Components of an Itinerary
- How Much – How much are these activities going to cost – both individually and as a whole?
- When – Are there operating hours for this activity or is the activity not open on certain days (weekends, national holidays, etc.)?
- Priority – A general priority of each activity, e.g., these 5 things we must do – everything else is a nice to have. A priority will help you spend your time on important stuff and not waste time on the unimportant items.
- Restrictions – Such as no cameras or video inside the museum (I really hate this one).
- Transportation – How are you going to get to the activity – cab, rent a car, someone will pick you up, etc.?
- How Long – How long will you actually have to do all of these things? Will any of these items span multiple days?
Once you have documented these, the fully fledged itinerary is a snap. Documenting these items in this way has a funny way of indicating how good a trip it will be. It will be pretty easy to see if you actually have enough activities to fill up the time you will be on vacation. Once you have created an itinerary, you’ll have to decide how you want to go about experiencing your activities – as part of a guided tour or on your own.
Touring – Self or Guided?
When traveling on vacation, there are generally two ways to participate in activities in your itinerary – as part of an itinerary created by someone else (tour operator, travel agent, etc.) or by doing it yourself. Both have their advantages and disadvantages – a few of which I’ll point out below.
Tour operators are companies that specifically cater to tourists looking to have a professionally guided tour of some destination. Tour Operator offerings can be as simple as an hour-long tour of a museum or a multi-day safari adventure.
- Takes out all of the work on your end in planning activities. You generally don’t have to worry about entrance fees, transportation between included tour venues, etc. Many are all-inclusive, meaning they will provide transportation to/from your hotel, feed you and provide a full schedule of daily activities. Usually, all you have to do is show up – you already know exactly what you are going to do and when before the tour starts.
- Many Tour Operators have local knowledge to share that may be difficult to obtain on your own.
- Tours can be tailored to your individual needs. You can save money by participating in a large group tour or you can pay extra for a private tour guide.
- Many tour operators know the environment in which they provide the tour fairly well – so they will steer their customers away from shady vendors and beggars.
- Most tour operators can recommend sites that are worth seeing and exclude others venues that have not received favorable feedback from previous customers.
- ‘Can’ be less expensive than seeing the same site on your own – as the tour operator can charge a lower rate and make their profit in volume (though this isn’t always the case)
- If participating in a large guided tour, you may experience the ‘heard’ mentality. Some tour operators do not limit the number of individuals (or the limits are very high). At best, this causes a less than personal experience. At worst – you don’t get any experience at all. Imagine a single tour guide trying to speak loud enough so that 50+ people can hear them in a public place. This brings me to the second disadvantage…
- Too many people – both in the tour itself and the location of the tour – particularly in high demand locations. When I was in Cairo at the Pyramids, busloads of people would descend on this place with a many as 1,000-2,000 people at the site as any given moment. Imagine a tour guide trying to speak over all of these people. Some operators even use a bullhorn (my goodness).
- You are generally stuck with the other tourists that sign up for the same tour you signed up for that day. Obnoxious guy on bus – too bad. Babies that won’t stop crying – tough. Grandma needs to stop every 5 minutes to rest – sorry.
- No freedom- everything is set in stone. You go when and where you agreed to go – at what time they tell you.
- No guarantee the tour guide is any good whatsoever! Some tours only provide recorded tour information – the human may not even speak your language. Even if they do speak your language – their interpersonal skills may be awful.
- Sometimes, you don’t actually get a lot done. It takes time to load bus, drive to event, get people back on bus, etc. Even worse, while it may be easier to have the tour operator pick you up from your hotel, you actually have to sit through the driver stopping at 6-10 hotels before you actually get going to what you paid to see.
- Kickbacks – greedy tour operators don’t make as much as they would like from the payments you provide – so they often take you to a [insert lame store here] as a ‘courtesy’. This is where tourists think they are getting a deal for something – but in reality they are either being overcharged or given outright garbage. Tour operators do this because they get a fee for every tourist they bring to in the door.
- Cost of activities doesn’t include 10-15% tip (and yes you should always tip your tour guide!!)
- Tour Operators are in business to make money – so many over hype the offerings.