Traveling to unknown places can be difficult and scary, especially if you’re traveling on your own. A question that we’re often asked is whether it’s worth paying for an organized group tour. The answer is complex. I’ve traveled both ways, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on each approach. Understanding the advantages and drawbacks can help when deciding between solo vs group travel.
What is organized group travel?
When I refer to organized group travel, I mean a tour company and service that is more than one day. This doesn’t include guided day tours you might take to see several attractions. Organized group travel are multi-day trips where you travel, eat, and stay with a group of fellow travelers and a local tour guide. A couple of examples are G Adventures and Intrepid, which operate tours all over the world. I’ve used G Adventures twice, once to Panama and once to Southeast Asia, and both were amazing experiences.
Despite the benefits of organized group travel, many travelers opt to plan their own itinerary and schedule. Below are the advantages and disadvantages of traveling on your own.
Advantages of traveling solo
Without a doubt, the biggest appeal of traveling solo is having control of your own itinerary and schedule. If you want to sleep in on a certain day, you can do it. If you’d rather see certain attractions over others, you have complete control over where you go and what you do.
Traveling solo can be challenging at times, especially when there are language barriers and mistakes. However, these situations are opportunities to grow as a person. I remember being anxious the first time I traveled overseas on my own. Though I feel like being out of my comfort zone helped me to develop as a person.
Some of you might recall that part of the Trip Astute creed is that: “traveling is like an education that helps you grow as a person and is an experience that can never be taken away.” We truly believe that the experiences of travel, both good and bad, can help to shape your views and perspectives. Being on a journey has a way of providing insight into our values and identity.
3. Ability to leverage points:
One reason to travel solo is to use your points to book hotels and flights. This is often not possible when you are traveling on group tours. The hotel and transportation fees are built-in as they have arrangements with specific local providers. I did use my points to book my flights at the beginning and end of my group tour, but any travel that occurred during the tour was part of the total fee.
Drawbacks of traveling solo
The biggest issue when traveling alone is safety. I hear horror stories all the time of people walking through the wrong parts of town only to get mugged or pickpocketed. You’re especially vulnerable when you’re “off the beaten path”, which is how I like to travel. I enjoy more authentic non-tourist experiences, though I know it sometimes puts me at risk. Safety is something to consider if you are traveling on your own.
Getting from one location to another can be confusing, especially if you’re in locations where there isn’t strong infrastructure. Getting a visa and crossing land borders can be intimidating and confusing. You may even have to deal with corrupt officials. Having a group tour organize the logistics makes the process much easier.
This is a significant one to consider. When you’re traveling solo, you’re often eating meals alone and spending a lot of time by yourself. While that’s not a horrible thing, it’s something to consider when booking a solo trip. You’ll often meet other travelers along the way, but it can feel isolating to travel on your own.
Advantages of traveling with an organized group
1. Sharing experiences with others:
When you travel with a group, you’re experiencing things with other people. There is something to be said about sharing memories and experiences with people while essentially “living” with them over a period of time. I know that I’ve made some great friendships over the years when traveling in a group. In fact, I keep in touch with many of them around the world.
2. Local expertise:
When you travel in a group tour, you’ll often have a guide with local expertise and language skills. This is incredibly helpful and allows you to experience the culture at a deeper level. I remember when I visited Panama a few years ago on a group tour, our guide warned us whenever we were vulnerable to any scams. He also shared stories of growing up in the city and the changes that have occurred over time. Having a local guide provided that extra expertise and support, reducing communication issues and misunderstandings that often occur when traveling.
3. Pre-planned itineraries:
Group travel means that you don’t have to plan anything. The tour will often map out your schedule. You might not want to wake up at 4 am in the morning to visit the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. However, if it’s on the itinerary, then you’re going to do it.
I know that sounds terrible, but seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat was an incredible experience. When I think back on my group travel experiences, I appreciate the fact that we had a full schedule of activities. In a way, it forces you to see more and take advantage of your surroundings.
4. Greater security:
There’s no denying that there is safety in numbers. When you’re in a group, you’re less likely to get targeted and you always have each other for support.
Drawbacks of traveling with an organized group
It’s inevitable that there will be personality conflicts in your group. I’ve never been on a group travel tour where there wasn’t an argument or dramatic situation. It’s natural when you’re spending a lot of time with the same group of people and is just part of the experience.
2. Lack of control:
When you travel in a group, you have less flexibility. Most group tours allow you to opt out of certain activities or meals. However, if you’re going to another city or location, there isn’t the option to take the next bus. You have to be on the scheduled bus, or else everyone in the group (and your guide) will be knocking on your door.
3. Less privacy:
This is also an inevitable consequence of traveling on a group tour. There are ways to still have some privacy. For example, when I traveled to Southeast Asia on a G Adventures tour, I paid an extra fee to have my own private hotel room. I was traveling with a younger group (i.e., age 18-39), so I anticipated lots of late nights and partying. Since I’m in my late thirties, I knew I wanted to sleep at night and have more peace and quiet in my hotel room (i.e., my party days are over!).
What about the cost?
Cost for either option is difficult to measure. On the one hand, you could argue that doing it all yourself is cheaper. Though, I don’t think that traveling solo always works out to be cheaper. When I look back at some of my trips, it would have been expensive to hire a driver to take me to all the places that we visited during the tour. In fact, because the group tours have arrangements with local drivers and guides, it seemed like we often had our own private transportation during the day.
In terms of recommendations, I think the biggest reason to go solo is if you’re going somewhere where you don’t plan to move around. For example, if you’re going to Costa Rica and planning to spend your time near the jungles surrounding the Arenal volcano, then you can easily plan it yourself. Though if you want to see more of the country, including the cloud forest of Monteverde or the coastal area of Guanacaste, then it might be worth joining a tour. You won’t have to worry about the logistics of getting from one location to another. Plus, you’ll share the experience with others and make some greats friends along the way.
If you’re interested in traveling on an organized group tour, I do recommend G Adventures and Intrepid. My understanding is that Intrepid tends to attract a lot of Australian travelers, while G Adventures, which is based in Canada, attracts more European and North American travelers. There are other organized travel companies out there, but if you’re just starting out, these are two that I would recommend.
What do you all think about traveling solo versus with an organized group? Do you prefer one over the other? Please share your experience below.