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Group tours: How to pick the right one for you

  • This undated photo provided by Friendly Planet Travel shows participants in one of the company’s group tours posing in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. There are many things to consider when choosing a group tour, including type of accommodations, activities, and price. Many tours charge extra for solo travelers because they will be the sole occupants of hotel rooms that ordinarily accommodate two people, but Friendly Planet offers a service to help solo travelers find compatible roommates and avoid the single supplement charge. (AP Photo/Friendly Planet)

    This undated photo provided by Friendly Planet Travel shows participants in one of the company’s group tours posing in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. There are many things to consider when choosing a group tour, including type of accommodations, activities, and price. Many tours charge extra for solo travelers because they will be the sole occupants of hotel rooms that ordinarily accommodate two people, but Friendly Planet offers a service to help solo travelers find compatible roommates and avoid the single supplement charge. (AP Photo/Friendly Planet)

  • This undated photo provided by Friendly Planet Travel shows participants in one of the company’s group tours posing in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. There are many things to consider when choosing a group tour, including type of accommodations, activities, and price. Many tours charge extra for solo travelers because they will be the sole occupants of hotel rooms that ordinarily accommodate two people, but Friendly Planet offers a service to help solo travelers find compatible roommates and avoid the single supplement charge. (AP Photo/Friendly Planet)

    This undated photo provided by Friendly Planet Travel shows participants in one of the company’s group tours posing in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. There are many things to consider when choosing a group tour, including type of accommodations, activities, and price. Many tours charge extra for solo travelers because they will be the sole occupants of hotel rooms that ordinarily accommodate two people, but Friendly Planet offers a service to help solo travelers find compatible roommates and avoid the single supplement charge. (AP Photo/Friendly Planet)

  • This undated photo provided by Friendly Planet Travel shows participants in one of the company’s group tours posing in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. There are many things to consider when choosing a group tour, including type of accommodations, activities, and price. Many tours charge extra for solo travelers because they will be the sole occupants of hotel rooms that ordinarily accommodate two people, but Friendly Planet offers a service to help solo travelers find compatible roommates and avoid the single supplement charge. (AP Photo/Friendly Planet)
  • This undated photo provided by Friendly Planet Travel shows participants in one of the company’s group tours posing in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. There are many things to consider when choosing a group tour, including type of accommodations, activities, and price. Many tours charge extra for solo travelers because they will be the sole occupants of hotel rooms that ordinarily accommodate two people, but Friendly Planet offers a service to help solo travelers find compatible roommates and avoid the single supplement charge. (AP Photo/Friendly Planet)

Group tours sound easy: Choose a destination and the tour company plans your trip, delivering you to hotels, restaurants and attractions. You don’t have to Google or organize a thing.

But how do you find the right tour to begin with, one that fits your age, activity levels and preferences for lodging, dining and sightseeing? And what’s the difference between the $2,000 tour and the $8,000 tour to the same place, the same week?

Here are some tips.

Start your research

Travel agents can recommend tour companies to match your interests and demographics. One place to start your own research is USTOA.com, the website of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, which represents 160 brands, including overseas companies with U.S. offices. USTOA.com’s “Find your dream vacation” widget lets you search by destination, tour company and activity – from bird-watching to Oktoberfest.

Tour listings at TourRadar.com also include ratings for comfort level and how physically demanding tours are. And many of TourRadar’s partners include age recommendations. Topdeck tours, for example, list an 18-39 age range because they cater to a young party crowd.

What you get for your money

Most group tours cover all hotels, guides, transportation to places on the itinerary and admission to attractions – though activities like zip lining may be extra. Most meals are usually covered too, but ask what, if any, are not. If you want more than standard fare, ask: Is breakfast and dinner taken in the hotel every day, at chain restaurants, or at mom-and-pop cafes? The larger the group, the harder it is to dine in small, offbeat eateries.

Interests and activity levels

You may think nothing of walking a few miles or spending hours on your feet exploring new places. But that’s not realistic if you’re normally sedentary or have physical limitations. So ask: Does the tour offer sightseeing mostly through bus windows, by trekking up mountain trails, or by walking around neighborhoods?

Group tours cover every interest under the sun, from volunteering, photography, wineries, history and the arts, to winter sports, biking, hiking and wildlife.

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