Deciding whether to travel independently or join a group tour can make a huge difference to the type of experience you will have. Both have good and bad points, so what is right for you or the place you want to visit?
There are as many different types of travellers as there are people travelling. However, there are some traveller conversations that become quite familiar after being on the road for a while. The hostal bar is often filled with an exciting variety of people from all around the world, all of whom are looking for something different from their trip away.
One conversation I’ve had many times leads to a competitive edge amongst the adventurers. Who has had the most unique experiences? Who has been in the most crazy situation? My favourite was a guy I met in Quito. He was very proud of his (what sounded incredibly silly and dangerous) trip down a river in Honduras with no food and several men with guns.
The thing is, for someone who hasn’t travelled independently, it can be a scary, intimidating prospect and yet it’s easy to forget this fear once you have done it. I am now one of the people that like to show off about my travel stories too… my authentic experiences in Central America and my almost dodgy moments… Of course I am this way – I love travelling. It’s a massive part of my life and who I am.
But I think this competitiveness can make some people feel bad for wanting to do more organised styles of travelling and it shouldn’t be that way. I’ve spoken to a few people recently who have expressed this to me, which is what made me want to write about it. Some people just feel more comfortable on a group trip and there is nothing wrong with seeing the world in whatever feels most comfortable. It’s better than not seeing it!
I’ve done mostly independent travel on my trips but I have mixed it up with some group tours and I can see the benefits and downsides of both. Maybe these thoughts can help others decide what is best for them.
TRAVELLING IN A GROUP – THE GOOD
1. Pick a place and go
The best thing about joining a group trip must be that you don’t have to think too much. Once you’ve decided on the location, the only other thing you have to do is find a company you trust and they will do the rest for you. If you focus on finding an ethical company that treats it’s local staff well, then this will help you make that decision.
I did the Inca Trail with G-Adventures and chose them because I got a personal recommendation and I knew they treated the Porters well. It was so easy that the entire two-week trip was booked and organised in about an hour and a half on a rainy day from my sick bed in Caye Caulker, Belize. That’s how easy it can be.
2. Guaranteed friends that speak your language
The group trips I’ve taken have led to some incredible friendships. As you are definitely going to be together for a while, you are likely to form bonds with people without even really having to try. They will just all be there on the first day waiting to make friends with you. You’ll probably book a trip with a company that speaks your language, so the other people will too and there will be no awkward trying to have broken conversations in other languages in the dorm room on arrival (although these can be brilliant too!).
3. Switch your brain off and let others take you on an adventure
I was lucky to have a lot of time for travel during my round the world trip. I did put a lot of effort into getting that time, but I realise not everyone can do it. If you have a permanent 9-5 job, it can be pretty exhausting and so when you do get a holiday and want to travel, you understandably might want it to be relaxing. Travelling solo can be tiring and there is a lot of extra planning, organising and negotiating throughout the trip. On a group trip you don’t really have to think about anything much beyond what to choose from the menu in the restaurant. Perfect. Relax and let others show you the world. You’ll see so many things in a short space of time on an organised tour that you probably wouldn’t have the energy to organise if you were travelling by yourself.
4. Safety in numbers
I wouldn’t say it is necessarily safer to be in a group, but it can certainly feel that way. It can feel good to be part of an organised group where someone tells you where to go and you can just get on a private mini-bus to take you to your next destination without risking the sometimes crazy bus stations. This sense of safety can be the difference between sitting at home and just thinking about going somewhere and actually getting on a plane. If you do feel better travelling this way, then do it and don’t listen to what anyone else says!
TRAVELLING IN A GROUP – THE BAD
1. Restricted time, restricted mind
At times when I was in a group, I did feel restricted by the very busy and set timetables that were often in place. Half a day in Arequipa, Peru just wasn’t enough for me to soak in the city. I also think that the guides only tell you set things that they’ve planned in advance, so you will just see one side to a place, and there isn’t a huge amount of time to find other parts of it or meet local people who could tell you different stories – definitely a special part of travelling that might be missed in a group tour.
2. No puedes aprender el idioma nativo
If you are travelling with a group of people from your country or similar, you will probably only really speak that language and you may well talk a lot about things from home. It was really weird for me to join an English group after living with locals in El Salvador, and I felt a bit sad to be back moaning about the same old stuff, and talking about tea. It was also nice to have a bit of familiarity, but I think if you really want to see and absorb yourself into a place, then trying to learn a bit of the language, getting away from the group and talking to local people can be so rewarding, so try to make some time for that too.
3. Money money money
There is absolutely no question that joining a group trip can be A LOT more expensive. The money you spend on a two week trip could last you over a month if you did it independently. Actually, my Peru trip budget would have last me 2 months at least and it paid for the 2 week trip. I probably wouldn’t have seen as much in two weeks on my own but I think an experienced independent traveller would struggle with the idea of spending this much money on a shortish trip and it is definitely something to think about when organising yours. Maybe you only have two weeks anyway, but if you potentially have more, then you could save a lot by doing it yourself.
In my next post I’m going to write more about what it’s really like to travel independently and why I love it so much, as well as some of the realities of what it’s like that can make it sometimes difficult. But for now if you are thinking of taking a group tour and having someone organise things for you, then I’d say GO FOR IT and enjoy every minute of this beautiful world we live in!
What is your experience of group tours? Love them or hate them? Are there places where your happier in a group and others you’d prefer to travel independently?