Choosing a tour

How do we go about choosing a tour (Feb. ’05, pg. 58)? My wife and I have traveled widely using a range of methods: group tours, individually, combined independent and group travel, canal boat rentals, etc. We would suggest the following steps, in order of priority.

1) Request references from the tour operator or agency. Call more than one reference, covering both male and female contacts. If the agency cannot or will not supply references for any reason, do not deal with them.

2) Determine the tour’s average group size as well as the maximum number of group members allowed and the minimum number required for the tour to go. Beware of any groups in excess of about 16, as potty stops, etc., use up a significant portion of tour time.

3) Use credit cards to pay for the trip. This is generally advisable even if you have to pay a 3%-5% premium.

4) Consider self-insurance for baggage loss, trip delay, cancellation, etc., as company-issued travel insurance may be prohibitively costly and unnecessary.

5) Read all the terms and conditions. Rarely are they in your favor. Be careful of any releases you might be asked to sign — check with your attorney, if you’re unsure.

6) Make a very thorough and rigorous cost-benefit analysis. Watch the “optionals” carefully; they are generally overpriced, and negotiations with a local travel agency in the destination country may provide superior coverage.

Los Osos, CA