Like many other young backpackers, I typically plan everything myself and try to make a trip as low cost as possible. Despite working as a tour guide previously, I never thought about joining a tour from the customer side of things. I didn’t want to feel restricted on my trip or pay tons of money unnecessarily.
However, when I began planning my solo trip to Tasmania, and at the request of my boyfriend and mother, I reluctantly investigated what using a tour operator would entail. I followed roughly four steps to determine if it was the right decision for me, and surprisingly, it was. The tour ended up being a really great way to see the island because it took all the planning and driving out of my hands, and added history and context to what I was seeing.
To help make your decision, I’ve outlined the four steps I took (and now often take) to determine if a going with tour group is the right decision.
1. Find a few trips that look appealing
Start with some research. Some activities and destinations are better suited to tour companies than others. For example, you’ll almost certainly need a tour group if you want to do a safari in Tanzania or a rafting trip in Costa Rica, but roadtripping Tasmania could be done on your own.
Then, find some tour operators at your destination. I love researching tour operators in the early days of trip planning; even if I know I won’t be going with a tour operator, I often look at their itineraries for inspiration.
If you are considering a tour operator, make a note of a few trips you might be interested in. Read reviews on the company and tour length, ask any questions to a customer service rep and narrow your choices to two or three options.
2. Estimate the cost of your trip
You need to determine if the tours you’re considering make economic sense. To figure this out, make a rough estimate of the cost for a similar itinerary if you did it yourself. Here is the rough cost breakdown I did for a six day trip around Tasmania.
Accommodation: Budget dorms beds range in price from $20AUD to $30AUD, depending on the location. Five nights stay = $25AUD x 5 = $125AUD.
Car Rental: I don’t like hitchhiking on my own and I knew public transport wouldn’t get me everywhere I wanted to go, so my best option was to rent a car. The price ranged depending on the level of insurance, but a moderate insurance plan was about $300AUD for six days.
Gas: I first determined the general route I would take (Hobart-Strahan-Launceston-Bicheno-Hobart) to be 920km, then estimated an addition 20% for driving into National Parks or to beaches not on the main roads (total of 1100 km). Then I looked at the fuel efficiency of the possible cars and estimated a fuel efficiency of 8L per 100km. 1100km x 8L/100km = 88L. I rounded this up about 15% to 100L to be conservative (you always use more gas than you’re expecting). Gas prices were looking to be about $1.50/L in Hobart but as high as $2.00/L in so the total price of gas would range from $150 to $200. I budgeted $175AUD.
National Park Passes: Each national park charges $24AUD per vehicle for entry (except Cradle Mountain which is $16.50). For my trip I would need 2 passes at $24AUD + 1 pass at $16.50AUD = $64.50AUD.
Activities: In Strahan, I planned to do the World Heritage Tour (highly recommended) which is $115AUD per person. If I wanted to visit Port Arthur, it would be $40 AUD. So activities totalled $155AUD.
So just at a base price, this six day trip is totalling $815AUD. Note: this is more than I would usually budget for a six day trip, but I had just sold my car so I was sitting on a little extra money and this would be my last trip before starting work full time.
3. Now compare that with the cost of a tour operator
The tour I was looking at, the Explore 6 with Lost in Australia, was $795AUD plus $85AUD for the World Heritage tour, totalling $880AUD, so slightly more expensive than if I was to do it on my own but overall very comparable.
4. Consider the qualitative pros and cons
When I was making the decision, here are the things I considered:
- Pro: I don’t have to do any driving myself, I’ll have a tour guide with me the whole time to give context to everything I’m seeing
- Con: I don’t have much freedom with the itinerary
- Pro: I don’t have to do any planning or reservations myself, making it easier to enjoy the traveling I’m doing before I arrive in Tasmania
- Con: What if the other people slow down the group or aren’t fun?
- Pro: What if the other people are really cool and I make some new friends?
Do the pros outweigh the cons enough to justify the extra $65AUD? Since I was currently travelling at the time, I placed a lot of value on hands-off planning. I also knew my family would be relieved. Considering all this, I determined that the best option would be to go with the tour operator.
By the end of all this, you should know for yourself if a tour operator makes sense for your trip. If you’ve never done a tour group before, my advice is to try a short one and see what you like and don’t like. Some people love them, some people hate them. I think it depends on the location and trip length.
As always, if you have questions or comments, get in touch or leave a comment.
Note: I receive no compensation from Lost in Australia for referencing their trip.