowledgeable, etc. they were (or weren’t).”
Pick a Compatible Tour
As STA Travel points out: “There’s a group tour to fit nearly any traveler. Keep in mind while researching: the age group you’d like to travel with, your own activity level, and even the type of accommodation you’d prefer.”
If you do your research and know what you’re getting yourself into, you’ll have a much better experience and won’t be caught off guard. While it’s impossible to predict who’s on your group tour, Lindsey Epperly of Epperly Travel has some recommendations for choosing a tour.
“Look for companies that cater to travelers around your age group and offer to waive single supplement rates,” Epperly says. “For younger travelers, G Adventures and Intrepid Travel cater to clients in their 20s and 30s and you’ll often find other solo guests to spend time with. For older travelers who might enjoy relaxing a bit more than a coach [bus] tour would allot, many of the major cruise lines will waive single supplements for solo guests on select sailings.”
Be Open to Plan B
Be flexible. “You travel to experience new places, so be open to trying new foods, staying in hotels and hostels that aren’t always [up to] U.S.-standards, and soaking up local culture by chatting up your tour mates and locals,” says STA Travel. “Everyone has something they want to do that they will have to forgo,” says Lombardi. You’ll have a much better experience if you accept that from the get-go.
And when things don’t go as planned: “Try to turn calamity into comedy,” suggests Lees. “How people react to it can make or break the trip for them. Think about how to turn it into a funny story or Instagram blooper … so it can become a trip highlight instead of a catastrophe.”
Follow the Rules
While this one may seem obvious, it’s often a pet peeve for group tour leaders. Many tour companies have their own specific set of rules or guidelines—read them and be sure to respect them. If these means no smoking in rooms or in the van or bus, then you need to abide by that. If the trip is for solo travelers or singles only, don’t bring your spouse or friend. The same goes for following local laws and customs. Ultimately, you’ll be responsible for your own behavior—not the group tour company.
Prepare for your group tour just as you would any other vacation. As Reck says: “Your guide is not your babysitter.” You’ll need to pack accordingly for your trip, especially if it’s to multiple destinations, or abroad.
Booking a group tour doesn’t mean you don’t need your passport, medications, emergency contact information, and proper attire. STA Travel recommends that all of their travelers have a phone charger or memory bank at all times, and to keep cash in a few separate places during the trip, to avoid theft and as an emergency backup.
Make Special Requests Ahead of Time
Whether it’s an allergy or an accessibility concern, Fred Ackerman of Black Sheep Adventures says you should speak up. “There’s nothing worse than finding out after a trip a guest was displeased with an aspect of the service that could have been solved on tour.”
More likely than not, a guide will be able to accommodate special requests on a group tour as long as there is advance notice. Communicate with your travel or booking agent directly, and follow up with your tour leader or primary contact prior to your departure.
Remember, You’re on Vacation
This one’s self-explanatory. On group tours travelers can get caught up in the logistics, and are more likely to let one bad moment ruin a trip. “You’ve likely spent months, maybe even years, planning for this trip. So when you arrive, don’t forget to live in the moment,” Willment says. “Laugh with the locals, eat the delicious food, and if in my home country of Wales, sing until your lungs give out. Try and say yes to every experience.”
More from SmarterTravel:
- I Hated Group Tours … Until I Tried One
- 14 Tips for Choosing the Right Group Tour
- 8 Essential Tips for Group Travel
Editor’s Note: Some direct quotes in this story have been condensed or edited for clarity.