Benefits of Independent Travel over Guided Tours

Previously we looked at why guided tours may be a good option for many people to use on their travels.

Today, we are going to continue discussing how to travel the world by discussing the benefits of Independent travel.

This is the way Craig and I have traveled since 1997, although we have on occasions taken guided tours, and my look to it more in the future now that we have our little girl.

Reasons why independent travel can be better than guided tours

Slower Pace

a woman standing next to a motorbike
Slow travel alright!

Craig and I travelled through Africa independently backpacking from Kenya to Cape Town. We were always amazed at how fast the overland trucks (the guided tours) ripped through areas.

While we were relaxing in beautiful lakeside villages for days at a time, they were pulling in, setting up, and then getting up at the crack of dawn to pack up and leave again. It was quite exhausting watching it.

Independent travel allows for a slower pace, enabling you to get to know the local culture more and create more enriching experiences in one particular area.

Greater Authenticity

Playing Bowa in MalawiI hesitate to use the word “authenticity” because I believe that every moment is authentic because you are experiencing it.

So it doesn’t really matter if you are in a bus touring Europe, walking across the prairies, or eating rice with the Zao in the terraced mountain villages of Sapa, it is authentic.

What I am talking about here is cultural travel, a connection with the day to day living of a destination that might be harder to make on a tour.

I was speaking with a lady who recently returned from a guided tour of Africa with a tour company. While she thoroughly enjoyed her time, she did complain that she did not have enough “authentic” experiences. She was really disappointed to not have the opportunities to step outside the world of the tour group to get to know local life in the villages.

The main reason was that their tour guide would not let them due to it not being safe enough. She was even more disappointed to hear that Craig and I had done the same trip, independently, walking freely amongst the villages and never having one problem.

More Flexibility

Benefits of independent travel I think I might stay here for awhile

While you can usually find a guided tour that can fit in with your travel plans, there is still a limit to where you can go and what you can do.

There are no last minute change of plans allowed and you can’t wander off an hour or two to another town you had hoped to see also.

And of course there is always the chance that you may hate the place you are visiting. What can you do then? You can’t suddenly change your travel direction. Or, on the other hand, what if you fall in love with a place? There’s no way you can decide to spend just one more day (which could turn into 12 like it did with me on Ios).


Benefits of Independent travel
Free accommodation with friends in Zimbabwe- makes backpacking cheaper!

Everything comes with a price attached and it is all relative to your experiences.

Guided tours are always going to be more expensive because you are paying for someone else to do the planning for you. Although, sometimes small group tours work out to be a cheaper option.

Craig and I are pretty good at travelling on a budget. We look at the prices of guided tours and know that we could do the same and more, at a much slower pace, with a more local experiences for the same or usually less. But of course that comes with a price- meaning inconvenience, hard work, and discomfort.

Social dynamics

people sitting at a table
Choosing your travel companions

You hop on a guided tour for the next 2 months around Europe, you’ve paid all your money, you are super excited and then by day 3 you realize you have nothing in common with the 28 other people on the bus.

In fact, you can’t stand them. What you thought was going to be your dream adventure, has turned into a nightmare.

One thing I have learned from traveling with others is that you have to be really selective. Friendships can implode very quickly. You are in each others pockets for days on end.

If the social dynamics are not working it can be horrible. With independent travel you can choose who you travel with. If you find you are not getting along with your travel mates you can easily make a quick choice and change directions apart from each other.

I left my Eurovan tour early as I just wasn’t liking the social dynamics of the group I was traveling with. Six girls in a campervan for 10 weeks can get a bit too much.

Why do you like independent travel?

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