What to look for in a group tour

a group of vdg travelers enjoy an afternoon of truffle hunting

a group of vdg travelers enjoy an afternoon of truffle hunting

When people think of group tours, they often envision big buses packed with up to 50 travelers, long waits in lines, and hectic jumps from place to place.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Group tours can be a relaxing, rewarding way to travel, even for the independent-minded traveler – you know, the type who “doesn’t do group tours."

What benefits do you get traveling in a small group? Here are just a few:

SAVE MONEY. When you travel in a group, you enjoy lower group rates that come from spreading out fixed costs. You share the cost of guides, ground transportation and special experiences. You learn, see and do more things than you could afford on your own.

MAKE NEW FRIENDS. Through organizing group travel for 14 years, I’ve met friends who'll last for the rest of my life. Spending time abroad with people in a smaller group, and sharing experiences with them, very often creates lifetime bonds.

IT'S FUN! Traveling alone can be a little monotonous without easy ways to make connections. When people travel together, they find and do things together they might not try if they were alone: maybe share some new dishes at a spur-of-the-moment restaurant stop, or jump from a boat for a dip in the sea off the Amalfi Coast, or dance under olive trees on a sunny Tuscan afternoon!

SAFETY IN NUMBERS. When traveling to an unfamiliar place, it's nice to know that others will be there to watch your back. We've been lucky to travel with people with expertise in many areas, including health care. Having a nurse as a traveling companion can be reassuring!

So, how do you make sure a group tour is for you? Four key attributes define a quality experience:

  • LESS IS MORE. Look for tours that limit travelers to no more than 20 people. Viaggi di Gusto trips typically range from 10-16 travelers. This allows us better access to the small exclusive restaurants, authentic local experiences and smaller, charming properties off the beaten path away from big chain hotels.

  • THOUGHTFUL ITINERARY. Make sure the itinerary is well-balanced. The day-to-day itinerary should maximize your time with fun, interesting activities -- but also allow free time to relax and explore on your own.

  • PRIVATE LOCAL GUIDES. Make sure the tour takes advantage of local guides who know the area firsthand. And, the fact that they’re local means you get cultural insights and tips on where to eat, shop, etc.

  • INTERESTING AND VARIED EXPERIENCES. Again, small-group travel provides access to see and do things that you may not be able to find (or afford) on your own. A good trip shouldn't just show you a string of well-known sights, but also immerse you in local culture, cuisine and people.

I’ll be the first to admit that I need "downtime" alone when traveling. But I also enjoy the energy and fun provided by adventuring in a group. After all, isn’t that what traveling is all about?