Before heading abroad, many young people these days are trying to weigh their options of doing an organizezd tour or solo travel. There’s a lot to take into account- the amount of effort you are or aren’t willing to put into planning your travels out, how much money you want to spend, how much partying you want to do, how long you want to spend in each place, how early you want to wake up each morning, and how tied you want to be to a strict schedule. I have traveled both ways in different continents and can confirm they both have their benefits and costs, but which one is right for you? This lengthy list of pro’s and con’s of each travel method should help you decide!
Travel with a Tour
For the sake of this article I am referring to tours as organized group travel (usually by bus) where there is a specified length, itinerary, and core group of people throughout. This post is also geared towards young/more budget travelers and respective tour companies, usually aimed at 18-39 year olds.
Think, Topdeck, Contiki, Stoke, LBW, Travel Talk, Beats Travel, Busabout, and all that jazz… All the operators that young people are using to get about Europe and many other continents in this day and age! All the qualities I’m going to list aren’t constant across all tours but are definitely things you’re going to want to think about before you go.
Less Time in Each Place
It’s not surprising that tours spend very little time in each destination (1 or 2 days, and 3 at most), which makes it tough slash impossible to really cover everything. Add in a hangover from hell some mornings and there’s no way you’ll get through all the obligatory cultural activities that you really should see in each place.
I always like to think of tours as an introduction to a certain country, area, or continent, where you’ll get to see a large amount of places very quickly. This will orient you to the area and enable you to decide which places you liked, didn’t like, and want to go back to some day. This is a good way to look at it if you’re traveling for the first time and don’t know where to start.
Minimal to Zero Effort in Planning and Transportation
People pay more for tours because, well… they don’t have to do jack squat. Forget the googling, train ticket buying, airline perusing, and missed busses (well you can still miss the bus on a tour :P) that come with traveling on your own – tours have it all sorted for you from start to finish, even many meals! Get on the bus when your tour guide says so, meet in the common room when they say so, sign up for optionals when they pass the sheet around, grab a room key and a bed in the hostel they take you to.
Depending on the tour company, you can usually trust that you will be staying in adequate accommodation and that you will have optimal optionals to do. Hell, you can read the trip notes to see all the plans and possible inclusions beforehand, but in my experience no one really does that anyway… it’s all about the trust in the tour company!
Expect a lot of these from the girls.
Same Group The Entire Time (of 20-50 people)
Your tour group can be completely awesome or can ruin your experience, and it’s just a risk you’ll have to take. If you get an awesome group that clicks, it could be the best time of your life with new best friends. If you get a cliquey group that does’t get along, it might be hard to get everyone to have fun together. Most groups end up somewhere right in the middle, with a few party starters/group clowns that get everyone else going, and a few quiet ones that may be brought out of their shell.
In smaller trips (like the ones I lead) of 7 days, group isn’t as much of an issue. But getting into longer trips of 30-50 days, the group can make or break the tour. And again, you can’t really control this, it’s just the luck of the draw. The reality of tours is that each and every person in the group comes expecting something a bit different, and you can never satisfy everyone – all you can do as a passenger is try and prepare yourself for what it will be like.
You’ll End Up Partying Too Much.
This is just a sad (or awesome) reality in the world of tours, depending on what you’re looking for… especially in Europe (but true everywhere really). Tours do have a small stigma of being party-centered, and there will always be a few people on your tour who are just there for the party. Nearly all companies will include both nightlife and culture/history into their tours, and it’s up to you as the passenger to balance the two.
It’s a true test of willpower when the entire group has decided to go out, say, before a 9am walking tour or a 6am bus time. You’ll have to learn to rally with a hangover, resist the urge to go out (and loads of peer pressure) at least sometimes, or if you want both, how to put your body through the true test of long-term bending 😛
You Aren’t Really Solo
Maybe you are traveling alone, but as soon as you join a tour you are alone no longer! Everyone may have been separate when they got on the bus, but now you’re one big group. Sure, it’s a bit harder meeting everyone if you’re solo, but soon everyone will know each other well enough and forget who actually came with who. On tours, the ‘solo’ part of your solo travel doesn’t last too long.
History is Included + Tour Guide
With tours, you often don’t have to seek out walking tours, museums, or history because your tour guide will know basically everything. Tour guides will be your sensei of all things, and it’s a great asset to have someone to help out all the time. Tour guides often organize walking tours or visits to historical monuments/museums, and give the history spiel of a place on the bus before arriving. Just make sure you’re awake! I feel that people on tours often tend to zone out during the historical and cultural bits, which is a big shame because you are missing out on a big part of your travels by doing so.
Get Your Entire Itinerary, Packing List, Optionals & Inclusions Beforehand
Tours will give you ALL the info before you go: what you’re doing, where you’re going and how, and what to bring. The tour company does all the research on cool things to do, places to eat, and things to bring for you, so you don’t have to do much preparation or planning at all. This can be a good or bad thing!
…. But Sometimes You Forget How to Think
The fact that everything is done for you just furthers the whole ‘minimal effort’ thing to a point where sometimes passengers can hardly function as human beings on their own on tour without their tour guide (sorry, that must be the tour guide in me coming out… but it’s all too true! :P). It’s kindof like at certain points passengers forget how to think for themselves after relying too fully on their guide to tell them everything. When, in fact, they could have looked up their trip notes, listened to the tour guide the first time when they mentioned all the timings, or maybe done a tiny smidge of research on their destinations or activities just so they were a bit more prepared. If you were traveling alone, you might know a bit more about your plans, wouldn’t you?! But then again, that’s why some people pay for tours.
I have literally had people ask me what time it is when they had their phone in their hand… among many other stupid things. If you want a clear idea of how much some people lose their brains when on tour, check out this hilarious post of the 20 most ridiculous questions I have recieved as a tour guide.
Solo Travel / Self-Planned Travel
Because I’m writing this for a younger age group of more budget travelers, I am assuming you will be mostly staying in hostels throughout your travels. Hostels are one of the best places to get travel information, from the people who work there or fellow travelers alike! B&B’s and apartments make it a bit more difficult to get access to travel advice and info (although the privacy is seriously appreciated sometimes, I know), but it’s nothing a trip to the nearest travel agency can’t help.
Planning – You Do It All
This is a part some people love, but some people hate. If you travel on your own, you have to seek out and book each and every hostel, activity, train, bus, and flight all by yourself. It may sound daunting, but there are an incredible amount of resources that help you do all these things. For some reason, planning my travel is one of my favorite things to do. It’s so exciting and I often feel better when in control of my own destinations. Here are some resources I use:
Hostelworld is the only site I use to book my hostels – it has everything you could possibly need. Photos, descriptions, ratings, reviews from real travelers with bio’s, maps, and more, for not only hostels but hotels, b&b’s, apartments, and hotels. I always think it’s better to pay a bit more to stay in city centers so you’re closer to all the action.
Skyscanner is also the only site I use to book my flights – it expertly compares fares from over 30 sites to find you the cheapest one. See the blue bar up a bit on the right? Try it for yourself and see how they compare fares!
GOOGLE – Seriously guys, google everything. Gotta get from Barcelona to Rome? Google “Barcelona to Rome” and check your train, ferry, plane or bus options come up on different websites. Want to know where to eat in Lima? Google that, and see what comes up! One piece of advice I can give regarding googling is to be a bit selective on which links you read – often advertisements, trip advisor, and tourism boards come up first, which could be useful, but sometimes I like digging a bit deeper off the first page to find personal blog posts from locals and travelers.
Busses – Busses are the cheapest way to get around most places, and the systems are different everywhere. Try Megabus, Flixbus, National Express, or Eurolines in Europe, and Greyhound in the USA. Australia has different bus lines in each state (google 😉 ), and in Southeast Asia you book everything through local travel agencies who always take care of you. Stay tuned for my travels through the remaining continents!
Trains – Trains are also usually a good bet, especially in Europe. There are lots of resources to learn about RailEurope and possible rail passes to save money.
So this of course takes a good amount of effort and requires you to be on top of your plans and educated about how to get from A to B. But, this is exactly the travel experience a lot of people value, and it makes you feel much more accomplished than blindly allowing a tour bus to take you wherever it goes that day! Hostels will always help you out with the best options in that city, and are the best resource for info you could ask for.
Stay However Long You Want
Depending on how much you want to see during the time you have allotted for your travels, planning your own routes allows you to stay as long as you would like in each place. Some people plan out the entirety of their travels before they go, which is awesome, and some (like me) prefer to plan it as they go. Arrive in one place with two nights booked, see what you think, and extend if you are feeling it and book your next place if not. Ask your hostel the best places to go from there, or the best ways to get where you want to go, or, again, google it 🙂 Hostels can usually book transportation for you as well.
Option to Travel With New Friends
Oftentimes on the road you meet a group of people you really get along with. Another awesome thing about traveling in a more freestyle way is that you can choose to join a group of friends on a whim if you would like to. Even if they’re going the opposite direction or to places you didn’t initially see yourself going, sometimes things like this can fall together beautifully if you meet the right crew. This is something that is of course not possible on an organized tour – you’d have to hope for a good group!!
Run the Risk of Selling Out/Getting Stuck
If you are booking travel as you go, you always run the risk of the popular hostels, busses, trains, etc selling out before you book them. This happens a lot during peak seasons, holidays, or major events/festivals. If the transportation you want is sold out, you might get stuck somewhere unintentionally. To avoid this, make sure to book any events or holidays (Running of the Bulls, Chiang Mai Lantern Fest, Australia Day, La Tomatina, Oktoberfest, you get the point) far enough in advance that you can be sure you’ll get a spot in your accommodation/transportation.
Entices You to Come out of Your Shell
Traveling truly alone is a fantastic learning experience and encourages you to find things within yourself that you may not have known you had. Everything is up to you, including interactions. Want to go out at night or socialize a bit? Well, you’d better not be afraid to walk right up to a group in the common room and introduce yourself! Especially if you want to be social while traveling alone, you must come out of your shell a bit, and do this each time you arrive in a new place. It’s a great way to force yourself to step out of your comfort zone.
Requires Extra Effort to Get Culture & History
This one is debatable, but it is definitely true that it’s harder to learn about the history & culture of a destination when you are traveling on your own vs. on an organized tour, because, well, tours give you all the info you need as you are going. Picture yourself on a tour bus, looking out the window while arriving into your next town, with your tour guide on the mic at the front going on and on about the battle that occurred here in 1587. Have you zoned out yet? Just make sure you are aware when this is happening or it defeats the purpose!
If you are traveling on your own, you may need to put a bit more effort in to ask the hostel about walking tours or sign yourself up for cultural activities while you are there. It’s pretty obligatory to go to religious sites, famous museums, etc in each new town.
Always Option to do Day Tours
If you are planning your own travel, you can always sign up for mini day tours in the destinations you visit. This is true nearly everywhere – do a day tour to Tuscany while in Florence, a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef while in Cairns, a day tour to Stonehenge while in London, a day (or a few) to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. This is a great way to get a little bit of organization into your life and be able to let others take care of your travel for you, for once! In fact, it is much better to do an organized day tour for certain activities/destinations than to try and navigate yourself, because organized tours often include multiple points of interest all in one. Just because you’re planning your own doesn’t mean you can’t hand the reigns to someone else once in a while!
Well, aspiring travelers, I hope this has given you some more insight about whether you want to do a tour or solo travel in your next destination… or a nice little mixture of both! Let me know in the comments if you have any more questions or concerns… and of course, Pin this post if you liked it!