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

Independent travel
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

Independent travel
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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23 thoughts on “Benefits of Independent Travel over Guided Tours”

  1. jamie - cloud people adventures

    i am in agreeance with the independent travel, though i can see people’s reasons for choosing a tour. for me, the flexibility is very important. i love choosing a city or town and staying there for a while getting to know it. this just cannot happen on a guided tour. great post!

  2. While independent usually trumps guided in my book, in reading this post, there is one place that comes to my mind where guided trumped “independent” (aka: self guided) and that is Fraser Island, Australia.

    Instead of being stuck in a car for 3 days with people I didn’t know, getting lost around every turn, it was great to always be able to sit forward in minibus with a guide who hopped out at every turn to HELP those self guide undig themselves from the sand. And while the self guides would show up at one location, look around, tick it off a list and leave, we got to sit around all the beaches for hours, cutting out some stuff, but fully enjoying the good stuff. And we didn’t have to waste any time getting lost!!

    And while it was like maybe AUD$100 more then the self guided, everything was included. Plus, combine it with some other activity on the East Coast and trips get even cheaper! Well worth the extra money in my book.

    I would only do the self guides if I knew everyone in my group, which doesn’t happen when you travel alone.

    Love articles like this!

  3. These are some great points, though I can only speak for the experience of the independent traveller. I’m taking my first tour for 21days in May…will be interesting to compare it to the other 49weeks of independent travel we’re doing this year.

    1. Can’t wait to hear how your tour goes. Where will you be going on the tour? I think you will probably enjoy the break of sitting back and letting someone else do all the work.

  4. Appreciate this post as I also choose independent travel over guided tours. Africa is very popular with overland group trips, as you pointed out, and while in Bamako recently a group tour rolled through during the middle of a dance festival. Many members of the group really got into the festival, but they had to leave only seeing one day of it, because that was the schedule of the trip.

    B well,

    1. I think when you are travelling Africa independently and you see those trucks come racing through, you just want to scream, “Stop, don’t you know what you are missing. Africa cannot be raced through but needs to be savoured and explored.”

  5. Hi Caz,

    Great post!!
    I agree that independent travel helps you to go at your own pace, hang out with whoever you want to hang out and do what you want to do. I try to travel independently as much as possible.

    However, I think price can be a pro or a con of independent travel. It is true that tours companies charge you for organizing the whole trip but some of these companies have a lot of buying power. Therefore, they are still making money while offering you a “deal”.

    For example, last year I went to Thailand. I ended up buying a package. Why? Because my budget was not able match the company’s sale price. I tried for months to come up with a cheaper price and was not able to do it. Plus, I was including in my budget pretty basic accomodations and they were offering 4 star hotels with buffet breakfast included. Plus I just had two weeks. So I made the choice to go with the company and I do not regret it because the experience was great.

    1. This is very true Ruth. It is good to see this side of things. You really do have to weigh up the pros and cons of both. The only times I’ve been on guided tours is when it has provided me more value then I could have done myself. You can’t beat buffet breakfast and 4 star hotel- although I do love camping and hostels. Style is always welcome with this family πŸ™‚ Thanks for commenting

  6. Last time I went on a guided tour was in northern India.

    I learned so many things about the places we visited that I know I wouldn’t have by traveling independently, but like you said, you can’t travel at your own pace, staying in villages longer and getting to know the locals.

    For me the best is a mixture of the two, doing guided tours once in a while and then continue to travel on your own.

  7. I’d always opt for independent travel over guided tours, for many of the reasons you outline. The key thing is the opportunity to take things at your own pace, see what you want to see, discover what you want to discover, and discover things that you never knew were even there to be discovered…

    That said, I’m not averse to arranging a guide, or for that matter a driver-guide, in low-cost economies, to get us to where we want to go. This is probably because I ride a motorbike like an old lady and can’t cope with dirt roads…

  8. Ha! We bought a bowa board on the shores of Lake Malawi – in fact it’s sitting just about my head as I type this (untouched for 15 years I have to admit – can’t remember the rules anymore!). Agree with you on independent travel. We always choose to go by ourselves where we can, although sometimes it is easier/safer/cheaper/better to take on a local guide.
    Thanks for the memories πŸ™‚

    1. I always have to Google the rules. Luckily a lot of kids play it in schools as well, so they reteach me. Did you ever beat the locals? We’ll have to meet somewhere for a game or two.

  9. Great post, for me I’d choose guided tours for more difficult places (e.g. Africa or China) or for when I had a shorter period of time to travel. But because I’ve got lots of time and am budget conscious, it makes more sense for me to go independent and have unofficial tours through couchsurfing.

    1. I agree with you too Ayngelina…. I have never taken a guided tour before but think I might when I go to Egypt and China (someday!) just so I don’t miss out on anything because of language barriers.

  10. The only guided tours I’ve been on have been short day trips, from time to time. I always prefer independent travel, but there were timing and transportation issues in those cases. I would consider a guided tour for places that might otherwise be difficult to get to or potentially dangerous.

  11. I also like the flexibility that independent travel provides since I often find I’m more interested in the off beat places than I am in the “must sees” and it’s nice being able to choose how long you stay at a place instead of trying to pass another 2 hours at a “must see” temple or such that you really have lost interest in after the first hour.

  12. Great post – this is how I like to travel!! Still so confused about Africa – I want to do it independently… boyfriend wants to start off on a tour. But I don’t want to end up disappointed like the lady you met was, knowing that we could have done it ourselves!

  13. Because…there is only one word – it’s independent!
    The only benefit I see in guided tours is if you go only in one place and you wanna stay in a hotel, it is possible to receive better price from a tour agency and when you go there, just go around the city and make the day trips on your own.
    I guess with kids could be slightly different . I’m gonna check your post for the benefits of the guided tours now πŸ˜‰

    1. Thanks Mira! We much prefer independent travel, but guided tours work in certain areas and sometimes with kids it’s nice to have someone else do all the hard work!!

  14. I loved the article and I’ve always wanted to try independent travel.
    However, I think I may be too independent for the trip I’m planning, to get from Arusha, Tanzania, to Cape Town, South Africa, using only bus, railways and maybe a shared car. As a woman, I feel that it’s not safe to do this. Do you have any tips for me to easen my mind?

    1. Is there anyone you can travel with? You’ll probably meet some travellers along the way, so there is the possibility of travelling with them. Of course you will need to ensure you feel safe. We’ve made that journey ourselves and felt very safe, but we were together. However we did meet a few solo female travellers who were having a great time and didn’t encounter any problems.

      Here’s a post with a few more tips for you

  15. I am from India. I cannot say, which is beneficial, traveling out side of my country (India), dependent or using a travel company. But when i calculated the independent travel cost. I found that in independent travel, i am able to stay in 1 star hotel but in same cost travel company provides 3 stars hotel. So you need to think about the cost difference and freedom.

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