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Group tour vs independent travel

Group tour vs independent travel: Which is better for your trip?

The eternal question for both travel newbies and travel pros. Group tour vs independent travel?

There are so many ways to go about international travel, and sometimes, it’s hard to know which style is going to be best for you.

While many budget travellers will jump to say independent travel is the better (and cheaper) option, I’m going out on a limb to say that isn’t always the case!

As someone who has completed five group tours, and also travelled independently for many months worth of travel, I’d like to give you my recommendations for both options. I’ve put together a list of FAQs about tours vs independent travel to assist you in making the right choice for your next trip.

Oaxaca, Mexico
Our tour group travelling through Mexico, 2015

Is one option cheaper than the other?

Group tours are usually going to be a tad more expensive than independent travel, however, there are certain things you should consider when comparing prices:

Tours will save you a lot (and I mean, a lot!) of time researching your destination. A tour will have your transport, accommodation, some of your sightseeing, and even restaurants lined up for you. If you don’t want to spend countless hours before and during your trip comparing options and booking all these things, then this might be worth paying a little extra for.

Hotel room hangs on a group tour through New Zealand, 2011

In what situations should you take a group tour?

  • If you want to see a particular country but don’t know where exactly you should visit. Tour companies will have picked out all the best bits for you! This is what I did in Mexico, when I didn’t have much of an idea where to go or how to get between cities.
  • If you don’t speak the local language, and are nervous about making own your way around.
  • If you want to see loads of destinations in a short amount of time
  • If you’re travelling solo and are keen to make friends on your trip (I met some of my best friends while travelling on group tours).
  • If you’re intimidated by the thought of researching everything about your destination.

The best thing I find about group tours is that you can relax about things like booking buses and trains, accommodation, or finding public transport. Having someone else do all the hard work for you is super convenient.

Bruges, Belgium
Travelling independently through Bruges, Belgium, 2014

In what situations should you travel independently?

  • If you’re travelling through a country where you speak the language and feel comfortable conversing with the locals (for me, this would be places like England, USA, Singapore, Australia, etc.)
  • If you’d like to travel at a slow pace.
  • If you want flexibility in the destinations you visit, or want to visit some places off the beaten track.
  • If you like having your own space and don’t like socialising every second of the day (hello, fellow introvert!).
  • If you’re really keen on researching everything there is to know about travelling to your destination.

What I enjoy most about independent travel is that there’s no pressure to do things too fast or to see things you don’t want to see. You’re in total control, so if you want a day of lazing about in the sun instead of sightseeing, no-one will stop you.

Contiki tour at Mt Rushmore, USA
Human pyramids on a Contiki tour through USA, 2011

If you go with a tour, which company do you choose?

Be careful to choose a tour company that’s the right fit for you. Many tour companies are geared towards specific age groups, so if you’re a young backpacker, then choosing a tour with a bunch of retirees is probably going to make you feel out of place.

And if you have a specific style of travel in mind (adventure, budget, luxury, active, etc), tour companies usually offer a range of travel styles. You can choose anything from the most basic of hostels with no included meals, to a life of luxury with every single extra included. The price of the tour will often reflect your inclusions.

The companies I have previously travelled with are Contiki, Intrepid Travel, and G Adventures.

Street food, Prague
Rob buying street food in Prague, 2013

Anything else to consider?

If you choose a budget tour, your daily spending money will probably be a little higher than you might expect. In Mexico we had no included meals on our tour, which was fine – except that everyone went out together to eat at restaurants most evenings and we felt obliged to join. If we were travelling by ourselves, we would probably eat more cheaply by purchasing street food or getting ingredients from grocery stores.

Independent travel requires a lot of patience. There will be times when you’re waiting on a seemingly non-existent bus to arrive, or trying to communicate that you want no egg in your meal only to have the waiter have no idea what you’re talking about. It can be frustrating, so keep an open mind!

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