My first trip overseas was on an organized group tour. Back then, I didn’t know the first thing about traveling. I hadn’t been anywhere on my own, and my family weren’t big travelers. My travel experience consisted of a cruise, and spring break in Montreal during college. I was as green as they come. So, at 23, a tour seemed like the best way to get around.
When I headed to Costa Rica for my first real grown-up trip, I was glad I had signed up for a tour. I didn’t speak Spanish, I didn’t know how to navigate a foreign country, and I had no idea how to figure out what to do or how to organize my time.
I was scared, unsure, and needed a lot of hand-holding.
Our guide really helped me learn how to “swim.” That tour gave me the confidence to travel on my own. By the end, I felt like I had “gotten it” enough that I was able to find my way around and meet people.
After I came home, I started planning my next trip: a non-tour journey to Thailand, and after that experience, I ended up backpacking around the world. The rest is history, as they say.
Over 15 years later, I still love (and use) group tours. They are right for certain people, certain destinations, and certain activities for a variety of reasons.
I think tours are disparaged by too many travelers, because they are thinking of those giant, big-bus groups of seniors being herded around for photo ops before being put back on the bus to be driven to the next tourist site.
First, they are great for people who are new to travel or just don’t feel comfortable traveling solo. I’ve written before that the hardest part about travel is not the act itself but finding the courage to go. It’s not easy to just step out the door on your own. No matter where you are from, we all fear the “unknown.” When you don’t speak the language, or don’t have much experience, or are just worried about safety in a new place, you aren’t always willing to just grab your backpack and go.
Tours allow you to get your feet wet and conquer that fear.
Also, some travelers prefer tours when exploring a new region for the first time. Sure, you might have made your way through Europe or Australia, but the thought of doing the same in Central America or the Middle East might feel a little too far out of your comfort zone.
Second, tours are good if you’re a solo traveler looking for company. People always ask me if I get lonely as a solo traveler, or what I do if I don’t meet anyone. Luckily, I’ve learned to meet people on the road.
But, as a natural introvert, it took me a long time to learn how to strike up conversations with strangers. It does take effort and quite a bit of courage to put yourself out there and make friends over and over.
When you’re on a tour, though, you have automatic travel friends. Tours are designed so you have a group of people to talk to, explore with, eat with, and spend time with. You won’t be alone, which takes a lot of the pressure off.
More often than not, you’ll create stronger bonds than you’d ever expect with your tour mates because of all of your shared travel experiences.
Third, tours are good if you don’t have a lot of time. Could I have seen Jordan, Morocco, or Madagascar my own? Yeah, sure, but I didn’t have a lot of time, and I wanted to see a lot rather quickly. That’s why I visited those destinations on a tour.
When you are limited in your travel time, tours are the perfect way to easily take in the highlights. They have unique experiences baked right in, so no matter how quick the tour is, you’ll feel like you saw something aside from the must-see attractions (at least on a good one).
Fourth, tours are great for busy people. It seems like these days, so many are juggling a million things to do, so planning out all the logistics of a trip to a foreign country might not hit the top of the priority list. And if this is your life, I’m guessing you need a vacation. After all, everyone needs a vacation every once in a while.
Joining a group tour is a great way to have a satisfying experience without having to lift a finger to plan. It’s very convenient. Just show up and participate. Let someone else handle the research, planning… and improvising when something goes wrong.
Fifth, some destinations are logistically challenging and best visited on a tour. Just try going to the Galápagos, on safari, around India, or through a few African countries on your own. Sure, you can do it, but it’s not always easy and most people don’t have the time or energy to put that kind of trip together. Multi-day hikes up Mount Kilimanjaro or around Patagonia are easier and safer with a group. The same goes for trips through deserts, rain forests, jungles, and other areas that are not as easy to navigate on your own.
Finally, tours can give you access to experiences you couldn’t access on your own. This is especially true of smaller, boutique tour companies (like us!). By leveraging their insider knowledge and connections, you can get access to people, places, and activities you wouldn’t otherwise have.
For example, on our Oaxaca tour, we go to my buddy’s mezcalería, and he gives us a private tasting and talks about his family’s history making the spirit.
In Romania, we get special permission to hang out in a Roma village, thanks to our guide’s long friendship with residents there.
These are experiences are hard to replicate on your own and can contribute to greater understanding and depth and a more satisfying travel experience.
Are tours for everyone? No. But they aren’t necessarily the big bus groups of the past, and I think they can offer travelers of today really unique experiences you won’t find elsewhere. Even if you’re an independent traveler, be sure to consider them.
And, if you are looking for a tour, consider taking one through our company, The Nomadic Network. We offer incredible small-group tours to destinations including Tanzania, Cuba, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Romania, Costa Rica, the Yucatan peninsula, Jordan, and more. We use our personal travel experiences to create unique itineraries you won’t see elsewhere. We hang out with locals, get off the beaten path, connect with expert guides, participate in unique activities, and take you to tourist-free restaurants, bars, walking tours, swimming holes, backyard BBQs, and more!
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
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You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
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