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.