Twenty years ago, I was judgemental about people who traveled in a group. I’ll admit I was wrong.
I traveled independently from the age of 16 and prided myself on the fact that I was brave enough to travel on my own and didn’t need anyone’s help. It was when I got my job as a tour leader for Intrepid Travel and I started to lead these tours, I realized that there are a lot of really positive things about group travel over independent travel. It can actually be even better than independent travel. These days we love to join long tours as travelers. In this podcast and article, we will discuss the pros and the cons of group travel as discussed by two experienced tour operators and tour leaders.
What is group travel?
Before we dig a bit deeper into this topic, what do we mean by group travel? We are not really talking about a guided walking tour of a European city that you do with a guide where you pay for a spot on a two-hour tour. Technically, this is group travel, but in this article, we are talking about multi-day tour packages that are put together by a tour company but depending on the tour company and their approach to group travel it could look and be priced very differently.
There are huge differences between tour companies, but what they usually have in common are:
- Include a tour guide or tour leader to keep everything on track
- Transportation and accommodation included
- Included activities
We discuss all of the following pros and cons in more depth in our podcast which you can listen to here that I recorded with Kim Giovacco from Veg Jaunts and Journeys.
Pros of group travel
There can be power in numbers.
When you are planning your trip, you might want to visit a particular vineyard, but they will only open for groups of a certain size. You might like to charter a balloon to take you over the castles of the Dordogne, but on the only date you can do it, no other people are booked which means you have to charter the whole balloon yourself which is cost-prohibitive. With a group tour, the total cost of the balloon is divided between the whole cost of the trip which ends up saving you money!
You widen your social circle
Many of us can feel quite isolated even if we see lots of people every day. When was the last time you met someone new and had the time to really get to know them in a fun and exciting environment.? As a tour leader, I am always surprised at how life-long friendships are developed in a week. You might meet people who are very different from the people you normally interact with. They could be of a different generation or country. If you choose a group tour that is especially for a niche market (like photography or vegan) you will find like-minded people that you never would have met otherwise.
Someone else does all the organising for you
Unless you absolutely love research and planning, you might feel overwhelmed with the amount of planning that a special trip needs. With a group tour you look at the itinerary and the price and if everything meets your needs, just pay the cost of the tour, jump on and enjoy the ride.
No need to make decisions
It is estimated that adults make 35,000 conscious decisions every day. This mental load is significant. Imagine how many more decisions there are to make when you have to try to get from New Delhi to Agra on a public bus by yourself. Wouldn’t it be nice to be told to be in the lobby at 9 in the morning with a hat and sunscreen and someone else makes all the decisions? That actually sounds like a vacation to us.
If you are traveling for a long time then this is not such a big deal. If this is your one vacation for the whole year and you only have a week off from your very stressful job, do you really want to decide everything yourself? Nope. You should be relaxing!
It’s great for first time travelers
I remember the first time I traveled to Thailand alone. I was too scared to take a taxi into Bangkok and waited hours for a bus as I had read so many stories about scams. I spent the first day in the hotel room as I was too scared to go outside. Of course, now I realize that I was being ridiculous. I was simply scared because Bangkok was so new to me. I definitely would have benefited from traveling on a group tour for my first trip to Asia. If you have never traveled overseas before, a group tour can be a great option. A bonus tip is to organize an airport pickup.
You can try more food
Have you ever been to a restaurant where you have wanted to try everything on the menu, but your belly will only allow the main course and a dessert? That’s where a group tour can shine. On our Thai trips, we eat family-style. Family-style dining is when a group of dishes at the middle of the table from which people serve themselves from. You get to try more of the local cuisine.
If you are someone who gets energy from being with people, then traveling in a group can be a great reason to do group travel. If you want to, you can be with people from the moment you wake to the moment you sleep. If you like drinks after dinner and lots of conversations, then you have people who are also up for it too.
It’s safer than being a single traveler
Traveling is usually very safe indeed, however, that doesn’t mean some don’t have concerns about it. Being in a place we don’t know, many of us are not in a relationship or we don’t have friends that want to explore the same areas of the world as we do. If you join a group tour, then these single traveler concerns wash away.
There is free time if you want it
While it depends on the tour company, there might be a free day here and there or perhaps a free afternoon for you to do what you want to do. This is perfect for alone time or doing an activity that’s not on the itinerary.. If you want to skip an activity for some reason, then that’s always an option too.
There’s someone to turn to if things go wrong
Need to see a doctor? Your luggage didn’t arrive at the same time as you did? Do you really need to know where to get this particular souvenir that you have your heart set on? There are problems with your room? A tour leader can be a lifesaver. They have contacts everywhere and will solve your problems quickly and efficiently. Tour leaders should have high levels of emotional intelligence and be trained in customer service. You can be quite sure they will help you out.
You can get off the beaten track
Not everything is accessible by public transport and further not everything is accessible by regular car. Hiring a car can be expensive if you are only two and not recommended for the many vineyards you might want to visit in Tuscany! Traveling in groups allows the cost of a minivan or a coach to be divided by everyone on the trip which means you can go to an out-the-way spot.
It’s easier to control your budget
While organizing your own travel can be cheaper and you can do it on a shoestring budget, there will often be expenses you didn’t budget for. Whether it is the daily breakfast or tips or taxes, these add up. It might leave you with a bigger credit card bill than you expected. Depending on the tour a lot of everything will be included. If everything is included it is more expensive, but there are no surprises.
Cons of group travel
Your values need to align with the approach of the tour company
If you are vegan, and you are traveling with a nonvegan company, you might find animal tourism activities on the itinerary or vegan food is subpar. This can be the case for every tour so make sure that you find out that their style of travel aligns with what you want from a holiday. There are so many different types of group travel. We’re sure there is something for you.
You like to be in control
If you are someone who wants to visit the museum when you want, or that you would like to cycle there and stop off at that cute boutique that you spot on the way, then this might not always be possible on a group trip. While some accommodations can be made to cater to people’s personal preferences, there are some things like departure times that can’t be moved.
You’re paying for someone to organise your vacation for you
When you are paying for someone to organize your holiday of course there can be a cost to these things. There are wages to pay and overheads for the business and of course profits too. It takes experience, knowledge, research, and business connections to do the job they do. It also takes a lot of time. We put hundreds of hours into the planning of each of our trips. Like with so many things, when you pay for a trip, you are paying for convenience.
There might be a fellow traveler that really gets on your nerves
This doesn’t happen as often as you might think but it can happen. Perhaps someone who has drastically different politics to you or has different values. Maybe they are just annoying they can put a dampener on your trip. Your tour leader will probably address this during the meeting and explain what you can do if this situation arises.
You could be following the tour leader’s flag.
If you are on a large group tour, or you are in a very busy place with so much to look at and see (think the Vatican), then the tour leader will have to use certain strategies to keep everyone together. This can include the dreaded flag. Depending on the tour this is usually just for a short time and it is better than losing the group. Embrace the cringe and let it go.
You are an extreme introvert
You can be an introvert and get a lot from group tours. You might find that you will need plenty of time to yourself. Extreme introverts can find group travel too much that it is not for you. If you still want to try it, then do so. Be kind to yourself. Feel free to step back from a couple of included activities or have dinner by yourself.
So, what do you think? Is a group tour for you? Have you been on a group tour before? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments!
Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode
- # 9 | Choosing group travel is a real vacation | Tina Atwell
- # 6 | Why you should use a travel agent for your vegan trips | Green Earth Travel
- How a Visit to Rwanda can Change your Life
- Six People Working to Protect Animals in Rwanda