Taking A Tour Vs Independent Travel

A question many people ask themselves before departing on their first backpacking adventure is if they should travel as part of a tour group, or go independently. I know I asked myself this before my first ever backpacking trip back in 2006. When it’s your first time you can be a bit apprehensive about travel, especially if you are travelling solo. You’ve heard all these horror stories on the news, and from family & friends about how it’s a big bad world out there. Travelling in numbers, and with a a guide seems much safer. From personal experience, solo independent travel is as safe as any travel provided you follow the same safety rules as you would back in your home country, i.e. don’t go out walking alone at night etc, but maybe you think it would be a better way to meet people on a tour? Or maybe you’re just not sure… Having travelled independently and solo since the age of 17 (I’m now 23), and also having gone on quite a few tours, I thought it would be good idea to share the ups and downs of both. Compare the two. That way if you are undecided yourself, or considering trying one as a new style of travel, you’ll have more of an idea of what to expect, and therefore have a better chance of making the right decision for you. As after all… that’s the most important thing. Do what suits you best.

Price

Probably what makes most people question whether to take a tour or not is that it is usually more expensive than doing the same intinerary independently. There is no getting around it. If you are on a shoestring budget, it’s always going to be cheaper to do it on your own, but I think what’s more important is to weight up what you’re getting for you money. On a tour you have a guide, you a have a driver, i.e. transport door to door in most cases. You also have someone who you can ask questions should you have any about the local culture, food, people etc on hand as and when you need them. Also, if you get yourself into a bit of bother, lose your wallet or something similar, travelling on your own this may be a problem, but with a tour guide on hand they may be able to help you out. In my mind, if you stick to tours aimed at budget backpackers (for instance, the tour group I went around Scotland with, Haggis Adventures, or Peter Pans in Australia to give you another example) you’ll usually find that the prices are relatively cheap, and not a huge deal more than doing it independently, yet you still get the luxury of a tour guide, bus etc.

On price alone, travelling independently has to win, but if you can find a really good tour company, aimed at budget backpackers i.e. with affordable prices, then I think in terms of value for money a tour is in contention to rival with independent travel.

Meeting New People

The great thing that I experienced by going on my Haggis tour recently was the amount of new people I met as part of my tour. There was 23 of us in total, and so you knew that apart from anything else, even if you didn’t get along with somebody (which for the record I got on with everybody), you knew that there would be at least someone that you would make friends with. Put that many young backpackers on a bus and friendships are bound to be formed. If nothing else though, you always had someone to hold your camera when taking pictures, eat with, go out with, and in general just hang out with. For a solo traveller this is a definite bonus of taking a tour.

When I’m travelling solo I never really have problems meeting new people. I stay in backpacker hostels, and if you find a good one you’ll find that you often come away with a whole group of life long friends! The only downside is that when you rely on a good hostel atmosphere to meet new people, you can’t always rely that the hostel you booked (no matter how many good reviews it has) will actually be any good once you turn up. Of course, you always meet people out and about anyway, in bars, on the bus etc, but for the most part as a backpacker it’s hostels that are your main source for meeting people. There is no guarantee. For this reason tours do come out on top for the certainty that you will always have people to chat too, although you WILL make friends on any long term backpacking trip. You just have to put in a little bit more effort. 🙂

Fun

Tours can either be fun or monotonous. A lot of it depends on the tour company, and more importantly – your tour guide. When you’re travelling on a bus for long periods of time around a country, or even just taking a short 2 hour city tour, if you have a good tour guide you’ll find yourself chuckling at their jokes, feeling very relaxed, and learning a lot about the place you are in. With a boring tour guide (and they do exist) you’ll be checking your watch every 2 minutes for the end. Generally speaking, I find the tours aimed at backpackers tend to be more fun, as their target audience is predominantly young 18 – 35 year olds. However, there is no physical guarantee.

When you’re travelling independently you make your own fun. It all depends on you. If things are boring you have the flexibility to just change plans in an instant. For this reason alone travelling independently wins on fun, but that doens’t mean a tour can’t be fun. It’s just less within your control.

Safety

Both methods of travel are safe, if indeed anything in life is safe. You could walk outside tomorrow and get hit by a bus. Safety is really just a perception. There are some things in life you just can’t control. That being said, you can always use common sense and put measures in place to prevent against the common reasons why backpackers get into trouble. I won’t go into a safety post right here, as it’s already been said by myself many times, and by many other travel bloggers out there, but as far as being safe I’d put a tour group first just for the simple reason you’re travelling in numbers. If you lose your wallet etc then there is always the tour guide or someone on your tour who can probably help out, but independent travel, especially solo travel is a lot more safe that what some people may think. A lot of it is just down to following common sense rules when you’re out and about.

Getting the most out of a place

For me, taking a tour and travelling independently to the same places are actually like two completely difference experiences. It really just depends on what you want, how you like to travel, and also how much time you have in a place. For instance, a tour may take 3 or 4 days to cover a distance I’d usually take a few weeks to do… but then I travel slow when I’m going solo. If you only have a short time in a country, and you want to see all the main highlights then I’d definitely opt for going with a tour group. You’ll make lots of picture stops, see all the main sites, and then be back in time for your departure. If your plans are quite flexible, you have more time on your hands, and you’re able to experience the country rather than just see it, then I think doing it independently would suit you most. This way you have more flexibility with where you go out, eat, drink, and if you want to stay longer or shorter in a destination you can.

– I’m not going to choose a winner on this one, because it really just depends on what style of travel suits you personally. As for me, I like to do a bit of both. I predominantly travel solo, and independent of a tour group, but when I arrive into a destination I do like to take part in tours sometimes to get to see the main areas, meet some new people, and get a taster of a country or place that I can then go on to discover more of on my own. I hope this article helps you to make up your mind which would be best for you.

One Response to “Taking A Tour Vs Independent Travel”

  1. Although I have not taken a tour of over a few hours, I will never say never. I can see benefits of taking an organized tour: they know the place, lodging, attractions, and so on. I prefer solo independent travel but will likely take a multi day tour one day.

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