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How to choose your next small group tour

Rome at Sunset with San Pietro basilica, Sant'Angelo bridge and Tevere river in Roma, Italy

Rome at Sunset with San Pietro basilica, Sant'Angelo bridge and Tevere river in Roma, Italy

How to choose your next small group tour

An Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983

How to choose your next small group adventure:

When it comes to deciding on your next personal Odyssey, chances are you’ll have a destination (or two) in mind. But how should you go about choosing the right tour company to use? Here are the top five things we think it’s important to get right when choosing a tour for your next adventure.

This link takes you to our current list of guaranteed tours that you may wish to consider joining.

What is the tour itinerary like? 

Location, location, location … it’s all about seeing those sights you’ve dreamed of for years. Whether that’s the Louvre in Paris, the Great Wall in China, or famous gardens in Britain, the itinerary is the starting point for choosing the best small group tour for you. Read the company’s online tour itinerary carefully. As well as the sights you’d expect to see, what else is included? What activities are optional?

A good company will take you beyond the usual, expected, places of interest, but optional activities will come at an added cost. Ask yourself what you’d like to experience, and how. Are you looking for a totally immersive experience, or a blend of learning with personal time to explore? Or do you simply want your transport and accommodation arranged, with the rest left up to you? What supplementary program material is offered? Is their material well researched and knowledgeable? Do they have an interesting point of view to share?

Other factors to consider are

  • How long is the tour?
  • How active am I required to be?

Time is precious, but a good tour program will allow time to savour the sights, smells, and tastes of your new surroundings. Everyone is different, with different ideas of what makes a good tour. Some like to fit in as much as possible, others like a more considered pace.  A good tour itinerary will have a balance of organised activities and free time to either sit and watch the world go by, or explore something of particular interest only to you. The pace of small group tours offered by different companies can also vary widely. A look at the included activities will give you an idea – if not, ask!

Choosing the right tour also means choosing the right style of tour: 

Another important choice to make is when to travel. More and more mature travellers are out there seeing the world – which can make famous sites overcrowded in peak season. We avoid school holidays, preferring to run our tour programs in shoulder seasons. This makes for a more enjoyable experience all round! Additionally, Odyssey’s small group tours are rated according to the level of physical activity required, from level 1 (introductory) to level 5 (challenging).

We also categorise our tours according to their itinerary and purpose:

Educational discovery tours:

Our educational Discovery Tours encompass all regions of the world, and average 21 nights. They’re led by an expert tour manager who helps our local guides interpret important historic sites and local culture.

Active tours:

For lovers of outdoor scenery. Our Active Tours are designed for more diverse but challenging environments and locations, such as walking the Camino Real, where typically a moderate or above level of fitness is required.

Specialised tours:

Our Specialised Tours are for those with more time, providing opportunities to attend lectures and/or participate in special activities – such as attending an archaeological dig, or focussing on the art and architecture of Spain. These tours are led by Program Leaders who are more than just knowledgeable about the subject being studied, they are often university lecturers.

Berlin Wall, Germany

All our guests are provided with comprehensive background material on the countries and sights visited on our tours.

Will I be with like-minded travelling companions? What is the tour operator like? 

Now you’ve decided on your own personal Odyssey. Be that a stroll through Europe’s art galleries, a walk in the footsteps of 17th century Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, or attending Wagner’s Ring Cycle in his birthplace, who do you see standing beside you? Whether you’re travelling as a couple, with a friend or as a solo traveller, congenial company is paramount. Regardless of whether you see yourself as a ‘mature’, ‘senior’, ‘over 50s’ or simply an ‘experienced’ traveller, you’ll enjoy yourself more travelling with a group of like-minded people.

A tour company’s marketing material is the best place to find out what sort of people go on their tours. Sign up for the newsletter, read their blog posts, or look at their Facebook page. Read the reviews they’ve received. You’ll soon get to know the company’s culture and whether it’s right for you.

Of course, you’ll wonder just how many people are on the ‘small group tours’? Five, ten, twenty, or more? Find out. A good tour company will be able to tell you how many travellers typically book on any particular tour. Some companies ‘cap’ their bookings at 16 to 20 people, others don’t.

Odyssey’s tours are designed with 16 to 20 people in mind, but that doesn’t mean that 16 to 20 people travel on each tour! Some tours run with much fewer. Some particularly specialised tours, such as our Richard Wagner Ring Cycle tour, is limited to ten travellers to ensure a more intimate experience.

Our travellers find that a group size of between eight and 12 is the ideal number – enough that you don’t get bored with each other, but not so many that it becomes a chore getting around. So rather than continue to add people on popular tours, we’ll offer another departure, ensuring all our small group tours really are small group tours.

Naturally, a good guide makes the difference between a wonderful travel experience and a mediocre one. Knowing you’ll be taken care of is an important consideration too. Check who the guides for your chosen tour are. Is it fully escorted, meaning you’re led by a guide from home, or is it led by a local guide? Or better still, both? Ask what training your local guide, or guides, have. As well as being competent and qualified, they should also be trained in first aid.

Locally born, bred and educated guides will be showing you around their home, meaning they’re uniquely placed to share their knowledge of their birthplace’s history and culture. They speak the language, understand the traffic, are used to the money, and can tell you where to get the best coffee. But if you’re travelling through more than one country on your tour, you’re likely to have a different local guide in each. Ask the tour company if this is the case. If you have the services of a guide from home, they’ll be with you every step of the way.

Odyssey’s tours are all led by both expert local and specialist Program Leaders. Our Program Leaders are chosen for their skills and experience – not only in ensuring you are well looked after in terms of care and attention – but for their expert knowledge of the countries we visit. Many now make their homes in the countries we travel to. It goes without saying that our Program Leaders are all passionate and enthusiastic travellers, but many are also highly qualified educators, researchers, or specialists in art history, architecture, archaeology, or languages. They’re uniquely qualified to interpret the culture you’ll be immersing yourself in on your small group tour, and will be with you for the entire duration of your tour.

How much will it cost me?

And last but by no means least, the price. In the tourism industry there are plenty of companies claiming to offer value for money, but make sure to look deeper. Do they include entry fees? A local guide? Is there a good balance between planned activities (cost included!) and free time? Where is the hotel located? A cheaper hotel on the outskirts of the city may mean a cheaper overall tour cost, but you’ll waste time travelling to major sights and have less time to explore. If you’re a solo traveller wanting a single room, what is the single supplement?

A good tour company will offer a competitive tour price, but won’t cut corners. You’ll probably only visit the Silk Road, or Iran, or the Balkans, once in your life – so don’t deny yourself a memorable experience for the sake of saving a few hundred dollars.

The size of the group will impact the price of the tours you are considering. A tour with between 20 to 50 people will cost considerably less than a tour with 8 to 12 people in a group.

Since 1983 Odyssey has been offering educational tours to mature & senior travellers to places of interest all around the world.

One of the unique points of difference between us and other organisations besides the University scholarship program is that Odyssey does listen to your feedback on the tours we offer. It is a process of continuous improvement. In the last decade, you have asked us to offer smaller groups, publish more material on the website, provide reading lists online, improve the quality of  the maps, name the hotels that we use, change hotels that we use, give you more free time, linger longer in locations rather than one night stays, stop sending name badges, allow you the opportunity to explore outside the group environment, reduce the number of group meals, reduce the number of courses of food offered at set meal times plus many more. Odyssey has endeavoured to move quickly to respond to these changes.

The demand for tours for small groups does mean that Odyssey’s cost may be higher than the larger tour operators who are consolidating groups of travellers from all over the world into groups of  between 30 to 50 travellers. Odyssey is committed to small groups of escorted mature & senior travellers because:

  • with small groups queue times are reduced across every aspect of the tour from entry to exhibits or entering or exiting the coach.
  • the groups can stay in small off beat or unusual hotels with local charm.
  • you can stay in small towns and villages that often have a unique sense of place within the tour.
  • travel with like minded people.
  • tour programs can be flexed to accommodate particular interests of members of a small group.

We believe Odyssey’s tours for small groups are terrific value for money. In Iran, for example, all meals are provided, including morning teas featuring local treats. By contrast, most of our Europe tours give you free time on some evenings to choose your own dining experience. Our expert Program Leaders can advise on a suitable budget to cover these occasions.

You may also find these articles useful in planning your next trip:

  1. Why take a small group educational tour?
  2. Tips on enjoying solo travel as a mature or senior traveller.
  3. Travelling Solo
  4. FAQs for Odyssey Travellers
  5. Avoiding the crowds & queues on holidays

This link takes you to our current list of guaranteed tours.

If after reading this article you have any questions about Odyssey Travellers and our tours then please do not hesitate to contact us. You can email us by clicking this link or call the office to discuss directly any topics.

Original posted December, 2017.

Updated November 8, 2019 


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