Group tours...just a sad way to travel, or absolutely brilliant?

I, like everyone else, like to surf the internet. I tootle around sites on cooking, the happenings in Tokyo, but mostly travel sites. I love reading about new places to go, places to explore, sites that I want to see. I read blogs, travel forums, and anything else I can find on traveling. Recently I have been doing more research into tour operators for solo travellers in the “mature 25-30 luxury tours”. I have to say, one of my favourite things to read are the comments. Comments on any post anywhere are always so hilarious to me. I recently read one comment on a thread about solo travel companies that said:

I can’t think of anything sadder than a 30 something on a group tour….It’s just as easy and cheaper to do it on your own….where’s your sense of adventure?....Travel by yourself, it’s better and more rewarding.
China adventure Contiki 

China adventure Contiki 

I usually find comments hilarious, but this one...this one...this one had me all wound up. Who is this person to judge on how a person wants to travel? Why shame someone who would like to try a tour by saying that “there is nothing sadder”? People are absolutely entitled to their own opinions, but there is a respectful way to say “there are tours, but I would recommend going on your own”.

Either way, it brings up an interesting point. How to travel? Tours vs. Solo. As a single almost 30 year old woman, I am often times stuck between a rock and a hard place. I can travel solo, find someone who is willing to travel with me, or I can do a tour. Traveling solo is fun, but it can get lonely (see my post on Bali, Indonesia). I can travel with a friend, but then we have to find dates and a destination that work and make sure that you can stand each other for however long you’re away. Then there is the tour option, built in activities that you have little control over and the possibility of people who you don’t want to be with.

I have travelled on 4 tours. Two with Contiki, and two with Intrepid. I travelled with Contiki to China on their China Adventure tour and to Italy on their Italian Espresso tour. I travelled with Intrepid on their Phuket Sailing Adventure in Thailand, and a Christmas Markets tour in Bavaria.

After being on 4 tours with two different tour companies, here are some of my pros and cons of tour travel:

Italian Espresso contiki

Italian Espresso contiki

Contiki China adventure

Contiki China adventure

Intrepid christmas markets

Intrepid christmas markets

intrepid phuket sailing adventure

intrepid phuket sailing adventure

Pros:

  1. You don’t really have to plan anything pre-trip or on the trip. You start on the tour and go, all transportation, information, things to do are typically planned for you. Which makes someone as busy as I am a very happy camper because I get to travel without all the pre-trip decision making.   

  2. Most of the time you have a local guide that is a professional tour guide who can give you in-depth information about the area you are in. They are fluent in English, can answer most questions, and give you tips on how to experience the ‘local flair’.

  3. You have paid for someone to know what to do, where to go, where to avoid, and help you with anything you want to do. Real person tour guides are so much better than books!

  4. You see the major sites and more than likely will skip all lines to them. SCORE! Line to the Vatican around the corner? Skip it!

  5. Built in friends/dinner buddies/explorers. Traveling solo can get super boring and less adventurous because you don’t want to get out of your comfort zone, traveling in a group allows you to meet new people and have built in buddies.

  6. More than likely you will be surrounded by people who are similar to you in your travel preferences and can make travel buddies for your next trips. I’ve met some cool people along the way, one or two I’d consider great friends, major bonus!

Cons:

  1. Your tour guide can make and break your trip. If you have a tour guide who is new, it can make your experience hectic and disorganised, on the flip side, if you have a seasoned tour guide it can get boring and seem repetitive.

  2. If you have special interests, those probably won’t be catered to. I am a museum junkie and I love finding the weird ones in a country--unless the tour has plenty of free time you are stuck with their schedule.

  3. You can have annoying people on your tour. ‘nuff said.

  4. With some tours you still have to bring a tour book, which makes it seem like my money was not well spent.

  5. Accommodation is at the mercy of the tour. You definitely get what you pay for as far as quality and location. I am personally all about paying more for the best location as I love to walk and not have to hassle with mass transit. (I think Tokyo has changed me.)

  6. Some tours are not flexible and even if you wanted more time at a certain place, your tour needs to make it to the next scheduled stop. The whole tour group has to be taken into account, not just you.

intrepid Christmas Markets tour

intrepid Christmas Markets tour

intrepid Phuket sailing adventure

intrepid Phuket sailing adventure

Italian espresso contiki

Italian espresso contiki

intrepid christmas markets

intrepid christmas markets

There are plenty of pros and cons to traveling with a tour group, but I have to say personally---I usually really like tours. After traveling on four different ones with four totally different experiences, I have definitely come up with my opinions on what can make a tour a great option.

Tall Girl Travels Tour Expectations:

  1. Tour groups should be capped at a small number. When I went to Italy there was 40 people on the tour and I felt a bit lost. I am not a fan of the big bus tours, the other tours I have been on have all had less than 22 people on them. 3-20 people on a tour is perfect.

  2. Read the itinerary and trip notes CAREFULLY. The tours literally follow what they put on their websites. If it says free time, expect free time and plan for it. If it says it’s going to be a busy day, it’s going to be a busy day, so prepare for it.

  3. Look for tours with free time. As much as I love to go, go, go, there is also a point where I’d like to sleep in, enjoy a coffee at a cafe, or see something that I would like to see.

  4. “Cultural Experiences”, I love when I see a cultural experience on a tour schedule. Most of the time these are the coolest parts of a trip, a meal with the locals, a calligraphy class, boat ride, food tour--all are “cultural experiences” you wouldn’t always get on your own.

  5. Read all the reviews, for the trip you’re looking at and the others the company offers. Read between the lines, taking what the reviewer says with a grain of salt. I read a review and the person said that “the tour guide didn’t tell us there was pickpockets in Italy” then went on to say “the tour guide was more interested in where we were going to party that night, instead of letting us know there was pickpockets.” Read: first time traveller, but, could be a younger more club oriented crowd.

When you are preparing for the tour (you can also see TGT Packing Tips) :

  1. Follow the directions. You chuckle now...but seriously. Check out the trip notes and always ask for a packing list from the company. They know what you’ll need.

  2. Check the weather and always bring waterproof or quick dry shoes and jacket. Having wet shoes or clothes while on a tour absolutely sucks. You don’t always have time to buy new ones (if you can find your size!) or find a dryer.

  3. If you are going with friends make sure that you coordinate your rooms, but also go in knowing that you can’t just stay connected the entire time. You are going on a tour and a great part of that is meeting new people and learning about other cultures.

  4. Check and see what extra costs you may accrue. Tours are notorious for extra costs for extra things.

  5. Take a deep breath and know that you are going on a trip that YOU want to go on. Go in with an open mind and no matter who is on the trip, what happens, you want to go on this tour. You make this tour what it is, and your attitude is 90% of how much fun you’ll have.

I think tours are a great way to see the world. I have enjoyed going on them because it eliminates the time it takes to pre-plan a trip. I have to do the research to see what tour I’d like to do, but I don’t have to make all the decisions and coordinate my time. I know that I will see the major sites in a country and if I’ve chosen the right tour I will get plenty of time to do what I want to do whether that’s shopping, a museum, or simply sitting and watching people.

So commenter on the travel thread, do you still think that being a 30 something on a tour is the saddest way to travel? I hope not.

Bottom Line: It’s a great option for those of us who are working individuals who are looking for a great trip where we don’t have to do all the work, meet new people, and not have to dine alone.


See my trip reviews for the tours I’ve been on: Intrepid Thailand Sailing Adventure (coming soon), Contiki China Adventure, Intrepid Christmas Markets (coming soon), Contiki Italian Espresso (coming soon).