We don't use tour agenciencies when traveling in Bulgaria. Actually we don't use them when traveling abroad either. So I am not familiar with the quality of any specific tour agencies here and can't recommend any. You will need to do your own research.
But I know what they offer in general and what you can expect. So I'll tell you when it's a good idea to contact a tour agency here and when it is not.
When To Call a Tour Agency?
My urge was to say "never" :) But let's be serious, there are cases when a tour agency could be a good choice:
- When you want to go to the beach. Going to the beach in Bulgaria can easily turn into disaster because of the low quality of the service and overcrowded resorts. (Learn more about the places on the Black Sea Coast to choose a better one.) Calling a tour agency can help your organize a decent vacation on the sea in a good hotel at nice location. And the package tours are often quite affordable. If you are a midle-aged couple with kids and don't want too much adventure this could be your best bet.
- When you are interested in cultural or historical tourism. Visiting such places is best with a guide so you know what you are seeing. Many of the less popular museums etc. won't even arrange a visit for 1-2 persons and work only with groups. And it's usually not easy to reach and book such visits. This is a case when organized tour can be better.
- When you want to save money. Tour agencies book in bulk so they are able to get good deals. Very often they give you a price that you can't beat when booking a hotel and bus / train / plane tickets yourself.
- When you want to save the hassle. It's easy. Call or email them, book an organized tour and voila - everything will be ready and arranged when you arrive. You don't need to search for hotels, tickets, and make sure all dates and times match. It's a hassle-free trip. Well, usually.
Some of us don't care about the "hassle" of arranging a trip. We call it fun. A good portion of the pleasure we get from traveling is in organizing and research. Are you one of us? Then you'll probably not use a tour agency even in the above cases.
But all the normal people who don't feel excited to research a hostel half day still have to avoid tour agencies in some cases.
When Not To Use a Tour Acency?
- When you want to go off the beaten track. If you want to go where the mass tourist does not go, if you want to be alone, if you want to mess with the locals... In all these cases the organized tours are a big no-no. Even if the agency advertises itself as off the track, that's just bullshit. They take groups there so don't believe such nonsense. Organize yourself even when it's challenging.
- When you really want to save money. Didn't I say above that tour agencies save you money? I did. But often you can save even more yourself. Most deals they get are also available via the booking sites online. If you are on a hussle for deals you can catch offers like $1 for a 500km bus trip or $10 for a decent hotel. Such super deals aren't common in Bulgaria but you get the idea. Be your own budget-master and don't pay them extra cash for questionable service.
- When you feel adventourous. Going on a trip on your own can hide all kind of surprises. Booked the wrong train? The BnB owner does not return the call? You end up in a hostel dorm with 10 other freaks? Changing the plans in the middle of the trip? This can all be a lot of fun.
There is a middle ground too. You may skip agencies but still go with a group. On the travel forums online you can find fellow travellers and organize to go together to a given place. If there are locals things will be even better. Such kind of self-organized groups is quite typical for mountain trips here. The only problem is they usually gather in Bulgarian forums so you'll need to know the language. But feel free to post in English, people will respond. You can also search for groups that organize in Facebook.
Car sharing is another option for semi-organized trip. If you share a ride with local you can travel comfortably and get directions along the way.
Our preferences not to go on organized tours shouldn't stop you from going. I'm sure not all agencies are useless and some of them do a good job.
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