Travel Tip #2: Thomas Cooke is a Big, Sneaky Liarpants (The Truth About Package Tours)
Hey you! Yeah, you! Sign up now for our unbeatably cheap ‘China: The Budget Experience’ Bus Tour!’ No need to worry about over-spending or dealing with scary city maps and phrasebooks—our all-inclusive package includes a friendly driver-guide who will happily ferry you about the country, herding you from monument to monument, checking you into our affiliated hotels, and micromanaging your entire day, minute by minute. They’ll even chew your General Tso’s Chicken for you while you stare vacantly across the restaurant, watching our authentic, ancient Chinese diner-show, complete with traditional dancing, a laser light display, and a jumping cat! If you sign up in the next three minutes, this all-inclusive 10-day adventure can be yours for the UNBEATABLE PRICE* of only $2,800!!
No no no nonononoNONONONO.
One of the main reasons people cite for joining organized tours is that it’s a great way to save money.
This is almost never the truth.
A 2003 study by US Investment bank Goldman Sachs boldy uncovered the obvious, announcing it was 26% cheaper to book flights and accommodation directly, instead of doing it through a tour company or middleman. Who the fuck would have thought? Goldman Sachs then went on to point out that grass is green and happy balloon is shiny!!
In rare instances—particularly involving transportation in Europe—package tours might yield better midrange value than independent travel (this does not mean it’s cheaper). Large tour companies can offer exclusive rates in crowded, midrange tourist hubs. These are typically soulless tourist ghettos with boxy, mothball-scented rooms, usually with a loud mini fridge and kitschy watercolor paintings of either landscapes or fruit.
The tour companies also offer the illusion of financial protection. With the price set in stone from the outset, you might think there’s no risk of going over-budget… Until you factor in the $120 you accidentally blew at nightclub in Shanghai. And the $30 ‘I Heart Beijing’ t-shirt that’ll remind you of your trip every time you see it collecting dust in your closet. And don’t forget that loud mini-fridge, stocked with laughably overpriced soda cans and Pringles, which you’ll inevitably eat when drunk, and suddenly you’re tapping into little Timmy’s college fund, and he was going to be a doctor. The single price of these tours is alluring, but it’s never the reality of the situation—countless hidden fees are sure to spring up and nip you in the ass.
So if you book directly with local-run guest houses and hostels, you’ll find more character, more options, and more savings. If you cut out the middle-man, you save cash. It’s not rocket science. Just ask the purveyors of wisdom at Goldman Sachs.
If you’re still considering joining a package tours to relieve stress and hassle, read “The Backpackers Manifesto“
To see me lose my unwavering patience on a tour group, check out “The Human Zoo“
Sometimes I’m not angry. “Life on the Lonely Road”