The last two blog posts that I have written have been about the pros and cons of organised tours. Both posts are fairly thorough, however in essence probably the most important summary is that while organised tours take a lot of the stress in terms of planning and logistics out of travelling, they can mean a huge sacrifice to flexibility and who you travel with. While you’ll see from the posts that I have travelled both solo and on group tours and experienced both the highs and lows of each, there’s a third option which I feel doesn’t get as much attention: private tours.
To be honest, it’s probably not really that surprising that most budget travel websites don’t really talk a lot about private tours. There’s certainly the feeling that they can be very luxurious and out of reach for most people. Frankly, it is true that they are not the cheapest way to travel – however, in my experience, it is much, much more affordable than you think.
I have been on several private tours, in Jordan, Morocco, Sri Lanka and Peru. None of them have been particularly expensive (except perhaps Sri Lanka, which was for our honeymoon), and they have all been great experiences.
So… how much does it cost to go on a private tour?
I thought I’d get started with this because I do appreciate that for those on a very tight budget, this may not be an option. So before I go into the details, here’s the nitty gritty so you can make up your mind as to whether you think a private tour is within your budget.
Now of course saying ‘how much does it cost’ is a bit difficult, as prices can vary wildly depending on where you are and what level of service/accommodation you go for. In addition, private tours are often sold by the tour, rather than by the seat, so while they may be very expensive for 1 person, they could be very cheap if you have a group. Nonetheless, you can definitely find cheap options, and also, your tour guide may have deals with accommodation/food providers which allows them to get a better deal than you would.
So without further ado, here is a comparison for different options in Peru, calculated on 2 people, for a week visiting Machu Picchu and surrounds:
|Solo (Backpacker)||Solo (Flashpacker)||Group Tour||Private Tour|
*Note: backpacker assumes you are staying in hostels, eating mainly street food and travelling by bus. Flashpacker assumes you are staying in three star hotels, eating at middle-ground restaurants and travelling by plane and taxi. All the solo options assume that you are not getting a tour guide.
As you can see, there is no doubt that you can see a country independently much more cheaply than you can on a tour. You may also be surprised to see that a group tour for two is more expensive than the private equivalent! It is worth noting, however, that I chose the price from a G Adventures tour. While G Adventures is typically aimed at younger travellers and therefore more budget, there are always cheaper local options. Overall, however, you can see that a private tour is about on par with a “flashpacker” itinerary.
Benefits of a private tour
So, while a private tour is not the absolute cheapest way to see a country, it definitely has a lot of positives and in many ways is the best of both worlds. Your tour guide is an expert who can take care of all of the logistics, while still leaving ultimate control up to you. I have found often the best way to approach this is to give your guide some information about what you like – for example, ‘culture’, ‘history’ and ‘food’, and then let them design an itinerary for you. You can then tweak it together to find the perfect itinerary.
The other major benefit of a private tour is that you have a tour guide to help introduce you to a place. I especially like Tours by Locals because (as the name suggests) they are local guides who can give you an insider’s perspective into a place and its culture and history. I personally think a tour guide can add so much to a trip, especially if you are visiting sites of historical or cultural importance.
You also keep a lot of the flexibility while your tour is underway. Feel like sleeping in one morning? No problems, just let your guide know (although you’ll need to be prepared to miss out on some of the itinerary). All in all, I am a big fan of private tours and find they can be very affordable.
Drawbacks of a private tour
I’m not sure there are that many drawbacks of private tours – as I’ve said, I tend to see them as the best of both worlds. However, like anything, it largely depends on what you’re looking for in a trip.
I’ve already discussed budget and shown that private tour is not the cheapest way to travel. If you are looking for an absolute cheap as chips trip (nothing wrong with that), then a private tour is probably out of reach. Furthermore, I deliberately chose a destination that is not ultra expensive. A private tour in an expensive country such as my home, Australia, is likely to be prohibitively expensive.
You may not like a private tour if planning a trip is half of the fun for you. I know my mum falls into this category, and I often do too! If you are someone who loves to scour the net for the best deals and recommendations, then you may find that having a tour guide choose your itinerary, accommodation and food takes away some of the fun. In that case, perhaps it is best to skip it, or maybe just do day tours of sites instead.
Also, while the tour being private is what gives you the flexibility (and more privacy), if you like to meet lots of people while you are travelling, you might find it isolating. Compared to a group tour or staying in hostels, a private tour will give you a lot less opportunity to make new friends in your destination. I totally get why that might turn you off a private tour.
Where to find a private tour
There are thousands of independent tour operators around the world, and many ways to find them. One of my favourites is the website Tours by Locals, which lists local guides from all over the world and has a secure booking/payment system. In Jordan, I booked my tour through my local travel agent, and was absolutely not disappointed. You can also find tons of tour operators online through a quick Google search, preferably followed up with a search for reviews somewhere like TripAdvisor!
Every type of travel has its pros and cons, and what is good for one person or one place may not be good for another. I generally travel independently, however in destinations which require a bit more work to plan, or where I really want to learn about the culture or history, I really like private tours with local guides.
I hope you have found this article helpful, please comment below with your experiences or if you have any questions!