When travel planning, don't forget day-trip tours and walking tours! Tours are great, lower-stress ways to experience culture, food, and more when you're traveling! Tips and tricks for deciding if a tour is right for you, how to select the right tour, and how to have a great time on it!

Taking day-trip tours and walking tours

There’s nothing like wandering about a new city while traveling. I love unfamiliar sights and sounds, and sometimes I find a lack of context thrilling. Same goes for day trips. I’ve hopped on trains or a bus and ventured off to unknown places and had a delightful time exploring and finding my way. However, sometimes I want a bit more context than a quick read can give me, or I want to go somewhere that trains and buses do not run where I want to go. That’s when I sign up for a guided day-trip tour or walking tour.

This post provides tips for deciding if a tour is right for you, especially if your hesitant to take tours at all; how to select the best tour for your needs; and pointers for getting the most out of your day trip or walking tour. 

Day-Trip Tours and Walking Tours

I used to look down on tours

I’ll admit it—I used to avoid tours like the plague, and now I am not entirely sure why. I mean, I’d done a number of London Walks tours twenty years ago, and I’d loved them (they’re amazing and super affordable). However, over the years, I’d come to associate tours with a huge group of people wearing lanyards mindlessly following someone holding up a sign and shouting into a megaphone. Tours whip through areas and no one ever really gets to experience a place, I thought. In short, I looked down on tours. Or maybe it was just the lanyards.

Food tour in Montréal

A walking tour in Montréal proved me wrong

Dear Reader, I was wrong. When I went to Montréal with one of my besties, she decided that we should do the Beyond the Market Tour. Instead of just wandering around the Marché Jean-Talon, we learned about the market itself, met producers, and, as the name of the tour says, we went beyond the market to learn more about Montréal’s fantastic food culture. I had a fantastic time.

I’ve become a fan of day-trip tours and walking tours

When I left for my three-month trip to the Balkans, I had just moved from Massachusetts. My permanent driver’s license from New Hampshire didn’t arrive in time, and I wasn’t able to get an International Driving Permit. This meant that I couldn’t drive while I was there, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. Not only were some of the roads beyond my driving skill, but I also learned a great deal more about the places I visited. I also met some fun people.

On my recent trip to Mexico City, I took plenty of walking tours and a day-trip tour (more to come on that!), and so I think it’s safe to say that I have become a tour convert.

You meet fun people on tours

Day-trip tour vs walking tour

What are we talking about here? When I say day-trip tour, I generally mean a tour that takes well, the day or at least most of it. Day-trip tours often mean leaving the area you’re visiting, and a big part of the offer is transportation. Sometimes you visit one site, but often on day-trip tours, you venture to more than one site.  

What I mean by walking tours are guided tours that last upwards of a few hours and generally are in the same general area you’re visiting. You’ll usually go to a meeting point in the area you’re touring and then start walking.

What to consider when taking a guided day-trip or walking tour

Some adventures just make sense to do on your own, and, indeed, having an unstructured go of it is preferable. Other times, however, a guided tour will enrich your experience of a place. I’ve found these considerations helpful in deciding whether or not booking a tour makes sense.

Day-trip tours usually provide transportation

Your transportation needs

How accessible is your day trip? Can you get there easily by public transport, or would you need a car? How’s the schedule? For example, when I went to Valparíso from Santiago, it was an easy bus ride with multiple options for getting there and back. When the bus didn’t show up for me when I set out for Perast, Montenegro, it was easy to get a taxi. However, my day trip to North Montenegro was not something I could have put together myself without renting a car (and greatly improving my driving skills).

Could you drive yourself?

If you need a car, do you have access to one and would you feel comfortable driving? Could you rent a car or hire a car and driver easily and economically? Sometimes the real draw for a day trip tour is that you don’t have to worry about getting there or finding parking. Often day trip tour operators have connections that allow them to park closer to the entrance. These can often make the additional expense of taking a day-trip tour worth it.

Marco prvoided much needed context at Teotihuacán

Context—historical, artistic, cultural, etc.

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you just want to walk around someplace interesting and take lots of photos before finding a café or restaurant with a nice terrace and hanging out. I love those kinds of trips. A deep understanding of the context of a place might be nice, but it isn’t why I’m there.

However, I also love to get the context of an area and to learn something about what I’m gaping at. If there is a significance to understand, oftentimes I can get that from reading blogs, articles, or other sources. But sometimes the whole reason to take a day trip is to learn.

Guided tours can provide necessary context

Expert guides become essential when you want to learn more about an area than what you can read on a plaque. In Mexico City, I took a day trip tour to the pyramids at Teotihuacán. Had I figured out how to get there by myself, which I could have certainly done, I would have wandered around gawking without any idea of what I was looking at or why it was important.

A site might impress, but I wouldn’t necessarily understand what I’m looking at

Obviously, the site impressed, but the context on just how massive it had been, the mathematical precision with which it was constructed, and the mystery surrounding who, exactly, built it and why (the Aztecs named the site, so we don’t even know what it was called) would have been lost on me. There’s a singular lack of signage at the site. Our guide, Marco, had a graduate degree and shared about the vital function the Teotihuacán site provided to travelers as well as worshippers. We clapped our hands to get a sense of the acoustics, and I could begin to imagine just how this site would have inspired awe in those who ventured here.

And sometimes additional sites you wouldn’t have thought of

In addition, we also visited Tlatelolco, the site where one of the first Catholic churches built in Latin America on the site of an Aztec temple, as well as the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to get a sense of how certain themes from Mesoamerican culture found their way into Latin American Christianity.

Day-trip tours and walking tours offer a great way to see sites you might not otherwise see. Park in Santa Maria La Ribera and a gazebo constructed for the New Orleans World's Fair, and a tour group in the foreground
This park looks safe, but there was gang activity on the other side

Safety concerns

Do you have concerns that traveling with a small group would address? Sometimes a day trip has you walking through a neighborhood that might not otherwise be safe to venture through on your own. Or, perhaps you want to see something late at night, and, as a solo traveler, you might feel better if you were with a group.

A safer walking tour in CDMX

I took a fantastic tour through Airbnb Experiences in Mexico City of a neighborhood that, while gentrifying, remains a bit dicey in sections (indeed, that’s why one would want to take the time to walk through it). While I very much doubt that anything would have happened to me, being with a group helped. That wasn’t the only reason to go with a guide, as the context was important as well, but safety helped.

I would have loved more time in Ljubljana

Control over the schedule

Do you want to have full control over your day trip, or would you prefer to have the planning done for you? Tours have schedules, and, if you want to linger where the group is just passing through, tough bananas. I’ll admit it—this is my least favorite part of taking a day trip tour. Just ask my friends, I often stop and look at things and take lots of photos, and I’m really good at holding up the works.

Don’t take a tour if you want things exactly your way

If having complete control over your schedule while on your day trip is important to you, a day trip tour is not for you. I loved having autonomy over my schedule on my Sintra overnight.

Giving up a little control in exchange for ease can be worth it

However, if giving up a little control in exchange for not having to do any advance planning other than just showing up, you’ve found the right activity. As much as I loved my day trip tour to Slovenia, I would have loved more time in Ljubljana. However, not having to figure out where to pick up the boat to Bled Island was lovely.

Skip-the-line tickets came in handy at the Museo Frida Kahlo

Entrance to ticketed events

Day-trip and walking tours often offer skip-the-line tickets to popular attractions. Some sites require advance booking, or are so popular that you’ll otherwise wait in a long line. With a day-trip tour, you often get to just walk up and go in. I waltzed into the Frida Kahlo Museum at the end of my walking tour of Coyoacán, in Mexico City.

At Krka Waterfall in Croatia, we didn’t have to buy our boat tickets. We just got on our appointed riverboat. While I didn’t get the seat I wanted, it was still great to just walk onboard. Especially if you’re tight on time, skip-the-line tickets can make the difference between seeing something amazing and disappointment.

Meeting new people

Meet new people

I’m a solo traveler—I like experiencing new places on my own in quiet and at my own pace. I often find it easier to take someplace in if I am not distracted by conversation. Every so often, however, I miss talking to people, especially when traveling in places where I don’t speak the language. On a day-trip tour, you’ll meet people from all over, and, often, more solo travelers. It’s a great way to make friends for a day, or, sometimes, even longer.

You’re certainly under no obligation to be chatty while on a day-trip tour, but it’s a benefit that I’ve often enjoyed.

Budget

With very few exceptions (usually transportation related), day-trip tours cost more than just it alone. You’ll also have additional costs in addition to the tour.

Meals generally aren’t included (read the fine print), and you’ll usually go to the eatery picked by the tour operator. Entry fees might not be included, and there often isn’t an alternative activity, should you choose not to do something. If you’re on a really tight budget, a tour might not be the best option for you.

Physical activity/accessibility

I’m a big walker, but I’m not a hiker. As in, I really do not like walking uphill for long distances. Whatever’s at the top best be worth it if I’m going to do any climbing. When I went to Central Montenegro on a day-trip tour, one of the activities was to climb 461 steps to the Mausoleum at the top of Lovćen. I thought about it, but, in the end, I decided that it was worth it, and, Dear Reader, it so very much was. What a view! It still hurt. There were people in our group who didn’t go up, and I don’t blame them.

Check the listing to confirm

Most day-trip tours will give you an activity level and indicate if it is suitable for people with mobility issues (see below). If you are experiencing a mobility issue, you may wish to either forego a group tour or book one that is suitable to your activity level.

Day-trip tours and walking tours are great ways to

Finding day-trip tours and walking tours

Tours are a big business, and any major destination will have multiple options for you to choose from. Tour operators often host their own websites and then list on multiple aggregators.

Personally, I find that booking through an aggregator to be a lot easier than trying to search for individual tour operators websites. I do think that there are some outstanding tour operators (360Monte in Montenegro and Sabores México Food Tours in CDMX come to mind), but I found these tour operators through aggregators like GetYourGuide, Viator, or Airbnb Experiences. You’ll also find that many operators cross-list their tours on these platforms.

These services make it easier to find tours. You might, however, wind up paying a bit more to use the platform.

Tip!

Be sure to check out Airbnb Experiences. They have unique tours (this isn't sponsored)

Tips for picking the right day-trip tours and walking tours for you

You’ve thought things through, and you’ve decided that you want to do a tour. Excellent! They’re fun. Now that you’ve decided to do a tour, here are pointers for picking the right tour for you.

Depending on your destination, you may find multiple tour companies offering day trips to the same places. While oftentimes, the tours are fairly similar, and you can have a great experience with any of them, there can be key differences that might make a tour a better choice for you.

What’s the itinerary?

Most tours will give at least a high-level view of what you’ll visit on the trip. You want to have a good idea of what you’ll be seeing so that you can confirm that the tour will visit the specific locations you want to experience. If you have questions, you can reach out to the tour operator, but a good tour listing will usually have the information you need.

Time involved—is this a day trip or a quick walking tour?

When checking out the itinerary, be sure to make note of the time involved. Are you meeting super early in the morning or getting back super late? Is it a quick walking tour? This will give you an idea of how to prepare, what to bring, and how to plan for the rest of your day.

What’s included in the tour?

On a muralism walking tour in Mexico City, members of our small group got to chatting en route to a museum. We talked about the Teotihuacán pyramids. One woman talked about taking a hot air balloon over the pyramids for about $18USD. “Oh, it’s more than that,” one guy said, and I was about to pipe up with the fine print from that ad (and was even pulling up the listing on my phone, because I’d looked at nearly all of them), when she shot him down, saying, “Clearly, you haven’t seen this event. There’s almost always a cheaper way to do things, if you know how to look.”

And what’s not included?

That might in fact be true, but she hadn’t found a cheaper option with that tour. That particular listing included a note saying that the balloon ride itself (about $140USD cash) was not included in the price and that the $18USD was only to secure a spot. Transportation was not included, and the balloons leave super early in the morning.

Really, read the fine print

I feel a bit guilty about it, but after her response, I decided that I didn’t need to prove that I right. I hope she had the cash and got there in time. (For the record, my friend who grew up in Mexico City said to avoid those balloons, due to the lack of regulation. I took her advice.)

All this is to say that it’s really important to read up on what’s included and what isn’t, especially if you need to bring cash for entrance fees and your passport.

Tip!

Read the fine print on the listings to make sure that you know what to expect!

Transportation/meeting point

How are you meeting your day-trip tour? Some outfits will pick you up, especially if you’re staying at a major hotel. Others, you need to arrive at a meeting point. How far is it from where you’re staying? How would you get there, noting especially the meeting time for early trips.

Tours run on a schedule, and they usually leave right on time. You want to make sure that you can arrive at the meeting point at the appointed time. You don’t want to get left!

For boat tours, make sure you know what kind of boat you're taking!

Type of transportation—especially for boat tours

What type of transportation will you be using? For boat tours, take a good look at photos of the boat and the description. Island-hopping tours are extremely popular on the Adriatic, and you should totally go on one. However, the type of boat you pick is really important. Speedboat tours leaving from Split can range from a regular speedboat to one of these little things where you’re basically just strapped into a seat like a roller coaster and you’re flying around the literal ocean in it. I love bouncing around on a speedboat, but I would have screamed my bloody head off in terror on the other.

There are also bigger ships that do the tours (albeit at a slower pace). The kind of ride you have is important.

Reviews

I cannot stress this enough. Read the reviews. Go deep, and pay attention to how many reviews there are. No reviews, or very few? My advice is to let someone else be the guinea pig.

Reviews will tell you if the tour is well organized, enjoyable, informative, and the like. Reviewers will give you an idea of what to expect and can steer you away from a particular tour if, all things being equal, another tour has better reviews. Do note that operators often employ different guides, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the great guide someone raved about or have the one who might have had an off day that one time.

Read between the lines, too. “Fast-paced,” might mean, you’ll be sprinting from site to site. “Bring snacks” might mean, you never get to eat anything. Read a few and you’ll get the hang of it.

Group size for a tour is important

Group size

Personally, I very much prefer a small-group tour. I want to be able to hear/talk to the guide and to not feel like I have a sign over my head screaming, “I’M A TOURIST!” The fear of lanyards and matching tee shirts is real.

However, I have gone on a couple of big tours before and had a great time, especially ones where smaller groups do certain activities.

Tip!

In reading the description and reviews, try to get a sense of the vibe?

Vibe of the day-trip or walking tour

This one’s a little bit harder to pinpoint from a listing, but try to get a sense from the photos and description what the general vibe of the tour will be. Is a speedboat tour a party boat, and do you want a party boat? Is it a very serious exploration of history, or will you cover difficult history but still have some lighter-hearted moments? For my day-trip tour of  Bosnia and Herzegovina, we covered difficult history, but that wasn’t the sole focus of the tour.

Who takes the tour? Will you have time to wander?

Will you have enough time to do free wandering? Most tours build in time for you to explore an area on your own for a time and then meet back (be sure to be on time!).

Who takes these tours? I like a mix of people. I also like to see if solo travelers take the tour and if they had a good time.

This was about my limit for activity level

Activity level

We covered this above, but I wanted to put it here, too. Be sure to take note of the fitness level. Many tours involve a lot of walking, though not generally at a fast clip (reviews will tell you if you are booking it a lot). Some might involve climbing. Many, unfortunately, are ill-suited for those with mobility issues.

Dietary restrictions

If you have dietary restrictions, for whatever reason, check the reviews to see if they were accommodated (or not). I have a shellfish allergy, and, while generally speaking, tours do not have shellfish on the menu, cross-contamination can be an issue, and I need to make sure that I can eat. If you have a question, ask the tour operator. Many are familiar with allergies, religious or cultural restrictions, and might even be able to accommodate a strong dislike of something.

Be on time

Tips while you’re on your day-trip tour

Finally a few tips for the day-trip tour itself to help make sure that you have a great time.

Be prepared

Make sure to wear appropriate clothing/shoes for your trip and to have anything you might need. Check the tour description for specifics, but think things like:

  • Identification (you may need your passport, if you’re traveling internationally)
  • Appropriate clothing and footwear (generally tours have a lot of walking)
  • Sunscreen, hat, etc.
  • Cash—you’ll often need it for entrance fees or meals, and tips for the tour operators are in cash
  • Water bottle
  • Snacks
  • Any specifics required by your tour

Being prepared sets you up for having a good time, but wearing those cute strappy sandals for a tour with a rocky hike will end in tears.

Be on time

Dear Reader, be on time to your day-trip tour. Seriously.

Show up on time and make sure that you are on time for meetups during the tour itself. Tours will leave without you if you are more than a couple of minutes late, and you could potentially get left behind if you fail to show up for a meetup (I’ve never seen it happen, but a guide was very much looking at his watch when someone lollygagged on an island-hopping tour). You really don’t want to get stuck or miss your trip.

Tip!

Set an alarm for fifteen minutes before your meetup time when you’re walking around on your own. This will give you time to hoof it back if you’ve wandered a ways, and will help you to make your leisurely way back if you haven’t.

Ask questions

Tour guides, good ones anyway, love questions, so ask away! Your questions might spur others from the group and lead to an interesting conversation.

Be respectful

This goes without saying, but be respectful of the cultural heritage of a place, even if it is something that you find strange. Religious customs can be taken very seriously, and it’s important to remember that not everyone shares our political views. The old adage about not discussing politics and religion can prove helpful here, or at least don’t be the one to bring it up.

The same goes for any difficult history associated with an area, especially if it was in recent memory. In those instances, it might be better to listen than to offer up too much, particularly if that history is not the primary focus of the tour.

Remember to tip!

Dear Reader, I am very ashamed to say that I have gotten to the end of more than one day trip tour without sufficient cash on hand to tip. It’s terrible. So, learn from my mistakes and always have enough cash at the end for countries where tipping is customary. I have found that even in areas where it isn’t the norm, it’s appreciated.

Leave a review

Think about how you found your day trip tour and the importance of reading the reviews. Someone’s review helped you to make a decision, and it’s good form to return the favor and to share your thoughts for future travelers. I tend to leave my review on the same site where I booked the tour, but some tour operators will ask you to review on specific platforms.

Your tips for day-trip tours and walking tours

Do you take day-trip tours and/or walking tours when you travel? What are your best tips? Let us know in the comments below!