Finding and booking reputable private tours can be especially daunting when you are going to a new and unfamiliar city or country. When you don’t have recommendations from friends and all you can do is search, how can you find good private tours (including transportation), not to mention get the best rates?
When we aren’t driving around a country on our own, we prefer to hire private tours because it makes it a lot easier to discover new places. It allows us to just sit back and relax instead of watching routes and worrying about directions — and if we want to enjoy wineries or drinks during our day. Not only do we have a mode of transportation to maneuver around large areas, we have the benefit of a private tour guide to explain to us about an area’s history and culture. It also makes it easier for us to travel with gear, such as our stroller, snacks, bathing suits and towels for beaches, and toys – whenever we get to a stop to explore by foot, we can just leave everything in the car.
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Having taken private tours in nearly 50 countries (40 of them with my child), I’m sharing my secret sauce: TripAdvisor. It’s my favorite site I use to plan, not just for transportation but for all kinds of things like tours, figuring out what to do in a city, and restaurants. But TripAdvisor does not make it the easiest to figure out how to find the best private tours (because they want to make money!), so follow my tips to find reputable, and affordable, private guides for your next trip.
Step 1: Visit TripAdvisor.com. Once you have landed on the site, click on “Things to Do” tab in the destination you will be visiting.
Step 2: Find the Tours Category. Now, TripAdvisor tries to get you to book through their site, listing all of the attractions with booking options first. Skip all of that and scroll to the very bottom of the page. Find and click on “Tours” under “Types of Things to Do” in the destinationyou will be visiting.
Step 3: Select Private Tours. You will now be on a page with a full list of tour options. Again, on your new landing page, TripAdvisor will try to get you to book their partners first. Instead, use the left column and select “Private Tours,” as this is specifically what you are looking for and will narrow your choices.
Step 4: Select Best Reviewed Tours. Once again, TripAdvisor will give you options to buy directly from them. Note at the top of the listings are two tabs: the first is Book Online, which you may have landed on by default.Select “Best Reviewed,” which now lists the tours based entirely on those with the best reviews from actual travelers. I have found that the reviews of the private tour companies are right on the money. If you select an operator in the top 1 to 10 percent of the ratings, you will find the operator to be very good and have top quality transportation and guides.
Step 5: Select Companies to Contact. Now that you are on the list of tours, you will want to select 10 to 15 to email. On our trip to Cape Town, I began my search and noticed 692 tours. That number can be overwhelming, but, by only reviewing those in the top 1 to 2 percent, it reduced my numbers. For example, seeing a company called Finding Cape Fusion, I can quickly see they have 303 reviews and 98 percent of them have been rated excellent. You can trust that this will be a good company to work with.
TripAdvisor provides links to the tour operator websites, so you can click on the ones that seem to fit your needs and review to see if they continue to look like an operator you’d like to use. If so, use the e-mail link provided on TripAdvisor’s page to contact the company.
Step 6: Send E-Mails to Multiple Companies. I find reaching out to 10 to 15 operators will warrant enough responses to decide and book, but if you do not get many responses, find the next 10 to 15 companies on the list. This is an example email I copied and pasted and sent to operators in Cape Town:
“We are 2 adults and a 2-year-old and we plan to arrive in Cape Town on 2/7 and leave on 2/12. We are planning to rest on 2/7 and would like ideas on what to do in the 4 days between 2/8 and 2/11.
Some things that we would have interest in the Cape Town area are:
- City and Food tours
- Shark-cage diving (just for me)
- Marine wildlife safari
- Wine tours
For any activities that involve a whole day, we would prefer a private car and tour guide. We also would plan to stay in the city and I plan to arrange my own accommodation while in Cape Town.
Can you please suggest any options to me?”
For our visit to Cape Town, I had already researched some ideas of places we wanted to visit. One item I didn’t have was a Peninsula Tour. So many operators responded with the option that we decided to go on one. It was beautiful and Cape Town is definitely one of our five favorite cities – absolutely gorgeous! We wouldn’t have taken this tour if we hadn’t had trusted the local tour operators, and Cape Town wouldn’t have wound up in our top 5 favorite places had we not seen the peninsula on the tour.
Step 7: Choose a provider! After reviewing all of the options and prices provided, you can negotiate with the companies to get exactly what you want for a price that is acceptable. Be sure to agree on all activities for the day before booking. Once you are happy with the itinerary, book and then meet your private transportation on your trip. You’ll discover, as we did, how easy it can be to enjoy a new place just by doing a little legwork at home first.
Have you hired private transportation for one of your trips? How did you find your driver and company? Were you happy with the results? We would love to hear about your experiences, and welcome you to share in the Comments section below.