When does it make sense to go on a package tour?

One of the aims of BigTravelNut is to encourage you to travel independently, and show you how to do so economically.

However, there are times and situations when an organized tour makes sense. These include:

  • You have never travelled abroad before, and are nervous about going on your own
  • You have very little vacation time and wish to visit a country where the infrastructure, level of services, or culture are such that independent travel requires more time and effort than it would at home.
  • Local transportation at your destination is poor, and you don’t want to rent a car.
  • You are a true people-person who enjoys/thrive on the constant company of others
  • You do not have time to organize your trip and just want to get away and relax, even if it costs more.
  • You are going to a location rarely visited by foreigners and are worried about not speaking the local language. (In most places with a fair number of tourists, some English is usually spoken.)
  • You are going to Antarctica!

Below are some advantages and disadvantages of going on a tour.

Advantages:

  • Little preparation required. Someone else makes all the hotel reservations, and possibly flight reservations as well.
  • Safety of being with a group
  • Ability to visit sites that would be difficult/time consuming to access on your own.
  • Instant travel companions
  • You see a lot in very little time.

Disadvantages:

  • More expensive than organizing things yourself
  • You are following a “script”. Most tours offer little time when you can choose your own activities, and the itinerary is fixed.
  • You travel very fast. Even the slowest paced tours rarely spend more than 2 or 3 nights in the same location. Some are a whirlwind of sights that leave you dizzy (“5 European countries in 12 days” or “15 French cities in 14 days”).
  • You do not choose your travel companions (with whom you spend most of your waking hours, and even sleeping hours if you’re sharing a room).
  • If you cancel at the last minute (say in the the last 30-60 days), you lose all or most of your money. In all cases you lose your deposit. (For this reason you should probably buy cancellation insurance when booking a tour.)
  • If you get sick during the tour, you still have to follow along, and may not be able to participate in activities you have already paid for.
  • No room for serendipity.

The more time you have, the more sense an independent trip makes. If you are a quiet and introverted person, a three-week tour might be too long for you. (I know it is for me!) You will get tired of always being surrounded by people and not being able to be by yourself and do your own thing. The same thing applies if you are someone who likes to make decisions and be in control. Having to follow a tour leader all day will frustrate you after a while. In those cases, you may want to consider a shorter tour, and possibly combine this with some exploration on your own, perhaps after the tour, once you’ve become more familiar with your destination.

Another alternative is to organize a mostly independent trip with a few organized day trips thrown in to reach more remote or difficult locations, or when the explanations of a guide would add value (at an archeological site for example). You can usually book these short excursions on the spot, once at your destination, like I did for my hike in Crete. In some places, longer expeditions/tours can be booked locally, usually for much less than when pre-booked at home (treks in Nepal, safaris in Africa, and so on). These make sense if you have a substantial amount of time at your destination since they require some research and may not have availability right away. If you only have a couple of weeks, you will want to have a confirmed reservation before you leave.

Even if you decide that a tour is your best option, your job is not done yet. Tours come in all shapes and sizes and are offered by a bewildering number of companies. Some specialize in a region of the world, an age group, or a style of travel (luxurious coach tours, or more adventurous small group tours). You must do due diligence and research your options before committing your money to a tour company. Picking the wrong company can make or break your trip.

In Part 2, I talk about how to pick a company and tour that fits your goals and personality, and list a few of my personal favourites.

Have you had a really great tour experience? Or conversely, did you join a group that turned out to be a nightmare? BigTravelNut wants to know!

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