Which is right for me?
Do I go it alone, with the wind at my back and a guidebook clutched in my hand? Or do I opt for an organized tour, with a local guide and some other like-minded travelers?
Everyone who has traveled has faced this choice. The answer ? Either one can be a good choice, it just depends on what type of experience you’re looking for and how you go about it. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each…
or “Independently” as some like to say…this means that you make all your own arrangements for hotels, flights, in-country transportation and prefer to rely on a guide book instead of a local guide.
For those of you who simply don’t want to be tied to a pre-arranged schedule, and want total freedom to go wherever your whims might take you. Also a good choice if you’re interested in some type of specialty activity that might not be compatible with a group’s pace, like an art aficionado visiting every museum possible, or a photographer taking hundreds of photos each day. You can write your own itinerary and change it at a moment’s notice. You should be comfortable dealing with the logistics of traveling each day, and handling problems as they occur.
You’re missing out on the chance to meet some fascinating travelers, often with the same interests as yourself. When you have problems, (and you’ll ALWAYS have problems), you’re very, very alone. You’ll spend much of your time planning what to do each day, and trying to find those great experiences that you went there for. Guide books are really your only glimpse into the areas you’re visiting, but literally millions of people are wandering around looking at the very same book. I once sat at an outdoor café and watched at least a dozen people wander by, noses buried in the very same mass-produced guide book, to cram themselves into a crowded tourist-trap store that advertised “local artisans”. Sadly, just a block away, around the corner and down an alley was a genuine workshop with a family of real artisans who were truly wonderful. I knew that because I had just taken my group there and introduced them, and now they were laughing, making friends, and having a fascinating visit.
…this means that you’ve signed on with a tour operator that has organized a trip. We’re concentrating here on the small-group experience, 10-20 people.
Shared experiences, like travel, often make for lifetime friendships. When a small group of travelers bond, you’ll instantly have a dozen or so people watching your back, helping out if you need something, and providing safety-in-numbers if you happen to wander into a less-than-savory area. I think people in traveling groups tend to enjoy a lot more laughs and have more fun than people traveling alone or in a couple.
In addition, when you’re on your vacation, you have a limited amount of time, and want to see the best an area has to offer. A tour operator has already done all the heavy lifting for you, all the boring stuff like transfers and accommodations are already taken care of, leaving you free to concentrate on having fun. In addition, they’ve tried out dozens of restaurants to find the best one for you, they’ve visited lots of hotels to make sure yours is charming, and over the years they’ve ferreted out many, many fascinating little corners and local characters that you’ll never find on your own. All these are distilled into a week or two for you to enjoy. When you pair this with local guides to add depth, answer questions, and provide a personal touch, you have an experience you can’t possibly duplicate on your own.
If the group size is too large, (30+) you might start to feel like a herd animal. If they’re passing out numbers to stick on your chest, then you might want to pick a tour company that specializes in smaller groups. Your schedule is not your own, well not 100% anyway. Depending on the tour operator and the itinerary, you might feel like you’re in a military school, with every minute of every day structured. Be sure to pick an operator who provides the right balance of group time and free time to explore on your own.
Do Your Research
Think carefully about what you want out of your traveling experience, and which type might best suit your personality. If you opt to go it alone, do a LOT more research to try and preempt some of the inevitable problems. If you’re leaning toward the group experience, be sure to look for an operator with a travel philosophy that matches your own. Without a doubt you should pick up the phone and have a conversation with them…if you can’t talk to the actual people you’ll be traveling with, try looking for a smaller, more personal operator.
Take your time planning your trip, or choosing an operator, and you’ll have a much better chance of a wonderful travel experience!
For all your travel questions feel free to contact me at Jeff@GoGetLost.com