Private tours are perfect for independent travelers who like to set their own itinerary and departure dates and they are more affordable than you think. Here we share the best ways to find an affordable private tour.
The ability to plan your own itinerary, leave on any date, and find the best local guides and activities are a few of the advantages of a private tour. Most people think booking a private tour is expensive, but it’s doesn’t have to be! Often it is less than you would pay for a large group tour with fixed departure dates and a set itinerary.
Intrigued? Let’s look at some of the myths surrounding private tours. Once we have you convinced it’s a realistic option we provide recommendations on how to find affordable private tour options for your next trip.
Myth 1: A Private Tour is Expensive
I am often amazed when I see the prices for group tours to places I have traveled. Some of the most affordable destinations suddenly become some of the most expensive tours. And having been there, I know the packaged tour price is much more than we paid to travel through the same area.
Vietnam is a great example. Group tours to Vietnam can cost thousands of dollars. I see 2-week group tours which cost as much as we spent traveling through Vietnam for 8 weeks. It is no wonder people think travel is expensive!
But it doesn’t have to be. One of the ways we save money is to travel with local guides and operators. This removes the middleman and lowers your costs. If you see advertisements for large travel companies and tour operators, remember their cost of advertising is built into your travel costs. The more they advertise, the larger their overheads which is reflected in their tour prices.
Find a local operator, at your chosen destination, and chances are they are a small local company with little to no budget to advertise internationally. Their costs are local and for affordable travel destinations, this means lower travel costs for you.
Myth 2: International Companies offer Higher Quality Tours
The level of service and style of travel varies widely for tour operators. Selecting an international company is not necessarily an indication of quality.
Many local providers have been trained or worked for large international firms before setting out on their own. Many were driven to set up their own companies to provide a better service.
Check the background of the local tour operator and your tour guide. (Chances are they previously worked for one of those big international companies.)
Private Tour Examples with Local Operators
Some of Compass & Fork’s recent experiences with local guides:
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The Temples of Angkor complex is huge, with over 500 acres of temples. It is also located in the Cambodian jungle which means heat and humidity no matter what time of year you visit.
When planning our visit, we opted for a private tour. This meant we could go at our pace, see the temples we were interested in, find the best photo spots, and return to the comfort of the air-conditioned car and a drink of cold water. It also meant we could adjust the itinerary to avoid the crowds in the Temples of Angkor at peak times! We were able to include visiting Tonle Sap Lake and spend time exploring Siem Reap.
I asked for several quotes for tour companies and the while the itinerary was similar, the price quoted varied widely.
In the end we selected the local provider and could not have been happier with the service and price. (One alternative quote was four times higher than the one we selected for roughly the same itinerary.)
Note: We booked our own accommodation in Siem Reap.
Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Working out the nuances of local transportation through the villages of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam meant long delays and looked more trouble than it was worth to spend a few days exploring this region.
I took the easy way out and booked a 3-4 days private tour. We set the itinerary, the driver and guide met us at the Cambodian border crossing and dropped us in Ho Chi Minh City several days later.
Having a guide meant we saw the highlights of this area in a very low stress, well organized manner. We tried local foods, visited remote villages, floating markets and were able to explore several times via boat journeys. This would have been difficult and time consuming to arrange on our own.
The total cost of the tour, including driver and guide, and accommodation was not much more than we would have paid for just the accommodation.
In Morocco we traveled through the Moroccan Desert with a local tour operator. This provided access and insights to the local Berber culture, including an afternoon eating lunch with a local Berber family.
We were traveling one way between Marrakech and Fez, which also meant we did not have to rent a car or pay expensive one way drop fees.
We could both relax and enjoy the scenery too!
A small, country, nestled between India and Tibet, Bhutan is not a country you can travel through independently. If you want to go, you need to find a local tour company to work with for your visas and travel arrangements.
One great advantage of Bhutan’s model is everything is organized for you. Itinerary, accommodation, meals, driver and guide were all included in the fixed price tour. Our itinerary was designed for us. Most tours in Bhutan are for parties of two, some are for small groups of family or friends.
How to Find a Local Operator to Organize A Private Tour
Three places to find a local tour operator for your private tour are: Trip Advisor, a search engine or Tripifini
We have used Trip Advisor to find or find reviews of local tour guides.
Our Cambodian tour guide we found on Trip Advisor. Read both the reviews and note where the reviewers are from and how many reviews they have written. If people from similar backgrounds to you have enjoyed the service and written positive reviews it is a good indication.
If you like what you see in the reviews, contact the company. Discuss itinerary, price and payment terms.
Service you receive during the planning process is an indication of the service you will receive on your tour. Look for promptness, reliability, communication skills and flexibility from the operator. If these aspects are missing, chances are they will be during your travels as well.
We have used a search engine, Google or something else, to find local guides for Machu Picchu and our trip through the desert in Morocco. A good idea is to look for reviews of the guide and make contact directly with the operator.
You can try trip advisor, or search for more specific reviews, usually found on blogs or independent travel websites, like Compass & Fork. These are people that have experienced the operator’s services and can provide in-depth knowledge of the itinerary and what it is like to travel with the tour operator.
You can find several reviews from tour operators we have used on the site including: our small ship cruises in Patagonia, the Amazon jungle, and Halong Bay. Our hiking trips in Torres del Paine, Bay of Fires, and hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.
The option you may not have head of, is Tripifini, a travel site to help you find a local operator to design your perfect trip. Tripifini eliminates the challenges of researching and planning your trip as well as finding a guide and accommodation.
Servicing over 60 countries around the world, Tripifini creates a one of a kind itinerary for your trip. Specializing in “experiential” travel, you’ll find the perfect elusive local activity that will make your holiday the trip of a lifetime. If you have always dreamed of visiting a destination and are looking for the perfect trip or looking to celebrate a special occasion or milestone, Tripifini helps you craft the perfect itinerary.
How to Plan a Trip with Tripifini
You can find itinerary suggestions on the Tripfini website. These are example itineraries which provide ideas of what you to do in a destination and an indication of costs on a scale of $- $$$$.
If you have a destination in mind, you can browse the destination for activities to combine into your dream trip.
Or if you are ready for some assistance, fill out the “Plan my Trip” form and begin the process of working with a local to develop an itinerary. There are no charges involved in planning a trip. If you book the itinerary, you will pay the quoted travel costs.
You won’t find any group tours, packaged vacation, all- inclusive resorts or cruises on Tripifini. And you can pick your own departure date, overcoming one of the disadvantages of a group tour.
Tripfini follows a two-step process to help you find the right operator.
Step 1- Contact Tripifini
Using you Plan My Trip” form Tripifini matches you with a local operator based on your interests and destination.
Step 2- Plan Your trip
You work with the local operator to develop your itinerary. If you have any issue or need an alternative tour operator, Tripifini is there to assist.
Check Tripifini now for ideas for your next trip, and take advantage of this special offer for Compass & Fork readers to save $200.
Booking Your Private Trip
That’s it, there are no travel agents or middlemen, just you and the operator which provides great flexibility as well as saves you money. The local tour operator can book all aspects of the trip for you except the international airfares.
The local operators are hand-picked by Tripifini saving you time and effort to research and find a local tour operator. Only those with excellent reputations and experience, including customer service and safety, are selected. Using Tripifini saves you time and money planning your private tour and developing your dream trip!
Have you taken a private tour somewhere? What was your experience? How did you find the local company? Leave us a comment below, (no URL required) and share your experience.
Enjoy your travels!
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