Pros and Cons of the Packaged Bus Tour

Are they really the best value for your money?

by Megan Patterson

Photo by Megan Patterson, Tokyo, 2010

There are a lot of packaged bus tours out there promising to take you on your dream vacation for a good deal. But is it really such a steal? And is it the right kind of vacation for you? I have been on one before, touring southern Europe and was surprised at what I learned about these tours−both good and bad. Now I’m here to share these lessons with you before you decide to commit to a tour.

The Pros

  1. It’s easier to travel in a group. If you’re going alone or you’re not a very experienced traveller, a tour is a great way to see a lot in a short amount of time. Your itinerary is set, you don’t have to pay extra for transportation (most of the time), and any fees and visas you need to country-hop are taken care of for you.
  2. It’s safer. Tours avoid high risk areas, so there’s pretty much no chance of your tour bus breaking down in the middle of nowhere or in a scary part of the city because they’re well maintained, and you’re much less to get mugged in a large group.
  3. There are always people around. People who speak your language, that you can make plans with and whom you can turn to if you get lost. I wouldn’t have made it home from my tour if I hadn’t run into some people from my group who knew where the hotel was.
  4. It can be cheaper. If the cost of airfare is included in the tour, it is often much cheaper than buying it independently.
  5. Access to unusual destinations. Going with a tour group can make it much easier to get to certain out of the way places–like Nepal or Antarctica (you have to go with a tour group to travel there)−even places where it’s impossible to go on your own.
  6. You can also get access to overcrowded attractions. For example, The Vatican museum can be a madhouse if you go on your own, but tour groups often get their own private tours, so it’s much less crowded and you’re able to see a lot more.

The Cons

  1. Food is included, but is it good food? Part of the lure of such a package is having meals provided. Unfortunately, the providers of these meals are trying to please everyone so they serve you the most boring thing ever. I was served chicken and French fries for a lot of the dinners that was provided, and this is not an uncommon practice. This is not the case with every tour group. Some tour groups have better reputations for food than others, so definitely do your research beforehand.
  2. Since the hotel has to be able to accommodate a bus, they are usually in the middle of nowhere. The tour I went on also gave us free time, meaning we had to figure out how to get back on our own. This would have been fine if the hotels weren’t so off the beaten path they weren’t even on the maps the tour company provided us with. The girl I was sharing a room with wasn’t lucky enough to find other group members like I did and wound up spending the night at her embassy.
  3. The hotel quality also can vary for the same reason. For the most part, the hotels we stayed in were nice but a few of them were pretty sketchy and rundown, and again, in the middle of nowhere.
  4. More than half of the excursions cost extra. Usually the tour includes the greatest hits of the city you’re in, although sometimes you don’t even get to see them up close. But sometimes if you want to do something extra, it costs extra. And since you don’t have a lot of time in each city, it’s hard to figure out how to do it on your own.
  5. The tour guide may not be as knowledgeable as you’d like. Mine knew where the best clubs were at in most cities, but that was about it.
  6. You don’t get to pick who you’re traveling with. I was the youngest person in a group of mainly 30-something couples, and it was advertised as a youth-oriented tour company.

Personally, I will never take a packaged bus tour again. They’re just not for me. I like going to a place and exploring it bit by bit in my own time and not having to freak out about not knowing where the hotel is or be left behind. I also like experiencing the food of the place I’m staying and not be forced to eat the same thing over and over again. This is not to say I will never take a tour again. When I went away with my sister, we did take a couple of day tours to see the main attractions and even one over the weekend so we could go to the countryside. They were great and totally worth the money. Your personality and travel style might determine how you travel, and hopefully, this list will help you decide whether or not you are the type of person who will enjoy a tour.

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