Organized tours vs doing your own thing. That’s often the question that comes to mind when booking a vacation. Travelling with a group can be a great way to experience new destinations, meet new people and save money. However, group tours are not for everyone. From set schedules to limited personal time, there are many factors to consider when deciding if a group tour suits you and your travel style.
If you’re considering doing an organized group tour on your next vacation, this post will help you make an informed decision about whether this type of travel is the right choice for you. I’ve done several organized tours, and my experience varied from good to bad. Here are my tips for choosing an organized tour and deciding if you want to do one yourself.
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What are group tours anyway?
Group travel tours are organized for a group of travellers based on a set itinerary, destination and activities. They are led by a professional tour guide. Tours typically include transportation during the tour, accommodation, meals and sightseeing activities. These group travel packages offer a convenient and cost-effective way to explore new destinations, meet new people, and see a lot of sights in a limited amount of time.
There are many different types of group tours that can last a few hours, days or weeks. You can find them pretty much anywhere and at different price points. As they are a popular travel option for singles, couples, families and friends, you’ll find various experiences and difficulty levels (this is especially key when choosing outdoor activities).
The pros of group tours
Group tours offer many benefits, and it’s easy to see why they appeal to many travellers. Like cruising, it can become an addictive way of travelling and making friends. So, let’s take a look at what makes these types of group vacation packages so great.
When planning a vacation, you must budget for food, accommodations and transportation. That can often add up quickly, even if you look for more affordable options. Group travel packages can eliminate that stress because the companies get better prices for group accommodations, transportation and activities. This means you get a better deal than if you were trying to do the same excursions and experiences on your own.
Convenience and ease of planning
There is definitely something to be said about the convenience that group tours bring. You don’t have to worry about reservations, finding places to eat or worrying that something might go wrong. The planning of routes, things to see and finding accommodations is done for you by someone else. As there is a fixed itinerary, you don’t have to worry about the details and can simply sit back and enjoy the experience. After all, you’re there for the adventure.
Immersing yourself in the whole experience of a group tour can definitely lead to new learnings. Discovering things on your own is fun and can be quite cathartic, but being in a group changes that experience. You definitely won’t lack for people to share and learn with you. Travelling in an organized group tour teaches you even more. From things about yourself, places you visit and people you meet to discovering new cultures and learning from them.
Knowledgable tour guides
Group travel tours come with their own tour guides. The guides are versed in the local culture, customs and language of the destinations you are visiting and know everything about them. This is especially helpful when visiting countries where language would otherwise be a barrier or you’d need more intricate knowledge that you can’t always find in a guidebook.
There is no need to figure it out, and you can always ask a question. Besides, you won’t have to figure out how to say something because the guide will speak your language. Since the tour guide is always with you, there is no worry about being swindled or taken for a ride by a ‘helpful’ local.
Safety in numbers
Safety concerns are a significant reason why choosing organized group travel makes sense, especially in places that are not quite the safest destinations. Whatever that safety factor is for you, being part of a group provides more reassurance and less stress. Organized group tours are also much more practical if you’re travelling alone and want to feel more comfortable in a new destination.
Socialize and make new friends
Making new friends isn’t always easy when you travel. It can be intimidating, off-putting and straight-out scary. Hanging out with a group forces you to assimilate, and chances are you will make new friends. What better way to bond than over travel? Plus, someone is always on hand to take a picture of you in that dreamy setting.
Special group access
Group excursions often come with special access to very touristy spots. While you might wait in line for hours to visit the Vatican, a group will sail right past you. The benefit of a group is that the visits are preplanned, so there is no worry about tickets running out or waiting in line for hours. Also, some remote destinations might only allow access to group tours due to safety and accessibility issues that make independent travel hazardous and potentially expensive if attempted solo.
The cons of group tours
While group tours can be fun and exciting, they also come with some drawbacks, like limited personal time and flexibility, set schedules, and a set itinerary, which may not suit everyone’s interests and pace.
A set and a strict itinerary
A set, busy itinerary can be a good thing, but your experience can be ruined if it’s too rushed or poorly executed. I am all for seeing as many things as possible, but they need to have value to me. Whether a strict itinerary is a deal-breaker for you might depend on the itinerary itself. Choose carefully and read the reviews before you book.
Lack of flexibility
Sometimes, when you travel, you come across something that makes you change your plans and veer from your schedule. With organized group travel, there is no such thing. The tour has a defined itinerary and a timetable that you have to follow. No taking off and exploring unexpected spots or sleeping in.
Potentially a high price tag
While travelling to any place can be expensive, there is flexibility in how you spend your money. Sometimes that can add up to more than what a tour would cost, but it might seem more affordable if you don’t have to pay the whole chunk upfront. Some organized tours can be expensive, so consider what you get for the price and whether the experience is worth it. Sometimes the tour price (even seemingly high) can be cheaper than exploring the location on your own.
Accommodation and dining issues
While most tours offer dietary options, there is no guarantee that they will accommodate your dietary restrictions. Some places might have limited ingredients or availability of products to suit your needs and you can find yourself eating the same thing or starving. Nothing is worse than not having anything to eat while everyone around you is eating.
The same can be said about accommodations. What appeals to one person will not to another. While many tours have single supplements, this might cost you more, especially if you don’t want to share your accommodations with someone else. This definitely goes back to checking reviews and asking questions before booking.
Bad tour guides
While you can’t predict which guide you will get or how good they are, it also pays to read reviews. Having a lousy tour guide can definitely ruin your experience. Untrained guides who lack knowledge and have no interest in the job can dampen any tour. As you’re stuck with them, it can negatively impact your entire experience. If you ever feel in danger or are afraid of your guide, you should notify the tour company immediately and share your fear with other group members. Changes are you’re not the only one feeling that way.
Anytime there is a large group of people, the chances of having “that person” in your group increase. They might be obnoxious, loud, or have other quirks that can drive you crazy. This experience can make or break your trip, whether it’s personality or general mismatch.
In a worst-case scenario, your trip could become unbearable. If that becomes the case, you might have to choose whether you stay or leave. You never want that to happen, but it’s good to know what your options are if it does. Make sure you read the company’s terms on refunds, cancellations and unfinished tours.
Travel can be exhausting. Moving from one place to another, getting on different modes of transportation and even walking around can become too much. Add information overload, and you might need a vacation from your vacation.
Select a tour that suits your needs and physical ability. Make sure to review the activities, difficulty and fitness level required. While you might be tempted to pick the longest, most adventurous tour you can find, make sure you can physically keep up. Remember, there is no breaking from the schedule to have a rest day.
Many group tours are designed for specific travellers. Sometimes the tours are for people under a certain age, specific gender or relationship status. You might not want to embark on a singles tour with your significant other or go alone on a family tour. There are always tours for all ages, which again can have their good and bad points.
How to choose a group tour for you
I’ve covered the pros and cons of group tours, but the decision to choose one often comes down to the tour itself. Before signing up for an organized travel package, here are a few things to consider.
- Research the tour company: There are many tour operators out there, so it’s important to research the tour company, read reviews from past travellers, and make sure you’re comfortable with their safety and security policies. Finally, make sure to read the fine print and understand what is included and excluded in the tour price.
- Look at the itinerary and destinations: A big draw of a packaged tour is that they cover many different stops and attractions. Check the different itineraries and activities that are included in the tour to make sure they align with your interests and physical abilities.
- Consider the duration of the trip: Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or a month-long adventure, there is a tour with your name. Consider how long you plan to be away and whether you are mentally and physically prepared for the trip. If you’re new to group tours, start with a shorter one, like 5-7 days, instead of jumping straight into a month-long excursion. Duration always comes down to affordability and having enough time for the trip.
- Factor in transportation and additional costs: Most tours don’t include airfare, so getting there and back is up to you. If the tour’s start location differs from where it ends, you might have to pay more to get there and back. You should also factor in costs like visas, special clothing, footwear and luggage you might also require for the trip.
- Consider your personal travel style: If you’re like me and get motion sickness, spending hours on a bus can be daunting. That camel ride into the sunset might seem romantic, but you might find it uncomfortable for many reasons. Are you good with travelling with limited luggage and different modes of transportation? Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Different types of group tours
Choosing a tour that suits your needs can become a challenge in itself. There are tours for every taste and interest. From adventure, cultural and culinary to wildlife and location-specific tours, there are a lot of choices. With so many options, which one do you pick?
One way to approach how you choose a tour is to pick a location you’ve never been to. It’s an opportunity to explore a new destination with someone with local knowledge. Another way to decide is to pick one that can give you the most exposure to new cultures, places and experiences. This approach is handy if you don’t get time off very often or have limited resources and this is a special occasion trip.
- Adventure tours: Pretty self-explanatory and guaranteed to leave you with epic stories of adventures to tell your friends.
- Cultural tours: More in-depth immersion in the culture and people of the country you’re visiting.
- Destination tours: Designed with a specific location in mind and all it has to offer.
- Educational tours: Great for picking up new language skills, volunteering or gaining knowledge to take back with you.
- Family tours: Made with the whole family in mind, with plenty to do for everyone.
- International tours: Trailing across multiple countries and a great way to build up the number of countries you’ve been to and immerse yourself in more cultures.
- Rail tours: Iconic and scenic routes in the style and comfort of the days gone by.
- Sightseeing tours: The best way to explore a specific destination in a short time, usually don’t have to book far in advance.
- Specialty tours: Anything from golfing, religious pilgrimages and yoga to cheese making, culinary sampling and wine tours.
- Bus tours for seniors: Age-specific group tours and activities.
Group tours, In conclusion
Group tours can be an excellent way for travellers to see the world. They can save you money, provide a sense of security and offer an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. On the flip side, these tours can feel restrained, expensive and exhausting.
Do your research before you book an organized tour. Consider your travel style, budget, and the destinations you would like to visit to see if the itinerary fits your requirements. Decide whether you prefer a small, intimate tour or a larger, more social one It’s also important to research the tour company, read past travellers’ reviews, and ensure you’re comfortable with their safety and security policies. Finally, read the fine print and understand what is included and excluded in the tour price.
Finally, it’s important to remember that your research can only take you so far. Other people’s experiences are good for understanding what to expect, but it doesn’t always mean you’ll feel the same. The best way to decide whether group tours are for you is to actually take one. As I suggested before, start small and build your way up. Most of all, be open to new experiences and have fun.