I love to travel. But I don't tend to love paying for it. If you have the travel bug but—like me—don't have a luxury budget to go with it, check out these worthwhile discount tour companies. You might just find the perfect price for your family's next dream vacation!
Price per day: what to expect
If this is your first time booking a tour, you may be wondering how you can tell the difference between tour companies. For instance, what is considered a "budget" price for a tour? Often this can be determined by calculating the price per day (PPD). If you’re offered an all-inclusive price, divide that by the number of days for your base PPD [for more see Rick Steves].
- Budget PPD: $150-$300 (typical group size 40-50)
- Mid-range PPD: $200-$350 (typical group size 20-28)
- Luxury PPD: $350-$950 (typical group size 20-40)
Here, the per day price range accounts for unavoidable variances in cost of living in your chosen destination country (for example, because local prices are cheaper in Morocco, you will pay less overall per day to visit Morocco than Paris).
The most critical facet of finding a true budget tour is determining what is actually included in your PPD. A luxury PPD typically includes up to 75% of your meals, all tips, lodging, and sightseeing fees. A budget PPD typically includes up to 50% of your meals and lodging, but you will pay for sightseeing fees, tips, and other extras.
So here, calculating exactly what you get for your PPD will be the key to finding out if that so-called "budget" or "discount" tour package really IS a bargain!
5 Other key perks to look for
Price is a lot of what makes travel possible for me, but it doesn't make my memories any sweeter if I don't have a good experience. Having said that, here are five other key perks you absolutely want your tour company to offer you!
- An itinerary rich in sightseeing (rather than shopping).
- Inclusion of the sights you really want to see (don't assume – always check!).
- Stays of at least 2 nights in each place (to avoid travel fatigue).
- Smaller groups (the only way to ensure a true "locals" experience).
- Local, experienced travel guides (again, a "locals" experience depends on it).
4 discount tour companies
Each of these tour companies is worth considering for different reasons as noted below.
1. Intrepid Travel
Intrepid Travel is a budget tour company with a heart for eco-tourism. For me personally, Intrepid scores big on its small group size—10 or less people per trip on average. Also, their travel experts are locals or transplants who have become locals, so tours include out-of-the-way spots only locals know about.
They can also do custom tours of even smaller sizes—down to couples or a solo traveler if you desire. And since I am an introvert, I also like that their tours are balanced to include both group time and alone time.
- Visit Intrepid Travel online
- Browse deals (up to 30% off select tours!)
- Win cool prizes in the monthly photo contest
- Loyalty Program: Book one tour, get a 5% discount on your second. Book 9 tours and get the 10th free!
2. Cosmos Tours
Cosmos is known for its vacations under $1,000 (as low as $77 per day) and is recommended by Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel. They also offer discounts for young travelers (10% discount on the land portion of any tour for travelers ages 8-15) and a 5% discount on any tour for Journeys Club members.
Groups begin at 8 or more people, but even solo travelers can be accommodated. As well, Cosmos Tours is affiliated with three other budget to mid-range travel tour companies, each with its own unique focus: Globus, Avalon Waterways, and Monograms.
Trafalgar offers tour packages for every budget. Their Cost Saver feature permits you to literally design your own tour for what you can afford by adding in optional experiences.
You will get all your breakfasts and will stay in 3-4 star twin room lodging. The rest of the time is yours to design—if you want to see famous sights, enjoy shows, or dine at a famous restaurant, you can add these experiences into your package.
Also, if you book early, you can get 5% off the land portion of any Trafalgar tour.
4. Rick Steves Tours
Rick Steves is an internationally known travel expert who also has his own tour company. While these tours can venture into the mid-range price, Steves has expertise on cost bundling that can save you cash overall—especially in more expensive destinations!
Also, these tours can serve as great comparison points to see whether you are really getting such a great deal with that budget tour company!
With each tour you get a guaranteed tour price (no last-minute price adjustments to accommodate "market fluctuations"), flexibility if you need to cancel/change dates, freebies (earplugs, tour books, et al), all your breakfasts and half of your dinners included.