What’s the difference between a hosted and an escorted tour? What is a FIT? Does independent travel mean you are entirely on your own without any travel support? Picking the wrong type of tour for your vacation can impact your budget, or worse, your enjoyment of the trip. But never fear, here’s your 101 on frequently used tour vocabulary so you can choose the best tour for your personal travel style.
Types of Tours
First, let’s define tour. It’s “a journey for business, pleasure, or education often involving a series of stops.” It might last a half day, such as a market tour with a chef, or could be three weeks of backpacking through Thailand on your own.
An escorted tour has a tour director shepherding a group of participants from beginning to end. The participants may be made up of unrelated travelers or an exclusive group of friends or family. Transportation is prearranged and included in the price, whether that’s a motorcoach for 50 people or a minivan for six. Multi-day escorted tours include accommodations and usually have many meals included as well; however, some meals may be pre-designated as “on your own.”
Hosted travel offers more flexibility for individual preferences and less handholding. For example, a local representative may greet you upon arrival at the destination and provide transfers to your pre-booked hotel. You might choose to prearrange sightseeing with a local guide or enjoy unstructured time to explore on your own. Hosted tours usually have a local contact, either at a dedicated desk at the hotel or a 24-hour phone number, to answer questions or emergencies during your stay.
Independent travel or FIT (Foreign Independent Travel) is the most customizable type of tour. Basically, you design your own tour to include whatever you wish. You have complete freedom to explore on your own, although your travel advisor can prearrange a local guide or a car and driver to take you to specific sights. Your advisor will confirm hotel accommodations and reserve train tickets or a car rental before you travel so you don’t have the stress of doing that from the road. When traveling independently, you will not have a local escort or host at your disposal throughout your tour, but your trusted advisor is just a phone call or email away should you need them.
What features do you want to be included?
You might think the higher the cost of the tour, the better the quality, but that’s not necessarily true. There are quality tours in various price points, depending on what features you want to be included. You have to look at the value received for the price – whether that’s a $300 day-tour or a $9,000 two-week tour. Some factors to consider:
- How many meals are included? Do you want all meals preplanned or the flexibility to choose your own restaurants occasionally? Are meals buffet-style or table service? Will you dine as a group or independently?
- What transportation is used? Options may include motorcoach, overnight trains, local buses, rental car, chauffeured cars, private yachts or even camels!
- What style of accommodations are used – standard, deluxe, premium or luxury? Are they boutique hotels, full-service resorts, local homes and inns, glamping, yurts or caves? How far away are local sights, shopping or public transportation?
- Are sightseeing tours included or optional (pay locally)? Are entrance fees included? Will you be picked up from the hotel or need to make your way to a meeting point?
- Does the tour include value-added amenities such as after-hours admission, preferred seating at a performance or behind-the-scenes access?
- How many people are traveling together? Large escorted groups can number 50 or more and you’ll travel en masse. Small group tours tend to number from about eight to 20 participants. On hosted tours, you may only cross paths with other participants occasionally. Independent travel will be just you and your travel companions together.
- Is luggage handling included or will you be responsible for carrying your own bags? Are there size and weight luggage restrictions?
- Are taxes, service charges, and/or gratuities for hotel and baggage handling included?
Which of these tour features suit your personal travel preferences? If you consider the tour’s inclusions to be benefits, then that tour is providing you value, thus a better choice for you. There are no wrong answers – everyone has different travel tastes and budgets.
Covington vacation advisors have personally traveled with many different tour operators so we can help you choose the best tour for your personal travel style. Contact us for a consultation.