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  • 3-Minute Article
  • |
  • Nov 17, 2017

Is a Group Tour the Right Choice for You?

Budget, time, and flexibility are key considerations before booking.

Created in Collaboration with Kiplinger as a part of our Moving in Retirement series.

Group tours, including cruises, are a popular travel option for retirees and pre-retirees, with half of all tour slots now occupied by travelers age 51 and over.1 To gauge whether touring is for you, consider these five questions.

To browse, search, filter, and compare the vast array of tours side by side, try online marketplaces like StrideTravel, TourRadar, and TripWing. Each lists hundreds of tours from dozens of companies.

Then do some homework to discover quality. Check to see if the tour operator you select is a member of the United States Tour Operators Association, for example, which requires a $1 million bond for companies to join. Also spend some time exploring past guest reviews—both on the tour provider’s site and on travel tour message forums, such as Frommer’s, Fodor’s, or Viator.

When it comes to group travel, there’s an option for every price range. In fact, with industry standards defining four tiers2 of touring—"affordable,” “standard,” “luxury,” and “custom”—there is a tour to fit every wish list and budget.

Group travel also makes it easier to calculate the total cost in advance. To see if a packaged trip matches the budget, compare prices for all tour elements to prices for an independent traveler. Look at the big expenses, such as transportation, lodging, meals, and venue admissions. Factor in hidden costs, too, such as taxes, transfers, tolls, and tips, to get the full picture. You may find that it’s less expensive to do the itinerary as part of a group than on your own, but always do the number-crunching to confirm.

Monica and Dave Blykowski-May, both 49, travel frequently and enjoy planning trips on their own. But the Spokane, Wash., couple also enjoys group tours, including cruises through Alaska’s Inside Passage and the Mexican Riviera. For them, the decision to tour often comes down to a different kind of currency: time.

“To go to a really cool place, you have to plan ahead to make all the arrangements,” Monica says. “With tours, you can make a pretty quick decision and have a good time.”

Entry fees for museums, historic sites and the like add up fast—unless the tour includes those costs in the price.

That can mean significant savings. On a trip that includes visits to several national parks, for example, the individual entry fee may cost up to $30 every time. When entering on a tour bus, visitors pay nothing at the entrance. The same is generally true for museums and cultural attractions, although it’s important to read tour details to fully understand what’s included.

Ultimately, aim for a balance of sights and activities. “Think about what’s important to you on a trip,” Monica says. “The pluses are that it’s handled for you, once you make those choices.”

It can also be fun to meet other people who decided on the same tour, she adds. “You theoretically have some similar interests,” she says. “And that can work out really well.”

When traveling independently, canceling or changing reservations is not impossible, though doing so may trigger fees or penalties. Giving up a spot on a group tour can be trickier. Be sure to ask whether some or all money is refunded if canceling becomes necessary.

On the other hand, retirees may be able to use scheduling flexibility to their advantage.

“If you wait until the last minute, you can get some awesome deals,” Monica notes. “They want to fill the tour; if they have an opening that’s available, they want it full. So, they’d rather sell it more cheaply.”

To help build a travel budget that accommodates your preferences into your retirement plan, talk to your financial professional.

Kiplinger has an in-house content studio, which reports on investing, retirement planning and wise money management for its partner organizations, providing trustworthy advice and guidance for their readers.
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