I’m still havin’ a grand ol’ time down here in New Orleans with my friends, Cassie and Jesse. We’ve been on a lot of tours (bayou boat ride, anyone?), which reminded me that I still haven’t expressed just how much I love tours.
…I love tours. Loooooove tours. Love ’em.
Tours provide the chance to meet locals and fellow travelers. Tour guides throw historical knowledge your way as skillfully as a baker fries a beignet. On a tour, someone else does the driving for you, allowing you to look out the window and fully appreciate where you are. (Unless it’s a walking, Segway, or biking tour, that is…)
Tours are amazing inventions.
But how do you book a tour? What’s the etiquette? What do you bring?
I’M GLAD YOU ASKED, DEAR READER.
Tours come in all shapes and sizes, but I’m going to use this Wild Wicklow Tour as an example. The flowery description on Viator is actually spot-on, so I’ll just summarize what’s included:
A drive through some of Dublin’s wealthier neighborhoods, with a stop by the sea for pictures. A shopping opportunity at Avoca Handweavers (and there’s a delightful garden hiding in the back of it, which I strolled through at one point). Several stops within Wicklow Mountains National Park, with an emphasis on filming locations for movies like Braveheart.* Lunch at a pub in a small town. Then a walk through Glendalough: a glacial valley that contains a 6th century monastery, among other fascinating things.
And then the tour ends with a free tot of Jameson whiskey. Ireland is truly a wonderful place.
You get to experience all of that for about 30 USD. Which means — considering that it’s an all-day tour — you’re getting major bang for your buck.
So. How do you book these magical excursions?
I book most of my tours through Viator because it’s just too easy, but many tours also have their own webpages, like this Dublin musical pub crawl. In either case, the tour company sends you a confirmation email after you book with them.
Many tours will ask that you bring a print-out or electronic voucher of that email for the tour guide to scan. I have yet to see a tour guide turn someone away when they neglected to do this, but better safe than sorry. (Truthfully, most tour guides I’ve encountered have just glanced at the sheet, then motioned me onto the bus. It’s very informal.) I print out the itinerary, too, so I have the all-important start time of the tour, plus other general information.
What do you do the day of the tour?
Some tours will pick you up right in front of your hotel; if this option is available, you’ll see it right in the tour description. Otherwise, the itinerary will include a starting point. Wicklow’s starting point was a certain statue in Central Dublin, near Trinity College.
I would recommend getting there early. Tour guides, understandably, want to start the tour on time, and before that can happen, they have to check everyone in. And some tours — like a Segway tour of Chicago, or some Icelandic snorkeling, just to name two examples — require some training/preparation before you can begin. So showing up right on the dot isn’t very nice to your tour guide…and if you’re super late, they may even leave you behind!
But don’t show up super early. I’m a stickler for punctuality, so for that Wicklow tour, I dragged Lauren out of bed as early as humanly possible to make it to the tour’s starting point…only for the tour guide/bus driver to not even be there yet. We were way too early. I’d say 20 minutes is plenty of time — not too early, and it still gives you some leeway if you have trouble finding the pickup point.
If you’re having trouble locating your tour group, don’t be bashful — ask for help! I almost missed a tour in London because I went to the train station instead of the bus station. I ended up calling the tour company (using the handy number on my itinerary) to ask for directions. And then when I got there, I had no idea which tour bus was my ride. So I made a beeline for the closest bus driver and asked which tour he worked for, and then repeated that process until I was victorious.
What’s the etiquette?
Don’t show up intoxicated, please, for the love of all involved. Best case scenario: you nod off and miss the tour you paid for (I’ve met numerous tour guides with a story about a traveler like this). Worst case scenario: you’re disruptive and annoying to everyone else on the bus.
When your tour group stops somewhere for an activity, the tour guide will announce when everyone needs to be back at the bus. Whatever time they give you, strive to be back at that exact time. While on another Irish tour, I actually got to see an additional castle because our tour guide wanted to reward us for being so timely at every stop!
Tour buses are like classrooms: the teacher has an easier time when the students are respectful (and relatively quiet). Also, there are no stupid questions. All the tour guides I’ve met so far were friendly locals and/or utter history nerds, which meant that they were SO MUCH FUN to chat with.
Take note of what’s included in the tour, versus what’s excluded. Does the tour price cover entrance fees (for parks, national landmarks, etc.), for example? What about food — is that included, or do you need to bring extra moola to cover your own meals? (Or even snacks for the bus ride?) Are the tour pick-up and drop-off points identical?
TIP. YOUR. TOUR. GUIDES. There was a time where I didn’t have enough cash in my wallet to properly tip my tour guide at the end, and that moment will haunt me for the rest of my life. Tour guides juggle so many roles at once — it’s impressive and worth compensating.
And talk to your travel buddies. I started striking up conversations with fellow tourists during a Brooklyn pizzeria tour and by the end of it I was sharing a pie with an Australian couple who had spent the previous three weeks driving around Canada “just for fun.”
Thanks for reading, and happy touring,
I wasn’t paid by any of these tour folks for promotional purposes. All opinions expressed are my own.
*Fun fact I learned from the Wicklow tour: most of Braveheart was filmed in Ireland, not Scotland!