Traveling can be the most exciting, beautiful and rewarding experience, while being expensive, terrifying and exhausting at the same time. It takes forethought, time, money and energy, but it’s almost always worth way more than the cost.
As an avid traveler, I’ve always preferred exploring on my own. Depending on the area, it isn’t always safe or fun to go solo. This past year I decided to try group travel which greatly enhanced my experience abroad. It reduced my time planning and allowed me to kick back and enjoy my trip fully. The idea of group travel is simple: you pay a travel company to provide you with a tour guide and planned accommodation, transportation, some meals and excursions.
You can bounce from museum to souvenir shop without having to worry about where you’re sleeping or how you’re getting from place to place. The following includes some of the pros and cons associated with group travel to help you determine if using a tour group is right for you. Size, length and price differ tremendously among travel companies so whether you’re a single college student studying abroad or a retired couple wanting to see the world, there is a tour group and company for you!
You Don’t Have to Plan It
You won’t have to worry about the big ticket items when it comes to travel, because these will be pre-planned for you. Travel companies spend years researching cities and building relationships with local hotels, restaurants and museums so they know the best, most authentic places to go. It’s their job to make sure your trip goes smoothly and safely. This is particularly advantageous if you’re a first-time traveler as you might not have a lot of experience differentiating between all of the accommodation and transportation options available to you. You will receive a tentative itinerary prior to your arrival, so you’ll know in advance what you’ll be doing while you’re there. This means less stress for you and more time to relax and enjoy your trip.
Balance Between Togetherness and Alone-time
While you will spend a lot of time with your group, you will also have free time to wander on your own. Once you have that free time you can choose whether you want to stay with the group. If you need a break, this is the perfect time to do your own thing. If you find other travelers have similar interests as you, you can continue to explore with them. This is the time when your preferences and interests can be expressed, so if you want to explore while everyone else has a sit-down meal, you can do that. Group travel finds the perfect balance between exploring together and exploring on your own. This is a beautiful thing.
You’ll See More
You can cram in a lot of sightseeing in a small amount of time with a group tour. The tour guide is often a local or at least knows the area quite well. This reduces time spent wandering around wondering where the hotel is or how in the world does the bus ticket dispenser work. They already know what to do and where to go. You also don’t have to spend your evenings printing out boarding passes and hotel reservations.
Tour groups often have access to attractions you wouldn’t. For one, some offer express entrance meaning you don’t have to wait in long lines. Your group also might be able to take advantage of extended hours, either coming to an attraction early or staying later than the general public. Second, there are certain cities and places that would be nearly inaccessible to you.
When I joined a tour group in Greece, we visited Delphi, Kalambaka and Olympia, cities several hours outside of Athens. These cities would have been difficult to find on my own due to unpredictable public transportation, and I would have never had the time to visit all three in five days. Some areas are just unrealistic for you to get to in a reasonable amount of time. Some of the sites we visited, for example, the monasteries of Meteora, were several miles from the main town with no public transportation available. Unless I wanted to drive myself, I was not going to get there. This is where the tour group’s bus comes in handy. Yes, it’s not very glamorous to take a bus, but it’s available to you every day. Your group can go from one museum to another without waiting for transportation, thus allowing you to see more in a smaller period of time.
You Get A Tour Guide
Throughout your tour, you’ll have a guide at your disposal. By no means are they responsible for your actions, but they are looking out for your safety and well being the entire trip. This is particularly convenient when you’re going to an area where you don’t speak the local language and in very isolated areas. No matter how much you plan for your travels, plans will always get shifted; flights will be delayed, trains will just not show up and people won’t understand a word you’re saying. The tour guide will be with you the whole way. Most people can handle booking accommodation and getting to the train on time, but God forbid you lose your passport, break your leg or anger a museum employee, you will want someone on your side.
You’ll Make Friends You’ll Actually Keep in Touch With
Seven Australians, three Americans, a Spaniard and a Chinese man walk into a hotel in Tallinn, Estonia. No, that’s not the start of a horrible joke; it was the start of my Baltics Adventure with Tucan Travel. There’s something about being crammed into a bus for 8-hours or spending hours wandering museums that make you find your new best friends. Group travelers tend to be like-minded; they love to travel and are open to meeting new people, having great adventures and learning about different cultures.
Plenty of single travelers join groups because they want to travel but they also want some company and an extra layer of safety. If you’re a solo traveler, it’s okay if you join on your own; that’s what I did, and I met some great people along the way that I still talk to. The best part? You might get to visit them in the future. I’ll be calling my Australian friends for a place to stay one day!
It’s Not All About You
When you travel solo, it is about you. You plan your day according to your internal clock, preferences and interests. With group travel, you will have to make sacrifices and compromise. While you’ll be able to visit more places in a smaller period of time, you might not be able to see everything you want to, and sometimes you just have to go along with the group. You also might have to go to other attractions you don’t want to. You will most likely be on a tight-schedule so spontaneity is limited. The group will be expected to meet at specific times and often times you’ll need to get up early. But you’re only there for a short amount of time, so you’re going to want to get as much as you can out of it. Once you’re back home, you’ll be thankful the tour guide asked you to get up early!
It Might Be More Expensive
Not only are you paying for accommodation, transport and your tour guide, you’re paying for website maintenance, office staff and sometimes a brick-and-mortar building that keeps your travel company afloat. Companies can often times take advantage of group discounts, but it will almost always be more expensive for you to use a tour company than to travel solo and pick the places yourself. That being said, you get what you pay for. You’re paying not only for the basics, but also for a tour guide that has experience and extensive knowledge. You’re paying for the peace of mind and ease of someone else planning your trip and making sure everything goes smoothly. Tour companies offer different types of packages depending on your budget, so while it might technically be cheaper to plan your own trip, group travel can be affordable to everyone. If you can splurge, there are luxury tour packages you can purchase; if you’re on a college-budget, there are plenty of tour groups and companies that offer lower cost trips. Remember, you get what you pay for and what you’re getting is well worth the cost.
Even if you’re in a small group, it will be blatantly obvious you’re a tourist (if it wasn’t already). Your guide will have some sort of scarf or umbrella they wave for ease of identification. There might be a stereotypical tourist who wanders aimlessly around with their selfie-stick and oversized backpack in your group. This can be annoying if you’re trying to immerse yourself in the local culture. Similarly, groups move slower than individuals and you might spend time waiting for group members who just don’t live in the fast lane. And of course, you might not get along with everyone in your group.
That being said, there is safety in numbers. This is particularly important if you are a female, or going out late at night or early in the morning. You have other people who have your back, who help you watch out for pick-pockets and make sure you arrive at the hotel safely after a night out. When I joined my tour group in Greece, I had a middle-aged Australian couple that I literally called my Aussie mom and dad. Even when we weren’t planning the same itinerary, they always made sure I was safe and knew where I was going in case of an emergency. Thankfully, I have never been put in a seriously difficult situation while traveling. However, in the event I lost my passport, was pick-pocketed or injured, I would hope to have someone I know help me through it. Remember, when you are traveling on your own, you are truly on your own.
Which Travel Company is Best for you?
The most important decision you will make is which tour company is right for you. Compare several different tour groups and tour companies, taking your budget and type of tour into consideration. While sites such as Contiki offer cheaper tours geared towards the younger crowds, Tucan Travel is geared more towards the 30+ age group. It’s important to consider what you want out of your trip. Depending on your tour, you might be paired with travelers who are more interested in partying than sightseeing and vice versa.
Some of the factors mentioned above could be considered both positive and negative. Larger group numbers means you’ll be slightly safer, but you’ll move slower. You will have time with a group and time on your own, but maybe you only want one or the other. Traveling in general is bittersweet; it is beautiful and exhausting, scary and exhilarating. No matter if you choose to travel solo or in a group, there are going to be benefits and costs. Group travel offers many opportunities that can be beneficial for any traveler.
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