A group tour could be your family’s ideal, and affordable, vacation this year. You pick the itinerary and the tour company takes it from there to arrange accommodations, activities and even some meals. Tour companies have access to rates that you as an individual couldn’t negotiate on your own, and your all-in-one cost reflects these savings. However, it’s important to choose the right tour for your kids and prepare them for this type of travel. Our simple checklist makes traveling with kids—yours or someone else’s—easy.
Find the right tour
Group tours come in all shapes and sizes. Your first step is to decide where and when you want to go. Next, think about the itinerary that best suits your group. Do you want to focus on educational experiences or active adventures? Or a combination of both? Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Find tours designed for families. Look for tours specifically designed for families because the itineraries will include attractions and activities that naturally appeal to curious, active kids. Think fewer tours of archaeological ruins and more visits to wildlife reserves. Some companies such as Adventures by Disney cater solely to the family market, while other outfits, including Trafalgar, have a family category among their general offerings.
2. Find the right payment option and price that fits your budget. Many guided tour operators offer advance payment options and additional discounts depending on the tour. For instance, when you book with Trafalgar, you’ll pay a $200 minimum deposit per person at the time of booking, but full payment isn’t due until 45 days prior to your vacation date.
With these monthly payment options, if you plan your trip 12 or even six months in advance, you’ll have time to pay off your trip before you go. Of course, you can also take advantage of limited-time discounts and pay in full at the time of booking to receive an extra discount. See Trafalgar’s offerings for details.
As for getting the best price, there are many ways to take advantage of discount options. Trafalgar’s CostSaver tours start at just $91 per person, per day, giving your family a fully guided vacation at an affordable price. Trafalgar also offers year-round discounts to help you find the best price for your family vacation.
Another cost-saving strategy is to consider traveling with other educators, family members or friends to gain greater reductions. For example, traveling with a small group of five to 10 people, or sharing a room, may help lower the cost of your trip.
And have you taken a group tour in the past? You may be eligible for a discount. “Additional savings can be found through multiple-trip discounts,” confirms Trafalgar Worldwide Guided Vacations president Paul Wiseman. “Trafalgar welcomes past guests back with 5% off their next vacation. The timing of the trip can save you even more when it’s during the destination’s shoulder season. Or opt for free time vs. the additional experiences.”
Ask your tour company for complete details on any discount offers, as offers can change.
3. Consider age restrictions/recommendations. Within most tour descriptions you’ll find the recommended ages for kids. There may even be restrictions for children under a certain age. These are posted for a reason. Either the itinerary is too physically demanding, or the attractions won’t hold interest for youngsters.
4. Think about when to travel. Tours designed for families will generally be scheduled during North American school breaks around Easter, Christmas and summer vacation. These departure dates give you the best chance of finding other families in your group.
5. Dig into the itinerary. Take a careful look at the itinerary before committing. Will your kids be interested and engaged in the planned activities? A bored child is an unhappy traveler. Also, make sure the itinerary isn’t too grueling and that there is enough free time for rest. For best results, match your family’s interests with the theme of the tour.
6. Prepare your kids for a group tour. Group tours are generally seven or more days long and cover a lot of ground. This may be a new way for your family or students to travel, so prepare them by reviewing the itinerary ahead of time. Note that you may change hotels every other night, and there may be some long bus rides involved.
“Something we find truly important is the way you travel,” adds Trafalgar’s Wiseman. “We provide luxury air-conditioned coaches with reclining seats, an onboard restroom and Wi-Fi to keep children entertained. Instead of hearing ‘are we there yet,’ you’ll have the kids completely occupied by the changing landscapes and comforts aboard all our modes of transportation.”
Consider where you’re staying, too. The accommodations could be different from what your kids are used to, especially if you’re traveling to another country. Meals may also be different—both in terms of when they’re served and what foods are available. There probably won’t be a children’s menu unless you specifically book a family-centric itinerary.
Patience and flexibility—two character traits not normally associated with kids—are important because itineraries can change on a dime. If there’s a flat tire on the tour bus, the tour director decides your plans that day. Your group may also be comprised of travelers from around the world, with different languages, customs and attire. Your children should know how you expect them to interact.
7. Get your kids invested—and excited. Your tour company will provide logistical details that you can and should share with your kids to invest them in the trip. Learning about where they’re going will pique kids’ interest. Have them read books about the destinations you’ll visit, or watch online travel videos together. Once you’re on the road, challenge your kids to document the trip via photos or old-school journal entries. Give them the opportunity to send postcards from each destination to their friends back home and give them some decision-making capabilities, however small. If you’ve got a few hours of free time from the group, ask your kids what they’d like to do and run with it. Sometimes, simply enjoying Italian gelato in Rome is the best way to while away an hour while getting your second wind.
8. Prepare for the occasional tired, hungry, cranky kid. Group tours can have a frenetic pace and even the most agreeable child can get overwhelmed during a busy day of travel. Be prepared for when your kids get tired, hungry or cranky. Do your best to keep your kids on a schedule so they get adequate sleep each evening. While most tour groups carry complimentary bottled water, you should pack some snacks (dried fruit, granola bars) in your purse or day bag so when the munchies call, you’ve got something on hand (and Mom-approved). Don’t be shy about skipping optional activities if you feel your kids need some rest or unstructured time to themselves. And while we don’t encourage screen time while on vacation, tablets and handheld videogames have been known to soothe a cranky kiddo.
The same advice goes for student groups. If you’re in charge of leading the Drama Club’s spring break trip to London, these same prep tips work for your students. Many group tour companies, such as EF Explore America and Explorica, cater specifically to student groups organized by schools and clubs. In this case, a series of information sessions that involve the parents, as well as the students, will be needed to get everyone up to speed. Since certain things—such as getting the kids’ passports—are out of your control, it’s best to start the planning process at least a year in advance of the trip.
Don’t forget to check if your guided tour package includes airfare. Likewise, some trips may require a pre- or post-tour hotel stay. To search for discounted flights and hotels, visit NEA Member Benefits’ NEA Vacations portal.