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Craig and I are big advocates for independent travel. It is what we know, like, and trust.
However, there have been certain times when we have considered taking guided tours of a region, and sometimes even participated in group travel.
There are many benefits to travel with tour companies and they really do suit the purposes of a lot of travelers. In fact, now that we have a child, I am more inclined to consider guided tours for specific regions.
I think back to me riding around on a pick up truck on the wild and dangerous roads of Africa and I think,
“Do I really want my child to accompany me in difficult independent travel like this?”…Yes and No.
While I d love for her to have this cultural experience, this momma-bear-fearful-heart of mine probably could not stand the pressure.
We are going to split this post into two, first discussing the benefits of taking a guided tour, and then discussing the benefits of independent travel.
Benefits to Guided Tours with Tour Companies
Some people just do not have the time for independent travel.
Let’s face it catching local transport often takes a whole day or more to get from one destination to another. If you consider the fact that most Americans get on average only 2 weeks paid holidays, independent travel may not work.
Even those in other countries who can get 4-6 weeks off, with this limited time to travel independently you really have to stick to one small region in order to make the most of your stay.
This is where guided tours with tour companies can prove to be a great choice for those who want to see as much as they can in a small space of time.
Try to limit the number of countries you visit so you can experience more of the culture of your destination.
Independent travel is not easy.
A lot of travellers, especially when first beginning their around the world adventures, start with group travel on guided tours. This helps them to adjust to this new lifestyle, slowly stretching the comfort zones out until they feel confident enough to take it on themselves.
For some people the thought of trying to order food in a foreign country causes them to faint at their knees. Instead of never leaving the house, a guided tour would be a great way to travel within their comfort zone limits.
Many of my friends kicked off their living in London/ European tour with a Contiki tour. They made a lot of new friends because of it, which meant that they arrived in London to live already knowing someone.
This can be very reassuring to those shy folks who might not be so great at getting out there and meeting people on their own.
After my beerfest tour, we met up several times upon return home to London with our new friends we met on our group tour. It was great to have so many new friends who all shared a common travel memory.
Even when I am traveling independently, there will be many times I will take a guided tour of an historical site or cultural experience.
This is because I want to learn more about the place I am visiting. And I don’t want to be walking around trying to read it from a guide book while I am there.
I want someone to point out certain features, tell me stories about the area and relay the important information. Guided tours are a great way to sit back, absorb the area you are in and allow someone else to tell you all about it.
Travel planning takes a lot of time and research and then of course you need to be constantly adapting and changing these plans as you are going along.
You have to decide how to get there, how to get around, where to stay, what to eat, what to see, how to change money and who to talk to for help.
The list of tasks never end, it can be tiresome, cumbersome and just plain irritating.
Taking a guided tour means removing all the hassle of the planning stage.
Someone can take you by the hand while you concentrate on the only thing you want to concentrate on exploring, learning, eating, drinking, shopping and having fun.
Many people fear travel as they believe the world is unsafe.
A guided tour may give a person like this the opportunity to travel as they feel much safer. There is always someone watching their back and people who they can turn to for comfort when feeling afraid.
As I mentioned above, now that I am mum this is a very important factor in making travel decisions for my family.
Some areas suit guided tours
There are certain travel experiences and destinations that only lend themselves to group travel and guided tours.
For example, going to Antarctica would be extremely difficult without being on a tour.
In Africa, night time safaris can only be done by guided tours, Robbin island can only be visited through a group tour and trekking to base camp, I’m sure would be best to be done on a group tour.
Tips for choosing tour companies
- Do your research. Find those reputable companies that run guided tours through the destination you want to visit. Contiki are popular for Europe, but not for Asia. Ask around for advice and read reviews on travel message boards. Also, most companies have a facebook page, get on them and ask questions of past participants. Be absolutely certain that the tour company you choose is the best you can get for your travel budget.
- Two guided tour companies we can recommend are G Adventures and Intrepid Travel
- Be very clear on your travel goals. What are your absolute must sees? What sort of experience are you looking for? Purely cultural, adventurous, photographic, or having a massive party?
- Check the Age Group and Vibe. Contiki is well known for it’s 18-35 year old party type atmosphere. And on the flip side, one of my good friends will never forget unknowingly ending up on a guided tour of Europe that was full of pensioners. Not really the experience his 25 year old self was looking for.
- Don’t try to fit too much in. Do you really want to have a 5 minute ‘I was here’ experience, or do you want a more enriching experience? Less is more. 15 European countries in 15 days is going to leave you exhausted and you will not remember Germany from France. Trust me, you never want to get those two confused.
- Safety If you do your research properly and find a reputable company then I am sure you will discover they have adequate safety measures in place. Make sure they have the proper accreditation
- Eco-tourism Choose a company that not only respects the local environment, but the local culture as well. You want to make sure you are leaving a positive impact wherever you are going.
- Costs Make sure you know the costs, including any extras of your tour. Certain activities on tours may cost extra. You must know all this beforehand. You would hate to turn up to the Serengetti on your African overland tour only to discover you needed to pay an extra $200, which you don’t have. Know how many meals are included, what accommodation type is covered by the tour, transfers, etc. Tours should be able to give you a rough estimate of spending money you will need as well.
- Guides – As discussed, a benefit of a guided tour is the knowledgeable tour guide who will be showing you the area and teaching you more about it. Part of your research should be to find out what sort of guides the tours use and how knowledgeable they are. We had a local Kenyan on our guided tour of the Massai Mara. He knew an incredible amount about the animals and the back roads he could take to find them. He really helped to make our first Safari experience a memorable one.
Can you recommend any tour companies?