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Travel + Leisure Readers' 15 Favorite Tour Operators of 2023

The right tour operators can make or break a trip. These specialists came out on top in our annual "World’s Best Awards" survey for 2023 thanks to insider knowledge and personalized service.

some tour package companies

How Voting Works

What readers loved, the full list.

Courtesy of Butterfield & Robinson

While we travel to see the sights, what we really take home with us are the experiences. And finding the right tour operator — one that’s able to meld insider knowledge about a destination with the best ways to take it in — can make or break a trip. But when the right combination does come along, it can be pure magic, so it’s no wonder that the last year has seen group travel on the rise .

Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Nearly 165,000 T+L readers completed the 2023 survey, an increase of nearly 25 percent over pre-pandemic voting levels. A total of more than 685,000 votes were cast across over 8,500 unique properties (hotels, cities, cruise lines, etc.).

Tour operators and safari outfitters were specifically rated on the criteria below:

  • Staff/guides
  • Itineraries/destinations
  • Accommodations

For each characteristic, respondents could choose a rating of excellent, above average, average, below average, or poor. The final scores are averages of these responses.

With nine of the companies returning from last year’s list , one major trend that stands out is the focus on a region, like with this year’s No. 1 pick, ATJ, which focuses on luxury travel, ranging from bespoke private to small group itineraries, in Austrasia. Also destination experts are Inside Japan Tours (No. 10), who offer themed trips, from honeymoons to diving, around the island nation, and Vagabond Tours of Ireland (No. 12), which makes its debut on the list, standing out for its B Corporation status, as it guides travelers around the Emerald Isle in their choice of style, either relaxed and culture-focused or active and adventurous. 

Also notable are the operators who go a step beyond, like two returning favorites: Artisans of Leisure (returning as No. 3) has been called “top notch”; one reader said that “no other tour operator comes close in terms of knowing the destinations [and] understanding what we want and executing our trip flawlessly.” Black Tomato (dropping from last year’s No. 4 to a still respectable No. 6) manages to both fulfill curiosity and allay FOMO on its adventures globally.

But more than anything, it’s loyalty that shows what a strong tour operator is made of, and readers often raved about return visits with a particular company. One, for instance, shared that after 25 journeys, Du Vine Cycling + Adventure Co. (No. 2) stands out among them all. “The best cycling trips I’ve been on,” they said. “Great staff, accommodations, and first class all the way.” And that’s the winning combo for a tour company — leaving travelers with that passion for exploring the world through their eyes. See the complete list of top 15 tour operators, according to T+L readers, below.

Courtesy of ATJ

Formerly known as Asia Transpacific Journeys, ATJ made the list in 2011, 2017, and 2018, and it now leapfrogs back in triumphantly, notching the No. 1 spot. Offering tours in countries like Australia, Bhutan, Japan, Laos, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Vietnam, and Taiwan, the company specializes in custom itineraries and private group trips. But what travelers rave about is its band of extremely helpful customer service reps who are “responsive and personable.” They added, “I can call and speak with a live person immediately.” Customers tend to be loyal, but so are the agents: “I have used the same agent and she always remembers what we like and any special needs we have.”

I have used the same agent and she always remembers what we like and any special needs we have.

Reader Score: 99.07

2 . DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co.  

Reader Score: 99.05

3 . Artisans of Leisure  

Reader Score: 98.89

4. TCS World Travel

ReaderScore: 98.84

5. Trek Travel 

Reader Score: 98.62

6. Black Tomato  

Reader Score: 98.29

7. Classic Journeys  

WBA Hall of Fame honoree.

Reader Score: 98.27

8. Adventure Unbound  

Reader Score: 98.15

9. Scott Dunn  

10. Inside JapanTours  

Reader Score: 98.13

11. Butterfield & Robinson  

Reader Score: 98.00

12. Vagabond Tours of Ireland

Reader Score: 97.78

13. Quasar Expeditions

Reader Score: 97.53

Reader Score: 97.33

15. Jacada Travel

Reader Score: 96.20

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8 Ways to Choose the Perfect Tour Company

Last Updated: November 3, 2023

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That idea of tours being bad is an old and outdated perception.

These days tour groups have become more adept at the changing landscape. They feature smaller groups, more authentic experiences, a better environmental impact, and more local guides.

I love group tours.

Even though I am an independent traveler, I find group tours super fun, a great way to meet people, learn more from an informed guide, go to places you normally can’t, and wet your feet in travel. My first trip overseas was on an organized tour. I didn’t know the first thing about travel and that tour gave me the confidence to travel on my own. It was the taste test I needed to become hooked on travel. Tours give a lot of people time to adjust to the “travel lifestyle.”

Unlike in the past, today’s tours are eco-friendly, cater to all travel styles, over cheap, and make a point to use local transportation and guides. And many destinations (like Halong Bay, the Galápagos Islands, the Serengeti, Machu Picchu, Antarctica, Everest) are virtually inaccessible without an organized group tour!

In this article, I am going to tell you how to find the best tour company so you get one that is inexpensive, eco-friendly, provides local guides, and gives back to the local community:

1. Research the costs

With tour companies, it’s not always true that you get what you pay for. Many tour companies nickel-and-dime you, while some are really good at maximizing value for your every penny. Ask how your money is spent to find out if you are really getting the best value for your money. How much of your fee is their overhead? Are you paying for top-notch hotels but staying in two-star guesthouses? You want a company that is transparent with why prices are the way they are.

Moreover, make sure you ask if there are added fees to pay when arrive. Many companies require you to pay additional money when the tour starts or don’t include park or attraction entrance fees. That cheap tour won’t be so cheap if you have to pay for everything while you’re there!

2. Make sure you are the audience 

Is the tour geared toward older couples? Young people? Families? You don’t want to end up on a loud Contiki tour full of drunk twenty-year-olds when all you want is a quiet holiday.

There’s a tour company for everyone — just make sure you don’t end up on one that isn’t yours. Most tour companies list their guest demographics on their “About” page, and you can usually see from the photos of their tours who goes on it.

You can also tell the audience based on accommodation: if it’s hostels or guesthouses, it’s usually for backpackers and budget travelers; if it’s fancy digs, it’s for older travelers and families.

This is very important because these are the people you’ll be traveling with so you want to make sure it’s the kind of people you are traveling with. I’m still friends with the people from my first tour in 2003 because they were people like me. The tour in Japan that was filled with older families? Not so much. We didn’t have much in common. Wonderful people but we didn’t connect.

So, I always look for tours that have my demographic in them.

3. Get local guides

Guides can make or break your trip. They are going to explain everything to you and keep the flow of the tour going. I don’t want them hiring some young kid, non-expert, or someone who doesn’t know the place well. I’ve been on tours where the guide was a walking encyclopedia, and on somewhere the guide was a glorified timekeeper.

Make sure the company uses knowledgeable, local guides. The guide should be a local or at least a long-term resident, know the local language, have travel experience, and know life-saving techniques.

If you are unsure about the guides, call the customer service line and ask them about their guides.

4. Safety record 

Make sure the company follows all the proper safety requirements and is accredited by the local government, the government where they are registered, and any other appropriate trade organizations.

5. A balanced schedule 

You’re paying for them to fill most of your day. How do they do that? Are they doing that? Do they have a lot of activities organized, or do they leave you to your own devices?

That said, you don’t want a schedule that is crammed with things to do. Make sure you get a schedule of all the activities and pick a tour that is balanced. Running around will leave you wishing you had a holiday from your holiday, but you don’t want to be sitting around all day, either.

I love taking small group tours because they generally have a good balance. Any tour that requires you to be on a huge bus and hits 6 cities in 5 days is not a tour to take!

6. Environmental impact

There’s a growing trend among travelers called ecotourism . It’s about more responsible travel, not only toward the environment but also toward the locals in an area. This means using local guides, hotels, and services, and making sure to reduce waste and your footprint on the local habitat.

Moreover, these companies tend to offer better and more interactive tours that also give you a good degree of autonomy.

I think it’s important to pick a company that provides great value and gives back to the place you are visiting. After all, did you go there to ruin it for others? Doubtful.

Check with groups like the International Ecotourism Society for a list of companies that have been certified “eco-friendly.” With so much money pouring into the industry now, you have a lot of companies fraudulently saying they practice ecotourism but end up being involved in terrible labor practices, animal abuse, and waste.

7. Group size

Tour companies that have smaller groups tend to be much more mindful of the environment and the impact they are leaving. It’s a lot easier to meet people in a group of 10-15 than it is in a group of 60. I don’t like to go on tours with more than 15 people on them. However, I have friends who love Contiki tours with 40-50 people. Know what you are getting yourself into, so you don’t find yourself with a group too small or too large for your tastes.

Just remember larger groups tend to stay at bigger, more impersonal accommodations (they can only accommodate the numbers), eat at more touristy restaurants, and tend to travel to more destinations quicker.

In my expert opinion, small group tours are the best.

8. Check their reputation

How have other travelers enjoyed their time? Look for online reviews to see what a company’s reputation is. It might not always be what they claim, and it’s important to find out the truth before you book.

Remember that MOST people only write a review if something goes wrong. Someone might give a tour company one star just because their eggs were runny. Find the average. Someone might hate a tour because the weather was hot. Seriously. These are actual negative reviews from the tour operator company, Thomas Cook:

“On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.”

“We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”

“We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price.”

“No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”

“Although the brochure said that there was a fully equipped kitchen, there was no egg-slicer in the drawers.”

“When we were in Spain, there were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”

“We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning.”

So how can you trust the reviews you read online?

Take them with a grain of salt. You can read reviews on websites TrustPilot . The approval rating should look like a bell curve but with more A’s and B’s than C’s. I look for companies that average 85% or higher (or 4 out of 5 stars). If a company is that highly rated, the negative reviews are probably just outliers.  

My Recommended (Best) Tour Companies

Here are some of my favorite small, day-tour, or backpacker bus tour companies:

  • Take Walks – This is my favorite walking tour company. They run a wide variety of insightful and entertaining tours around Europe and the US. What makes them so good is they get you inside access to attractions and places you can’t get elsewhere. Their guides rock too!
  • Get Your Guide – A massive marketplace for tours, activities, and excursions. If you’re looking for something niche, you’ll find it here!
  • Devour Food Tours – My go-to tour company for tasty food tours around Europe and the US.
  • Kiwi Experience – A hop-on, hop-off bus tour company in New Zealand for backpackers!
  • Baz Bus – A hop on, hop off again bus tour company in South Africa for all travelers.
  • New Europe – Free walking tours throughout Europe.
  • Free Tours By Foot – Pay-what-you-like tours throughout Europe and the United States. They are one of my favorite free walking tour companies in the world!

THE #1 COMPANY FOR MULTI-DAY SMALL GROUP TOURS

When it comes to multi-day, multi-week tours (think trips through Morocco, sailing in the Galápagos, etc.), I highly recommend using Intrepid Travel .

Intrepid is my favorite and best small group tour operator out there! I really love their guides, their small groups, off-the-beaten-track itineraries, and their commitment to the local environment and community. I always have an incredible time on their tours. They are my favorite multi-day tour operator and the only one I use now (the picture at the top of this page is me on their Patagonia trip). Intrepid is environmentally friendly, uses local guides and transportation, doesn’t rush their tours, and are quite inexpensive. I don’t even consider anyone else when it comes to multi-day trips.

I love tours. They are a great way to meet people, get a local to add value and knowledge, and see places you can’t get to alone! I don’t take them often but I do take them. And, since I follow the above rules, I always have a good time. Some of my favorite travel memories were when I was on a group trip. If you follow my tips above, you’ll never go wrong either.

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Our top 5 things to do in Europe & Britain

There are endless pinch-me moments to be found across the many countries that make up our Europe travel packages. But where to even begin? Perhaps a Flamenco show in Spain, afternoon tea in London or a Northern Lights viewing in frosty Iceland? Here are some of the highlights of our Europe and Britain trips that you're sure to love. 

Paris, France

The world’s largest gallery and the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Louvre is without rival in the art world and is a must see when in Paris. Allow an entire day to explore its eight departments, not missing the Egyptian antiquities, Islamic art and various halls of sculptures. End your day with sunset by the Louvre Pyramid.

London, England

The British Museum

With some eight million works within its permanent collection, The British Museum is an illustrious European landmark. Admire objects brought back from the voyages of Captain James Cook and walk in the controversial presence of the Parthenon Marbles.

Florence, Italy

Uffizi Gallery

The Tuscan capital is home to Uffizi Gallery, where the brushworks of art’s true masters can be found. Names like Raffaello, Leonardo, and Michelangelo fill Uffizi’s grand pink walls, whilst internal courtyards leading to the Arno River reveal the building’s architectural brilliance.

Best museums in Europe & Britain

When traveling Europe with Trafalgar, museum hopping is one of the best ways to understand the culture and history of the places you visit. You’ll find yourself critiquing ancient art and staring in awe at some of the world’s most prominent works. Here are some of our favorites.

Paella Valenciana

Saffron, snails, butterbeans and bomba rice are just some of the ingredients you might find in traditional Spanish paella. Despite originating from the coastal town of Valencia, Paella Valenciana is a variety without seafood. You'll love sitting back to enjoy a steaming plate over the sounds of Spanish jazz in a lively alfresco restaurant.

Beef Stroganoff

Now a staple dish in many parts of the world, beef stroganoff is best enjoyed in its birthplace in Russia with a vodka in hand. This simple dish of beef strips sauteed in a sour cream sauce offers a heart-warming taste of this country’s culinary heritage.

Bouillabaisse

The Mediterranean city of Marseille is where a French culinary icon can be found and devoured. The fragrant stew of bouillabaisse, commonly served with crusty white bread, boils up the finest local seafood and seasonal vegetables with the flavors of fennel, saffron and cayenne pepper.

Best food in Europe & Britain

Our trips to Europe gravitate around indulgent local mealtimes. With new cuisines and cooking methodologies found at every turn, this continent is simply delicious. 

What to pack for a tour in Europe

People packing for a tour

With such a large expanse of space to explore on a European travel tour, on some days, long journeys are unavoidable. The scenery will provide plenty of visual entertainment, while headphones can be used to listen to some local music or enjoy podcasts about European history, culture and politics when you're not enjoying the storytelling from your Travel Director.

A good book

Exploring Europe is best done at a relaxed pace with ample opportunity to absorb your surroundings. Dedicate a few days to sitting in a park or a cafe, alternating between reading and watching the world go by.

Versatile shoes

Within the space of one outing you may experience all kinds of terrain when in Europe. Pack shoes that can see you walking from an elegant restaurant to a cobbled footpath, with a stroll along the soft grass of a park in between.

A blank journal

With the wealth of inspiration tucked into every corner of Europe, you may find yourself compelled to write down notes or memories. At the very least to share recommendations with friends when you return home.

All climate clothing

No matter the time of year you travel, Europe can deliver a myriad of temperatures. From frosty cities of Scandinavia to the temperate hills of Portugal, layered clothing best suits the varying micro-climates across this continent.

Pack for sustainable travel

Consider your environmental impact when you next take a trip and go single-use-plastic-free by packing a reusable water bottle, a steel straw, your own shopping bags and refillable toiletry bottles.

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The 8 Best Travel Package Sites for Booking a Cheap Vacation

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Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of IndependentTraveler.com. Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor .

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at [email protected] .

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Booking a flight, hotel, and rental car together doesn’t just save you time—it can often save you money, too. But before you make such a significant purchase, it’s important to find the best travel package sites for booking your vacation.

I tested more than a dozen vacation package sites to see which ones had the lowest prices and best user experience. I discovered that many of the best vacation package websites allow you to book any combination of flight, hotel, and rental car, while others are more limited (flight + hotel is often the default). Fortunately, some sites will let you add a car onto a hotel+flight package, even if a car isn’t listed on the initial booking page.

It’s also important to compare the price of a vacation booked as a bundle to that same trip booked a la carte as separate components. Booking a package isn’t always cheaper, and sometimes you’ll get  better flight options to choose from if you search for your airfare separately. In some searches, I discovered that the flight options included by default with my vacation package had ridiculously long layovers or undesirable departure times (4:30 a.m., anyone?).

The Best Car Rental Booking Sites

Keep a sharp eye out for resort fees; many of the best vacation booking sites don’t count them in their initial per-person price estimate because they’re collected separately by the hotel, but they can drive up the final cost of your trip. Similarly, optional airline baggage fees can also increase your total bill, especially if you book a flight in basic economy, and some vacation package sites don’t disclose these fees as clearly as others.

Finally, it’s important to know that many of the best sites for vacation packages are owned by the same parent company, so you’ll often find similar inventory and prices from one to the next. Knowing which sites are mostly interchangeable can save you some research time.

The Best Travel Package Sites

We put them to the test to compare prices, inclusions, and more. The following are the best websites to book vacations, listed in no particular order. Scroll down for more in-depth analysis of each one.

  • Expedia’s sister sites: Travelocity , Orbitz , and CheapTickets

CheapCaribbean.com

Funjet vacations.

Illustration of a laptop computer screen showing the vacation packages search page for Expedia

This well-known site is one of the best travel package sites for a reason. Expedia offers a full complement of bundle options (flight/hotel, flight/car, hotel/car, and flight/hotel/car) as well as trips to just about every corner of the globe. It’s reliable when it comes to pricing, too: Expedia offered the lowest price in two of my five tests, and was cheaper than average in all but one test booking.

That said, the amount the site said I was saving on a given package didn’t always match up to the actual price difference when I added up the cost of the trip’s individual elements. In one of my test cases, it was actually cheaper to book my flight, hotel, and car separately. So take those supposed savings with a grain of salt (or even better, price out the components separately on your own to be sure you’re getting the best deal).

Expedia has plenty of useful filters to help you find what you need. You can sort hotels by price, distance from a city’s downtown, guest rating, package discount, and property class, while flight options can be filtered by general departure and arrival times (for example, morning vs. evening), airline, whether carry-on bags are included, and more. You can also sort flight options by duration (longest or shortest), price (highest or lowest), departure time (earliest or latest), and arrival time (earliest or latest). There’s also a map view so you can check out the location of each hotel.

Best Feature: The breadth of choice and consistency of pricing make Expedia perhaps the best site for vacation packages. You may not always get the absolute lowest price here, but chances are you’ll pay a fair rate and have plenty of options to choose from.

some tour package companies

Check out Expedia

How Far in Advance Should You Book a Vacation Home?

Expedia’s Sister Sites: Travelocity, Orbitz, and CheapTickets

some tour package companies

Many travelers don’t realize that Travelocity , Orbitz , and CheapTickets are all owned by Expedia Group, and typically have very similar inventory and pricing to Expedia. Each of these sites has similar layouts and filter options, too. Like Expedia, these three sites offer every possible vacation package combination involving a flight, hotel, and/or rental car.

It was rare for any of these sites to beat out Expedia’s prices in my tests; in general, the rates were identical (especially on Travelocity, where I didn’t find any deviations from Expedia) or a little bit higher. However, Orbitz and CheapTickets did offer slightly cheaper packages on one flight/car itinerary.

Because the pricing is so similar, it’s probably not worth searching all three of these sites in addition to Expedia unless a difference of a few dollars will make or break your travel budget.

Best Feature: Travelocity, Orbitz, and CheapTickets offer a checkbox on their main booking page to specify “I only need accommodations for part of my trip”—a feature that allows user to select a subset of their trip dates and search for travel packages only within that period. This feature is also reflected on Expedia’s search page.

Note: Expedia Group also owns Hotwire , which I didn’t find quite as reliable as the other three in my tests. For one itinerary, a nonstop flight that the other sites offered was not available when booking a Hotwire package (though it was available when booking a separate flight on Hotwire), and the pricing on some searches was a little higher than on the other sites.

Check out Expedia’s sister sites below:

some tour package companies

Like Expedia and its partners, Priceline also offers every possible combination of flight, hotel, and rental car. Its search results pages are easy to navigate, with plenty of filter and sort options, plus a map view for hotels. Priceline offers numerous hotel options in popular vacation destinations at every price point.

One quirk to prepare for: Priceline’s flight result page lists departure and return flights together as a pair rather than letting you choose each one separately. This cuts down on the number of screens you have to click through but could mean extra scrolling while you try to find the exact two flights you want. Not all flights that are available when booking airfare separately on Priceline seem to be accessible to those booking a package—so it’s worth checking both.

Priceline was in the middle of the pack as far as pricing was concerned. It won one of my tests but was the most expensive option in two others; overall, it offered cheaper-than-average prices 60 percent of the time. To help you save money, the site offers “Express Deals” for rental cars, an opaque option in which you don’t know which rental car brand you’ll get until after you’ve booked. If you’d rather choose which company you’re renting from, standard car rentals are also available.

Best feature: Once you’ve selected your flight and rental car preferences, the site will keep them the same as you click through alternate hotel possibilities—saving you the hassle of having to select them over and over again.

logo_priceline

Check out Priceline

What Happens If You Don’t Turn Your Phone to Airplane Mode?

some tour package companies

As its name suggests, CheapCaribbean.com has a more limited scope than other sites on this list, but it’s worth checking if you’re planning a trip to the Caribbean, where package trips such as honeymoons are particularly popular. The site turned up cheaper-than-average prices for both of my Caribbean tests.

CheapCaribbean.com is one of the best vacation websites for all-inclusive packages. Once you’ve entered your trip information, you can also filter your results by “adults only,” “children’s amenities,” and “luxury.” Each hotel-specific page includes a list of active promotions, on-site activities, and the property’s Tripadvisor Traveler Rating.

In some ways CheapCaribbean.com isn’t quite as sophisticated as other travel package sites. There’s no map available to compare locations of the listed hotel options. Also annoying: not being able to group Houston’s two airports into a single search, though you can select “all airports” for New York City and Washington, D.C. But the affordable deals are worth a few snags, as long as you’re only looking for a flight/hotel package—there’s no option to add a car or create any other package combinations, though you can add travel insurance and transfers, at least for the destinations I checked.

Best Feature: The “ Deals of Fortune ,” or bookings where you know the destination but not the exact resort until about a week before the trip. This is a fun feature for value-conscious travelers who aren’t set on a particular island or property.

some tour package companies

Check out Cheapcaribbean.com

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A popular meta-search site, Kayak saves travelers time by searching many of the best travel package sites with a single click. Unfortunately, you can’t specify which elements of your trip you’d like to bundle; it searches flight + hotel by default. You can add a car later on some of its partner sites, but if you’re looking for a flight/car package, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Results list the cheapest available packages from sites such as Priceline (Kayak’s sister company), Expedia, and CheapCaribbean.com. There’s a map view available, and the results page shows both air- and hotel-related filters to make it easy to find nonstop flights, free breakfast, or a specific hotel.

I found that the prices listed on Kayak didn’t always match the price on the source site when I clicked over to find the deal—a fairly common problem with meta-search sites. But I also occasionally discovered that I got a different price after clicking from Kayak than I did when searching the same itinerary from the booking site’s home page. For example, a Las Vegas package was $819 per person on Priceline when I clicked over from Kayak, but just $783 when I booked the same package from the Priceline home page. Another test offered the opposite result, with the price being cheaper after clicking from Kayak than it was when booking directly on Priceline. The lesson: Test both options when using a meta-search site.

Best Feature: Being able to search some of the best vacation booking sites in a single place is a major time saver. Though Kayak doesn’t always find you the lowest possible price, it’s a good place to start your search and get an idea of what’s out there.

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Check out Kayak

The Essential Caribbean Packing List

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The Funjet home page gives you a single package option: flight/hotel. However, you can work around this by adding a rental car on at the end of a flight/hotel or individual flight booking. There are plenty of sort options for your results, including price, hotel name, rating, points of interest, and location.

One annoyance: Similarly to CheapCarribbean.com, there is no option to select “all airports” for certain cities like Houston or Chicago. And Funjet’s prices aren’t the most consistent, ranking as the cheapest in one test and the most expensive in another. Still, the site is worth comparing to others when booking your vacation.

Best Feature: Rather than making you scour the web for coupons, Funjet automatically applies any relevant promo codes to your search.

Note: If you’re headed to the Caribbean, Central or South America, Hawaii, or Mexico, try your search on Funjet’s sister site, Apple Vacations . The destinations it covers are more limited than Funjet’s, but I found that the prices were often a little better. CheapCaribbean.com is also owned by the same parent company, Apple Leisure Group.

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Check out Funjet

Book Your Stay With SmarterTravel Hotels

If you’re ready to book your next adventure but don’t want to commit to a prepackaged bundle, you can still save big by booking your hotel stay with SmarterTravel Hotels.

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All of the products featured in this story were hand-selected by our travel editors. Some of the links featured in this story are affiliate links, and SmarterTravel may collect a commission (at no cost to you) if you shop through them. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

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4 Great Tour Companies with Independent Tours in 2024

These companies offer the benefits of a tour and the flexibility of independent travel..

Christine Sarkis

Globus Debuts New Independent Touring Option

Say you want the convenience of a guided group tour but not necessarily the full tour experience. You’re hoping to book a structured trip that includes transportation , hotels , and some of the activities, but you prefer to not travel with a group of strangers. You’re not alone. In fact, a number of tour companies offer independent tours for people who want the benefits of a worldwide network of providers but who prefer to travel on their own.

Independent Tour Options from Tour Companies

Independent tours give you all of these benefits while still allowing you to choose your activities based on what you feel like doing on any given day. There’s also a spectrum of options that range from fully independent tours to more structured guided tours that build in a ton of free time for independent exploration. Here’s a rundown of the top tour companies and travel package companies that offer independent vacations. 

HOW TO DECIDE: 9 Tips for Choosing the Best European Tour for You

1. Independence by Globus (Offered by Globus)

Travelers on an independent tour with Independence by Globus, looking out on a landscape

A leader among major tour group companies, Globus touts its Independence by Globus offering as having the “many benefits of touring, untethered and unscheduled.” There are two formats—one called Independent City Stays, the other Independent Tours—and together they cover a wealth of itineraries in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and the South Pacific. 

Independent City Stays by Globus

Globus’ Independent City Stays focus on cities like Buenos Aires, Paris, and Tokyo. Included in the stay are hotel accommodations, daily breakfast, sightseeing orientations, and transportation between cities. You’ll have the support of Globus Local Hosts in the city as well as the GlobusGO app with its many traveler resources. 

  • Independent Buenos Aires City Stay (4 days)
  • Independent Tokyo and Kyoto City Stays (7 days)
  • Independent Paris City Stay (4 days)

Independent Tours by Globus

Globus’ Independent Tours include hotel accommodations, daily breakfasts and some other meals, some guided sightseeing, and transportation between cities. You’ll also benefit from the expertise of Globus Local Hosts and have access to the GlobusGo mobile app. These independent tours include plenty of free time so you can choose what you want to do and when. Some examples include:

  • Independent South Africa and Victoria Falls (11 days)
  • Independent Highlights of Cambodia and Thailand (13 days)
  • Independent Costa Rica Wonders (7 days)

2. Self-Guided Tours (Offered by Exodus Travels)

With its self-guided tours, Exodus Travels does the heavy lifting on the planning of European cycling, walking, and cultural adventures, freeing up more room for you to just enjoy your travels. The golden ticket on these self-guided tours are its in-depth trip notes that give you detailed guidance right down to the best spots for lunch and where to stop along the way.

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These independent tours also include accommodations, luggage transport between hotels, plus plenty of local support (and 24-hour emergency support). They make bucket-list experiences like hiking in the Swiss Alps, walking the Camino de Santiago, or cycling through Portugal a lot easier to plan, while still doing it on your own rather than in a group. Sample Exodus Travels self-guided holidays include:

  • Walking the Camino de Santiago Tour (11 days)
  • Porto Coastal Cycling Tour (8 days)
  • Classic Swiss Alps Walk Tour (8 days)

3. Intrepid Basix Trips (Offered by Intrepid Travel)

Intrepid focuses on adventure and off-the-beaten-path destinations, and with its Basix trips it offers independent travelers a sort of tour-light experience that’s big on independent vibes. The budget-minded option packages accommodations such as simple, clean, centrally located hotels, hostels, and even sometimes camping accommodations. Most Basix trips also include a night or two of homestays to give you a feel for local life.

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You’ll have a local tour guide who meets you between stops and offers recommendations for food, attractions, and so on. There are optional activities that you can choose to join a group for or opt out of and explore on your own. Some examples of Intrepid Basix Tours are:

  • Mexico Unplugged Tour (15 days)
  • Serengeti Trail Tour (8 days)
  • Essential Vietnam Tour (11 days)

4. Independent City Tours (Offered by Road Scholar)

Guests on a Road Scholar Independent City tour in Venice on a gondola

Like Intrepid’s Basix tours, Road Scholar ‘s Independent City Tours offer the basic structure of a guided tour but with miles more flexibility and free time than the typical tour. It’s like a tour in that you have a Group Leader and Road Scholar’s signature educational programming ( geared toward senior travelers ), but you also have lots of free time plus resources that help you make the most of your independent hours (think self-guided excursion programs and transit and museum passes). Some sample Road Scholar Independent City Tours include:

  • Jazz, Jambalaya, and Joie de Vivre in New Orleans (6 days)
  • Independent Venice: Art, Culture and Canals (8 days)
  • A Taste of Montreal (5 days)

It’s always important to ask yourself whether your travel style is better suited to a guided group tour or something more independent. If you’re curious about guided tours but have never tried one, here’s a helpful checklist of important things to consider before booking a guided tour .

More from TourScoop:

  • 7 Best Group Travel Companies for Young Adults in 2024
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  • 9 Best Women-Only Travel Groups and Tour Operators in 2024

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Best Australia Tour Companies

Search 140 Australia tour operators and travel companies, with 278 reviews.

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All Australia Tour Companies

Australia tour companies range from global to boutique operators. Tours in Australia often focus on the native culture and outdoor activities. They are also commonly combined with New Zealand. Australia is a large country and most tours are generally a week+.

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Australia Reviews & Ratings

Ruth Glasser

Outback Safari

Our Guide Manuella and driver Ashleigh were excellent. Some of the accomm...

Janice Savage

Excellent coverage of all the best of the NT ,in all it's glory....the beauty of nature, the culture of our indigenous and the vastness of the interior. Well paced,...

Trusted Customer

The Northwest Passage - M/V Sylvia Earle

Beechy island, seeingpolar bears . Greenland .

Christopher

I highly recommend Intrepid tours.

The two Intrepid treks I’ve been on (Peru and Papua New Guinea) are run by local people, and they took me to local places. I learnt something about locals’ lives; an...

Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!!

This trip was probably the hardest thing I have ever done, but the feeling of accomplishment once arriving at Owers' Corner can't be beaten. The porters are amazing ...

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    The luxury travel arm of Disney, Adventures by Disney is known for its focus on guided family tours. Since its founding in 2005, the company has continued to add new touring options with land- and river cruise-based adventures to destinations worldwide. Tours with Adventures by Disney can have upwards of 40 people, including kids under 10 years ...

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    Invites to members-only events. Access to all brands. One rewards program, all in one place. A gift from us. We donate on your behalf. Referral program. Give discounts and get travel credits. From Europe tours to USA trips, travel with confidence with Trafalgar. A small deposit secures your vacation and if you need to cancel within 60 days, you ...

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    4.7 Avg. Rating for Affordable Tours & Travel Packages Trips| 18,069 Reviews for Affordable Tours & Travel Packages Trips. All Exodus Travels company reviews. Why we love them. With a huge range of trip styles and themes, they cater to basically every type of traveler out there- even those with super specific interests. # 5.

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    Affordable travel packages and the experience of a lifetime. Book an Intrepid tour today. My Wishlist My Booking 1 800 970 7299 ... Intrepid named one of TIME Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential Companies 27 Jun 2023. Intrepid named among B Corp's Best for the World™ 13 Jul 2022.

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    Excellent - 11,725 reviews for USA tours. We were fortunate to have Claire Kredens as our driver guide. She is a gifted leader and could cope with ant situation. Such a tour is useful to learn which cities you might like to re-visit because our time in each is very short.

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