Imagine traveling to any destination and chances are you will picture a place filled with beautiful scenery, exotic wildlife, and intriguing culture. You’ve probably already started picturing all the activities you dream of doing that will get you out and experiencing everything that destination has to offer. You’re in luck because any place with even a moderate tourism industry will offer a smorgasbord of excursions that do just that. Sightseeing can be done for practically no money; however, going on an excursion allows you to experience the destination differently and a great one will take full advantage of all that scenery, culture, and wildlife.

But what are excursions exactly? Whether you call them tours or activities, they are the additional things you do at your destination – think of them as add-on luxuries.

Examples of excursions include (but are definitely not limited to):

  • Helicopter tours
  • Boat tours
  • Zipline tours
  • ATV tours
  • Rafting/kayak tours
  • Sightseeing/museum tours
  • Hikes/ Driving tours
  • Basically any guided tour

We tend to spend a big chunk of money and time on excursions. If your travel budget allows it we recommend not skimping on the tours and activities that your destination offers. Chances are this may be your only opportunity at this destination. So get out and live as much as you can afford (go just a little broke).

These activities generally cost a lot of additional money, take up a large portion of time from your day, and usually have set start-times and durations. Because of this, it’s important to plan for your excursions prior to departure in order to know what excursions your destination offers, where they’re located, how much they cost, and the tour times offered and how long they last.

Knowing this information prior to departure allows you to book lodging at the right location, determines your budget, and helps with time management.

READ: 15 Reasons to be Obsessed with Travel Planning

Research Excursions Your Destination Offers

Costa Rica zipline excursion. One of the many zipline tours Costa Rica offers.

Any travel guidebook will provide the different types of excursions your destination offers.  Additionally, YouTube, Pinterest, and many travel blogs are great resources for researching. The more resources you use the better idea you’ll have of which excursion is the best fit for you.

For example, there are more Ziplining companies in Costa Rica than there are sloths and they do not offer the same experience or customer satisfaction. Read the reviews and descriptions to find the excursion that best suits you. This allows you to see all your destination’s various offerings and forewarns you of activities that may be out of your comfort zone versus ones you are comfortable doing.

Once you have an idea of the excursions you are interested in, you’re ready to look at the specific locations that offer them.

Locations of Excursions

Neuschwanstein Castle tour is an example of narrowing down the location of your excursions.

Narrowing down the location of your excursion will help you plan other details of your trip. Sometimes excursions may only be offered in one, specific location. If it is a high priority for your visit then you should plan other aspects around the activity. These can include where you stay, as well as other sights and activities to explore within the vicinity.

A personal example of this was our first trip to Germany.  We knew we wanted to tour Neuschwanstein castle, so we decided to stay in Munich since they are located relatively close to each other.  We explored Munich for a day and caught a train the next morning to tour the castle. Knowing the activities we wanted to do determined where we would stay – in this case Munich.

The reverse can also be true; perhaps you know you want to stay in a specific location or hotel so you will want to research the excursions available near your lodging.  Knowing where you want to stay dictates the activities available around that location.

Once you’ve pinpointed your excursion’s location, you’re ready to look at the cost of each excursion and determine your budget.

Excursion Cost and Budgeting

There may be several different tour companies that offer your excursion at many different price points.  This is where you need to research each company and tour in detail because each one probably offers something different.

An example of this would be choosing a helicopter tour; there are many companies that often compete at the same location but offer vastly different experiences such as:

Three individuals on a helicopter tour. Deciding on an excursion requires researching different tour companies to see what each tour offers and at what price.

  • Having the doors on or off
  • The number of people per ride
  • Vehicle and ride comfort
  • Length of the tour
  • Variety of sights offered
  • Cost
  • Quality of pilot narration
  • Additional services like a video of your flight.

Not all companies are going to offer the same experience.

The point here is to evaluate the pros and cons of each and determine which tour suits your desires at the right price point.

Now check your budget to determine if you can afford all the excursions you’ve identified. We usually go a little into debt, but you know your budget best. Now’s the time for you to decide what excursions rank highest at your destination so you know what to eliminate should your funds fall short of your desires. Your next step is to determine who to book the tour through.

Don’t book excursions through your hotel unless they offer the exact tour and company that you wish to go through.

Hotels will often direct unsuspecting tourists to whichever company will give them the best kickback. Hotels do not have your best interest in mind. Do your homework and choose the tours that are right for you. Book directly through the tour company (some will even give you a discount if you book directly through them online).

READ: How to Review Travel Insurance Providers (Including Cost, Ratings, and Trip Cancellation)

Now that you’ve decided your excursions, you’ll need to check the dates and times available during your visit.

Tour Dates and Times

Most companies will offer tours with multiple time slots per day. Tour times can vary widely, but will usually eat up about half of your day. We tend to take the earliest available time slot to allow time for exploring the area afterward. A tour in the middle of the day will offer less free time; it will break it up into smaller chunks before and after your excursion. Most people will waste the time before the tour leaving only a small amount of time after. This is a perfectly acceptable way to do it unless you are really pressed to maximize all available time.

Kauai helicopter excursion. The view of waterfalls from inside the helicopter.

One rule we use: do one excursion per day if it lasts more than 3 hours (not including travel time). You may think you still have a ton of time left in the day. The reality is that those 3 hours are going to be about half of your day. You’re also probably going to want to factor in some downtime after a major activity. Only bundle multiple activities into one day if their duration is 2 hours or less, each.

Not only do you need to be aware of when your tour starts, but also the check-in time. Tours usually require you to meet someplace (usually their office) about an hour before your tour is supposed to start. It’s imperative to factor this into drive times and wake-up times to be sure you make it on time.

Calculate how long it will take to get to the check-in location and factor that into your day. Don’t forget this step. Companies will try and accommodate you should you miss your time, but only if there are open slots. This can be impossible during high-seasons, and it also eats up your valuable time!

Some activities have a ‘season’ due to weather or demand. You may find that an activity you have your heart set on is unavailable for the dates you plan on going. Unfortunately, this can put you back at square one. Do not get discouraged – there is always something to do, and you have a built-in excuse for why you’ll need to return in the future!

READ: The One Tool for Planning the Best Travel Itinerary

In summary

Planning your excursions are some of the best parts of planning your trip since it’s pretty exciting to see what fun activities there are to do.  This is usually the point where your whole trip becomes a reality. You’re now ready to book your activities, lodging, and flights (if you haven’t already done so).  Once they’re booked you know you’re going and what you are doing – it surely amps up the excitement!

So, what is an excursion that is on your bucket list? What is one of your favorite excursions you have already done?  We’d love to hear about it. Feel free to let us know in the comments section below, or shoot us an email.

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We are RJ and Megan Barrett- A husband and wife team who are passionate for all things travel!
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