There are many styles of travel, and different styles are right for different people. If you haven’t done much traveling yourself, you might be wondering which one is best for you. There really is no right answer that fits all, so you have to look at your personality, your destination, and what you want to get out of your trip to decide which option is right for you. Today we’ll explore the pros and cons of traveling with a tour group as opposed to a more autonomous style of travel.
A tour group is a really easy way to travel. There aren’t many decisions you need to make, and the itinerary is curated for you based on popular local attractions, so you’ll get to see a lot without having to spend a lot of time researching ahead of time. Usually, tour groups will take care of many of your daily needs as well: hotel reservations, transportation, museum entry tickets, even meals are often included in the price. Some packaged tours will even help you with the visa process for getting into a country if a visa is required. It really is a low stress, easy way to see a new destination.
Additionally, if you’re worried about travel to certain destinations due to things like language barriers or safety, group travel can help with that. A guided tour will take away the stress of having to navigate a country where you don’t speak the language. Also, there’s a safety in numbers when you’re with a group. For example, muggers will be hesitant to steal from somebody in a group where they are more likely to be spotted.
Tour groups are also really good for people who like being social and making new friends. You’ll be with the same group of people throughout the duration of the tour and you’ll have the chance to meet some friendly, interesting people who you can form new friendships with. This is an especially appealing option if you’ll be traveling alone. One thing I hear from some of my single friends is that they don’t have anybody to travel with. A tour group takes away the loneliness of solo travel, but even couples and friends who are traveling together might enjoy the opportunity to meet like-minded travelers on their journey.
When it comes to hotel room rates, tour groups generally get a group rate, which means your room will be less expensive than the same room would be if you had booked it individually.
Tour groups don’t necessarily move at the pace you want to go. At times, they can be maddeningly slow as they meander through a museum at a glacial pace, you might get bored and want to move on, but you’re stuck with the group. At other times they might take you to an incredible place that you could see yourself spending the entire day at, but you only have a short amount of time to explore so you leave wanting for more.
While on your tour, you might encounter something you would love to spend some more time exploring. Too bad. If you’re on a tour bus and you spot an adorable cafe that you would just love to try, you can’t get off the bus and go try it. If something isn’t on the itinerary, you’re basically out of luck. Tour groups do sometimes give travelers a free afternoon here and there, but it’s not much time if you like exploring things as you discover them. Additionally, you don’t really get to rest when you want to rest: if the group is going, you’re going too.
Although you will make new friends in the tour group, there is always that one guy who is grumpy and complains about everything. He doesn’t like the food they serve, he doesn’t like the museum you were brought to, he’s bored, he wants to go home. Complain, complain, complain. When it comes to travel with a group, you’ll absolutely have to take the good with the bad.
Although you get a group rate on your hotel room, the tour group also gets to choose the hotel you stay at. You may not end up getting the kind of room you would like: it might not be in the location you want, have the amenities you want it to have, and even though they got a group rate, it might have been possible to find a better rate somewhere else on your own.
Freedom! If you’re curating your own trip, you get to make all the decisions. You get to decide where you want to go, where you’re going to stay, where you’re going to eat, what you’re going to eat, how much time you’re going to spend at each location, and when you want to rest. You can change your plans at a moment’s notice, too. If you’re strolling along and you see something interesting, you can feel free to stop and investigate. Nobody is holding you back.
I’ve found that traveling without a group allows me time to relax and really get to know a place. It affords me the opportunity to linger in a cafe for hours, chatting with locals. It allows me to walk anonymously through the streets of a new city and just spend time quietly observing my surroundings. There is something so nice about traveling without the constant noise and chatter of a group.
Additionally, I’ve found it can be actually much cheaper to travel without a tour group. Sure, you get group rates on everything with the group, but if you’re like me and you love spending time researching deals online, you really can cut the cost of the trip down significantly.
This kind of travel is exciting. Personally, I find it stimulating to learn new things while I’m abroad. It’s great fun to pick up some words of a new language as I try to communicate at an outdoor market or successfully navigate the train system in a new place.
While it’s entirely possible to make new friends solo traveling, particularly if you are staying in a hostel, hanging out in social locations, and generally putting yourself out there, you’re not likely going to meet anybody that you’ll stay in touch with after the trip like you will on a guided group tour.
Curating your own trip can sometimes be a lot of work. There are decisions to make about what you want to see, and that can take a lot of research if you want to make sure you don’t miss anything you really would like to see on your trip. There’s also decisions about where you’ll stay, and if you’ll rent a car or take public transit. If you’re taking public transit, you need to figure out how it all works in your location. You need to research things like visa requirements for your destination and you won’t receive any assistance with the process.
Sometimes traveling without a guide can get a bit stressful. There is nobody to rely on but yourself, and if you screw something up like missing a train, you have to deal with the consequences and re-book the train yourself. You might get stuck at a bus station in the middle of the night where nobody speaks English, and you have to figure out how to get where you want to go in an unfamiliar country where you don’t know the language. This can be stressful.
Ultimately, it’s up to you which one you think is best. It’s your trip and you are going to know better than anybody else what you will enjoy the most. Personally, I’m more of a self-guided person, but under the right circumstances I’m not opposed to group travel, either. Whatever you decide, I hope you have an amazing journey!
Have you ever been on a group tour? Which do you prefer: self-guided travel or group travel? Do you have any pros or cons I missed? I would love to hear about it in the comments.