How to find the right trip - for you
- How to search for travel
- Working out what you want from your trip
- Trusting the experts
- Asking the right questions
- Organised tours versus small group discovery
Published by Simon Mustoe
In talking to dozens of enthusiastic travellers each month, everyone shares one thing in common. We all want a unique experience. At the same time, there is often a perception that 'organised' tours are poor value and there is always a better offer online.
Is this true and if not, how do we make better travel decisions?
In my honest opinion the presumption that there are better value trips at a lower price online is misconceived.
Prices are fixed so trip cost varies depending on inclusions and the quality of delivery. The 'value' you get from a trip is also a very personal thing. It depends on affordability (i.e. how much money you have) but it's also about the expectation it will deliver what you want.
Affordability and value are very different criteria and if you want to truly find the best value trip, this guide will help.
HOW TO SEARCH FOR TRAVEL
When you're searching for travel, the question you really want to ask is, how do I tell the difference between something good and poor value?
For example, a guest referred a story to me recently about an Alaska-Canada trip where he ended up with a driver-guide and thirteen 20-something passengers, who spent most of their time on iPhones. It wasn’t a terrible trip but was quite unlike what he expected. In the search for a great experience, we may also find ourselves in places or with services that aren't as reliable as we normally expect - but there can be trade-off between discovery / adventure and luxury.
Again, it comes down to expectation. No-one wants to risk $6,000 and most of their annual leave on the wrong holiday. So how do we avoid this?
WHAT DO YOU PERSONALLY WANT FROM YOUR TRIP?
The first question you should be asking is of yourself ... what kind of tour am I personally looking for?
Then you need to find tours that suit your particular interest and finally decide whether they are the real deal. Unfortunately, marketing glitz or lack thereof, isn’t a strong indication of value. There is everything from great small tour operators who are terrible at marketing but do amazing trips ... to big companies that look great but are awful at delivering an experience.
You're unlikely to discover the best by doing online searches. The internet is awash with hundreds of tours and every week I speak to travellers confused by the amount of content online.
The best way to deal with this, is to speak to a human and get a recommendation.
It helps if you understand that most popular travel companies sell exactly the same things, just packaged differently.
This shouldn't come as a surprise. Let's take high street clothing retailers as an example. They might sell white t-shirts that all come from the same factory but cost more (or less) depending on the print. You’re not necessarily getting a higher quality t-shirt, just different packaging and maybe a better return policy and overall customer service.
We work with suppliers who are quite often doing something different which means they are generally small operations. They are selling a more boutique product but not necessarily more expensive or more luxurious - just different.
TRUST AN EXPERT
As a specialist tour organiser (wholesaler is the trade term) I have spent, for example, 6 months piecing together all the facts for a fully-inclusive whale swim in Tonga and created a priced package that is in my opinion, by far the best value - and very reasonably priced.
I even went as far as to compare our price to every other operator. We are the second lowest price on the market and by far the lowest price for a dedicated week long tour. Yet our unit price is more than many online. Why? Because of the various exclusions.
If you spent hours online negotiating with suppliers, you could put together a similar style of trip by tacking day trips together but it won't deliver anywhere near the same experience or value for money - in fact, it may seriously fail to deliver.
Rather than saying "it's cheaper for me to book my own day trips", you could (and should) ask "does a day trip deliver the experience I am looking for?". In our experience the answer is usually no and holiday makers who want to swim with whales, often leave disappointed. I wouldn't waste my money unless a whale swim was very low on my priority list for a holiday in Tonga.
One fact you can rely on, is that overall, the less you spend the greater the risk of a poor experience.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Use your time to find out if the person you are speaking to knows what they are talking about and is doing things for the right reasons. Forget price for a moment and ask:
- Why do you do the tours this way?
- What got you into providing these tours in the first place?
- How are you different to everyone else?
You can usually rely on the possibility someone out there has already done the hard work - these will be the people who can answer the questions above - and if you spend time finding them, it could be a better use of your time than trying to put the tour together yourself.
DON'T CONFUSE ORGANISED TOURS WITH SMALL GROUP TOURS
We sometimes hear, “I don’t like to go on organised tours, I prefer to discover things for myself” and it’s a sentiment we agree with. It’s the very reason we put tours together - to deliver the same discovery experiences we like to have.
But if the perception of an organised tour is one where you go in a bus load from A to B, stopping to take photos along the way, these aren’t the tours we create.
What if you can have the best of both worlds? A tour that’s organised but allows you to travel with a small group of like-minded people, with the flexibility to discover things along the way and the ability to create a budget that is as cost-effective as possible?
The Wildiaries experience is about building a narrative for you, around discovery, so there is no sense in rushing - our guides tell us, they spend their time slowing guests down, giving them time to get to know a place. We design flexible itineraries that go from place to place, providing a framework for discovery, where your experience is ignited by people who have exceptional knowledge and other guests, who share your fascinations.
These so-called Small Group Discovery Tours are all unique. Every trip is different because, for example, the dynamics of the group, weather conditions and animal behaviour, all determine the outcome. The job of our guides is to help you make the most of the situation, while ensuring you are safe, comfortable and informed.
As Archaeologist Chris Carter says “the best way to learn is to teach”. Chris has visited his favourite destinations many times but every trip is different, as the group leads him on different voyages of discovery. Wildlife guides know this better than anyone. It’s possible to visit the same place several times and see a completely different suite of species. Part of this is about slowing down and giving a place time to reveal itself to you, so you come away with better photos and a real story to tell.
It’s the reason why so many of our guide’s travel time and time again, with the same guests.
TAKE YOUR TIME
The best advice we can give when you’re researching your trip is the same advice we give when travelling:
Take your time.
Get to know the person who represents the tour and ask lots of questions. Give them time to learn about you and what you want and most of all, find someone you can trust. Most of all, make sure you'll be travelling with or advised by someone who is passionate about what they do.
In our next piece, we will be talking about travel pricing and how that works, to dispel some of the myths about cheap online trips and help you find a better deal : )