Have you ever thought about going on a group adventure tour, but cringed at the thought of being herded around by a guide waving a flag at you? Budget accommodation? A landmarks-only bus tour that misses out on local flavour. Ugghh, me too! While I worried about that too, I have travelled as part of several groups, after doing a significant amount of research. And found they were nothing like the stereotypes. In fact, my experiences taught me that group tours are all about immersing yourself in a new countries and having an absolute blast with your new friends. And I've still had time for my own personal adventures!
So let’s bust those group travel myths that have been floating around, and see why a group tour could be your BEST trip ever!
Myth #1: It’s more expensive then travelling independently
When budgeting for travel, I encourage people to consider value over cheapest rates. And going on a tour doesn’t mean you’ll have to spend an arm and a leg! You have the benefits of your tour company to find all of your accommodation, and often your food and activities at the best rates. Plus, because tours come with a transparent price tag upfront, you're not going to get hammered with unexpected costs that can happen if you travel independently. Know that there are tours in every price range, with a variety of inclusions and accommodation styles so it's a matter of finding the best match for you.
Don't forget to factor in all the time you save when someone else has done all the planning. Time is money right?!
Myth #2: Every second is planned
This is bullshit. In fact, I've purposefully picked tours that gave me quite a bit of free time. And, in most cases, activities are optional You will typically have the flexibility in your tour to see all the top sights but also have some free time. And your tour guide is there to give you an extra hand if you need help booking an activity or finding your way around the city.
So much of travel is about the things that come up when you least expect them, and good tours recognize this by building in free time to allow you to explore and make your own discoveries. It's important to have a good look at the itinerary in advance so you can see when each day starts and ends and what each day entails. Make sure you're okay with it before signing up.
An added bonus is that when you can’t figure out just how to organize a permit for a hiking trail or you need the help of someone who speaks the local language, your tour guide is always there for back up.
Myth #3: You will have a cookie-cutter experience
Travel snobs might turn their nose at the idea of group travelling because it’s "not authentic enough". But they’re totally wrong! Tour companies are giving travelers local-only experiences and going beyond the usual top tourist sites. Spend a night in a family riad in Moulay Idriss, Morocco or cruise along the Nile in a traditional Felucca. There are endless options! Your tour guide will also be able to give you tips and tricks so you can avoid the tourist traps and have a local experience!
Something else super cool that has been cropping up is companies hiring local guides. What could be more authentic then travelling with someone through their own country. So I would advise looking for highly regarded, locally-owned tour companies. Even more cool, are some women-only tours that use female guides in countries where they would have traditionally been unable to do this work. Regardless though of whether male or female, these are people that have first-hand knowledge, extensive contacts and a passion for ensuring you see the best of their country.
Myth #4: You'll Only Visit the Busy Tourist Traps
Some sites just have to be seen to be believed. Angkor Wat or Christ the Redeemer for example. They are definitely part of the tourist circuit, but you’re not going to travel half way around the world just to give them a miss. What it comes down to, is HOW you see those sights. For example, when I was in Cambodia, our guide had the timing down so we were on top of Phnom Bakheng temple to catch the sunset, and we could see hundreds of people down below who weren't so lucky. Some sites you simply can’t ignore, but a well-designed small group tour will make the experience all the more memorable, for all the right reasons.
If you do as I suggest above and book with a company who uses a local guide, you will also get to visit places that matter to local people...the markets, the street food stalls and even be invited into family homes.
Myth #5: Group tours are just too big, I don’t want to travel with a gazillion other people.
The fact is, you don't have to. Knowing that today’s travelers place a premium on freedom and interacting with their surroundings, many tour operators have added small group offerings. We're talking a maximum of 16 people.And this does make a difference to the overall experience. Smaller groups mean you can stay in smaller hotels in local communities, visit areas beyond the reach of large tour coaches and take part in activities that just aren't possible for larger groups. And again, I will remind you that if you don't want to travel with strangers, a Travel Advisor can help you put your own group together.
Myth #6: It’s better to ‘wing it’
Sure you can plan a trip on your own and get around just fine. However sometimes ‘winging it’ isn’t as fun as what it first seems. It takes time to figure out where you’re going, what you’re doing and if you can even find accommodation. Going with a group ensures you’ll have access to things you might not have on your own, and it alleviates a lot of the stress and logistical know-how you’d be responsible for if you tried to organize it yourself. If you want to make the most of your time in a destination going on a tour is one way to ensure you will.
Myth #7: They're for the gap year kiddos or retirees
Of course there are tours full of starry-eyed 18-year-olds just ready to experience everything the world has to offer (who can blame them?). And, yes there are tours full of retirees looking to rest their knee joints and still see the sights. And tours with those and everyone in between. It can be loads of fun to mingle with a variety of people from diverse backgrounds. You never know who might become your new friend! This past winter I travelled with such a group, through the north of Morocco and it was amazing the connections that were made between old and young. And the friend I was travelling with...well we became friends on a group tour through Thailand years ago.
Also know that there are a whole range of tours available for everyone and anyone. From companies who cater to women traveling alone specifically, to others who cater to adventurers, families, mid-life and more. In fact, you can book a private group tour just for you and your friends.
So all in all, SOME tours are worth it – you’ve just got to sort the wheat from the chaff. The good ones are inspiring, challenging, enlightening, run by those who understand the ways of the land and the local scene, while supporting local communities and the environment at the same time.
Choose wisely, choose ethically, and get set for an unforgettable experience! Group tours alleviate stress...most everything is taken care of so you can relax and simply enjoy your experience. I am a professional Travel Advisor who specializes in adventure+wellness trips for the curious and conscientious. I can help match you with the company and tour that is a perfect fit. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can start planning your next trip now!
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