I’ve been on a few group tours in my day. During this most recent little jaunt from Thailand to Europe I went on three of these outings.
The first was with Abraham Tours in Israel where we experienced Hebron and learned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second and third were with Roundabout Tours in Slovenia where, on two separate tours, we explored the Karst region (including the magnificent Škocjan Cave) and Piran on the Adriatic, and then the other a tiny slice of the Alpine region which included the beautiful Vintgar Gorge and stops at Lakes Bled and Bohinj.
Here’s my thing about group tours: I love them. And I don’t. At the same time.
Why take a group tour?
Because sometimes I want someone else to do all the work for me. Traveling solo is exhausting. It means handling all of the travel arrangements, making plans, deciding what to go do and see … Sometimes I just want to wash my hands of it. Be lazy. Let someone also do all that party planning and detail stuff that makes my head spin.
There have been plenty of times in my travels where, had I not done a group day tour, I would have done nothing that day. I would have missed out on an experience, a place, a little peek into a world I don’t know, because I couldn’t be bothered to make arrangements. Or, because I was so sick of being by myself that I just didn’t want to go somewhere solo.
Is it cheating at travel?
Group day tours means a traveler doesn’t have to do any work. Just be there, get picked up, explore, get dropped off. It gives us permission to shut off our brains for a little.
Does that mean we can’t call ourselves travelers? Hell. No.
Why not take a group tour?
But, then there is the other part. The part where we become part of a herd. Where it is apparent the tour guide has cracked the same joke day in and day out for all of high season. Where we move, like puppets, from Point A to Point B, snapping selfies (or not, since, hey we’re in a group!) and being interested in these places because the tour tells us these are places of interest.
The group on the tour suddenly becomes entertained in those all-important travel memories. We all travel together. We all walk through a cave or a gorge or a hotbed of political strife together, eat together … Sure, it lends itself to meeting some cool people (and I have some friends for life whom I met way back in Turkey on a Fez bus tour), but I am much more of a solo wanderer. I like to hop off the bus or van or train and get lost in my new surroundings. I don’t like having to keep an eye on time. To make sure I don’t get left behind.
And, don’t get me started on those people in tour groups who are the bad seeds. The ones who complain incessantly (“Um, are there really bugs in the jungle, because I don’t like bugs …” And yes. That is a real quote from a real tour group participant from a tour I went on.), the ones who won’t crack a smile, or the ones who lag behind and have no consideration for other participants.
Are group tours worth it?
I feel like group tours let me taste just the tiniest bit of what a place has to offer without letting me fully experience it.
It is kind of like the primer, you know?
“Hello, here is Attraction A. Dip your toes in, but don’t swim out too far because in an hour, we’ll need you back and off to the next spot, ok?”
And then there is the idea of the filler activities. The ones tours pack in to make participants feel like they are really getting a bang for their buck.
“Holy crap. We go to seven spots in 10 hours?!? That is amazing! Let’s definitely book this tour because look at all the places we get to go!”
What tour operators sometimes leave out on these day trips is that they are filler. The van stops for, like, 20 minutes at a spot, and it really isn’t anything wonderful and could have been left out because really, there is Piran just through those mountains, and while the Lippizan horses are beautiful, I don’t need to get out of the van, stand at a fence and snap a few photos. There is no real experience for me there, just some pics I can slap up on the Facebook or whatever social media flavor I am feeling.
I can say this with confidence: the tours I went on in Slovenia and Israel left me wanting more, which I suppose is good at the end of the day because it gives me a reason to return to all of those places! Like what I really need is another excuse to travel?
What do you think?
This post is part of the D Travels Europe (and Israel) series. Stay up-to-date on all of my adventures by following along on Twitter (#dtravelseurope), Instagram,Trover, G+ and Facebook. And, for a look at the health and wellness side of European travel, be sure to follow along at The Comfort Zone Project and on TCZP’s Facebook.
9 thoughts on “Group tours: are they worth it?”
As you’ve said in your post, I think the advantage of a group tour depends on what areas you are visiting. Honestly, I wouldn’t do a group tour throughout Western Europe because I know I can do that on my own. Israel and Palestine, however, would be something I’d do a tour with (although I must say, I really, really want to do this on my own as well). I think a tour would be more beneficial when visiting places with such complex history because you’ll get a little bit more explanations on them. I’m like you as well – I both hate and love group tour. I have a pilgrimage tour to Mexico coming up, so we’ll see how that goes.
You are right — it really depends where you are. And also your state of mind, I think. And, the information you want to get out of it. I have found some tours to be incredibly informative like the tour in Hebron, and others to be simply easier to access with them versus on my own. If you have a well-informed tour guide, it really can make all the difference in the world.
Absolutely not cheating, no!
As an independent traveller you are free to choose when, where and who you go on a tour with. They are easily organised on the ground and can be generally tailored to your needs (instead of buying a premium pre booked package with a half dozen things you don’t want).
Sometimes a tour is the only practical way to do or see something (obviously dependent on where you are) – sometimes it is the only legal way to do or see something – and can sometimes be a better deal if organising your own transport etc will be just as costly and inconvenient.
Travelling independently is the best way to travel, and in most cases seeing places or participating in activities off your own back is the best way and you will get a much better experience. But occasionally getting one of the organised tours at your hostel reception desk or the tour office across the road is the better option too.
The point is, when you travel independently, you are free to choose which suits you best at any given time.
(Love the site design by the way!) ;D
I think independent travel works for some and doesn’t work for others. For me, I love to travel solo … most of the time. Some days, I crave company though and someone to talk to on a bus or turn to and exclaim that a place is beautiful. It is those days where a tour seems like a perfect option 🙂 And, yes, because I am traveling independently, it lets me make that decision 🙂 I don’t think I could do a long tour though. I did one more than a decade ago, and it was good at 22, but wouldn’t be ok now. 🙂
I personally don’t really like group tours because I love my independence and freedom to do what I want and anytime I want too much. I have to admit though that it really depends on the kind of tour, there are some I joined that I’m so glad I did because of the amount of knowledge and interesting facts I learnt from the guide that definitely made a huge different to the whole visiting experience.
It absolutely depends on the tour, for sure! But, like you, I really love my independence. I would have loved to have stayed longer at Lake Bled (like, forever), but couldn’t because it was a tour versus independent travel.
I think group tours sere their purpose. Not everyone has the ability to take off weeks on end from work to travel. Group tours are really ideal for those people allowing them to explore where they couldn’t independently for a week. Group tours also help relieve some of the planning that travel involves. For those work 40 hour plus weeks and raising a family, they don’t have time to plan the many details of a trip.
In my own travels, I use a blend of group tours and independent exploration. I use tours to take me places where I otherwise couldn’t get to. However, I look at the size of a tour. Two busloads is two too many for me. I like tours with under 25 people. But I also enjoy independent exploration. My trip to Africa next month is a blend of both.
Diana, great post! I share the mixed feelings. I have done both group tours and solo travel and will do both again in the future. Group tours come into their own, for me, in the more challenging places to travel as a white, blonde girl – if nothing else, they keep my parents calm! I travelled to India on a group tour and am considering another one later in the year. I like that they take the stress out of travelling although I do miss my independence sometimes and group dynamics can be testing at times. I would always recommend people do their research around the company and the trip; make sure you are getting value for money (cheaper is not always better) and that you fully understand what is covered in the itinerary as well any additional costs you might face. But don’t underestimate your abilities to travel on your own – it’s not rocket science! Ultimately, I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to travel, so long as you enjoy the experience!
You are right; there is no right or wrong way. Traveling on your own is amazing, but group tours can also be a great benefit!