Why You Should Wait To Book Tours Until You Arrive At Your Destination

Taking guided tours of a destination's highlights is often a major reason to visit. Presumably, you've picked the destination due to its unique attractions, culture, history, natural beauty, or a mix of these attributes. When visiting in a limited timeframe, relying on expertise to help you explore makes total sense. Although self-guided tours or exploring on your own may help round out the entire trip, as suffocating itineraries can be tolling, taking a few guided tours can optimize your time.

Speaking of regimented itineraries, you may feel compelled to book your guided tours online before arriving at your destination. In some cases, this approach may be totally warranted. Popular guided tours during peak tourist seasons may sell out, for instance. However, in other cases, we'd suggest fighting your instinct to plan every detail before arriving, including booking tours. By pre-booking tours, you may compromise local expertise and limit your flexibility upon arrival. 

Local expertise versus larger tour agencies

Waiting to book your guided tours after arriving at your destination offers many advantages, but the most obvious benefit relates to localized expertise. Popular sightseeing destinations, such as Rome, Athens, and Luxor, have no shortage of competing tour agencies. You can typically find dozens — if not hundreds — of tour agencies online for these types of destinations. In many cases, large tour agencies actually operate in multiple cities across the world.

While there's nothing exactly wrong with booking a tour with one of these agencies, you should be aware of the type of tour you'll receive. The tour will often involve a lot of people (unless you're spending up for a small group or private tour), extremely regimented, and to be blunt, "touristy." You'll be herded through an itinerary that's very similar to every other well-marketed tour you'd find online.

We're not trying to disparage these types of tours, but if you're looking for a more personal and authentic experience, you'll typically need to wait until you arrive at your destination to book a tour. For one, smaller tour agencies may not have an online presence simply because they don't need to. These agencies typically do great. However, instead of trodding on tourist trails, these smaller agencies are more flexible, nimble, and best of all, talented at avoiding congestion created by larger agencies. Once you land at your destination, simply ask the staff at your accommodations or another local source regarding tour agencies.

Pre-booking limits flexibility

While pre-planning details of a trip may help to optimize your time, stuff happens when you travel. Whether it's the weather, your mood, or other external forces that shift your thinking, pre-booking a guided tour limits your ability to pivot once you arrive. Again, in some instances, you may need to prebook your tour. Guided tours of Manu Picchu, for example, must be booked in advance. Due to issues of over-tourism, other famous sites are also beginning to limit entry, requiring visitors to book tours in advance.

However, this scenario is the exception and not the rule. When you wait until arrival to book a tour, you can often find an agency that better serves your "real-time" schedule and the "on-the-ground" reality of your situation. Is the water cloudy due to rain for your scuba diving excursion? Did you find out Vatican crowds are typically smaller on Tuesdays than Fridays? When you book a tour in advance, you'll be scuba diving in cloudy water and staring at the Sistine Chapel with a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, regardless of new info. 

On the other hand, booking tours upon arrival provides more trip flexibility and allows for "on-the-scene" decision-making. And remember, online tour companies will always market scarcity. But, upon arrival, the corkboards covered in agency brochures, tour agency kiosks on every corner, and the insider info you'll typically receive from friendly locals tend to discount the claim of tour scarcity at popular destinations.