Why organised tours are the answer! [sometimes]

Now, you may have garnered from my last ‘organised tour’ post that I am not a huge fan of organised tours – and you would be half right.

 

Half because I don’t really like being herded around, and because I think that tours in Europe are unnecessary. But what happens if you want to travel somewhere less accessible than Europe? Somewhere the tourism isn’t as developed? Or maybe, as in my case, your mother turns an odd shade of purple when you suggest visiting India as a solo female…

 

Group Tours in Challenging Countries

Are you 17-70? (or a spritely 80? Or more?)

Are you concerned about travelling in a challenging country?

Do you like the idea of night trains and tuk-tuks?

 

Pros:

  1. Local Guides = Peace of Mind. In countries where cancellations are common, transport is confusing, or English is far from widely spoken, a local guide is an incredible resource.
  2. Best of the best. Similar to “getting a lot in”, because these local guides work almost constantly, they know what attractions can be a flop. When we were in Jaipur we had a packed day, and we were all heading to the Palace of the Winds, we were told to look at the gorgeous façade and move on because the interior is just not as mind blowing. Some of the others and I took this advice, while some went to the palace interior and were somewhat disappointed. Obviously this won’t be true for everyone, but I for one was glad I took the advice and had an afternoon exploring the markets instead.
  3. Safety Net. I will admit, I was glad in India to have a group of people I could rely on to be there. When I was originally planning a solo trip to India I was sure I would be ok, but I was nervous about certain elements – the night train I needed to take, Holi, etc. having a group of people to catch the night train with, having someone to organise the Holi party, and just generally knowing that there are people close by who are basically guaranteed to want to do the same things as you – it’s a safety net, and I was glad for it.
  4. Dipping of the Toe. I took a tour in Vietnam, and I had an amazing time. Having experienced Vietnam in this way I know – categorically – that I would go back alone, and for an extended time. I can’t wait to re-visit Vietnam, it is easily one of my favourite places I’ve been.

Cons:

  1. An awful lot…again. Like tours in Europe I feel that companies try and fit too much in. Even as part of a larger tour I felt that eight days in India was far too little. I mean yes, we had a night in Delhi, but we walked around for five or six hours and went to dinner – not what I would call comprehensive.
  2. The cost. You can do it yourself in India (and most of Asia for that matter) for far less than the $90 a day I spent on my tour. I, however, worked the system and got 25% off my tour, so the money was less of an issue for me.

 

My experience:

I went on my first small group tour to Vietnam, I always say that my going to Vietnam was fate. I was talking with a friend about how much I wanted to go to Vietnam, but just didn’t have the money or time. Whaddayaknow ten minutes later I get a Scoopon travel email advertising nearly 60% off – the cost of the tour, including accommodation in really nice hotels and transport, was less than the cost I estimated for three weeks of budget accommodation. It was the quickest decision I ever made – I bought it, booked it, bought flights and insurance – eight month in advance. As I have said, I adored Vietnam and I will be visiting solo again. My India tour eventuated because as I said, my mother had a nervous breakdown when I told her I was going alone. I think this is fair, India is a more challenging destination than many. I don’t regret the tour decision, however for the Nepal portion of my trip – I would return alone in a heartbeat. I will be going to India again, and it will probably be with a tour.

 

Conclusion

I think it is pretty clear that I think pretty highly of tours in developing countries.

As you can see I find far fewer ‘cons’ with tours in developing countries than in Europe. You will notice that I don’t bring up the strict timetable as a con for tours here- that’s because in my experience with Geckos Tours, the timetable is a mixture of planned activities, optional activities, and free time. I also didn’t raise the issue of not getting out and about with the locals, with these tours in developing countries having people from a similar background to you is comforting – and you aren’t overwhelmed, ten to sixteen people in your group is very different to forty or fifty.

Obviously there will be people out there that still feel that no country is too challenging to ‘resort to a tour’ (insert snide half smile and nasal laugh here) and I say to those people in general, what I said to the individual who said that to me when I decided I was going to India on a tour. It’s not their travel, it’s your travel. You don’t necessarily have the network of travel buddies to meet up with at various points in India, you don’t necessarily have the life experience that makes you confident to wander the streets of Jaipur alone – and you’re not so pretentious to pretend that you do in order to please a virtual stranger. [boom!]

If you’re confident enough and you’re experienced enough to do it alone, and you actually want to do it alone – then go for it! Solo the fuck out of that country. But if you read this list and think that doing it with a tour sounds fun, fits your style, or soothes your mothers heart palpitations – then google it, research it, deal check it, and book it!

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European Trip – Should I take an organised tour, or jump in independently?

Organised tours are a popular option for many people, as many people believe that it is their only option. But there is contention about the type of travel promoted by tour companies. You will find evangelists (and some aggressive ones at that) on either side of this discussion – those indie travellers who think all organised tours are useless money making schemes designed to part 18 year olds from their daddy’s money, and those who think that the whole ‘independent travel thing’ is too hard, too scary, or simply overwhelming. But ignore those guys, this is about what YOU want from YOUR holiday.

Bus Tours et al.

Are you under 30(ish)?

Are you looking to get as much as possible in to the time you have?

Do you like busses?

Pros:

  1. Organisation, you don’t have to worry about anything. I mean anything. These bus tours take you to your hotel/hostel/campsite and tell you when dinner is, where the bar is, and what time you have to be up in the morning.
  2. You get a lot in.  Seriously, a lot. If you just want to say you’ve seen Europe, this is the tour option for you. It would be difficult, and expensive, to see everything that you see on one of these bus tours while doing it yourself.
  3. You are guaranteed to meet people, usually from your own country. The companies that are easily accessible to westerners are aimed directly at westerners – you’ll get Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, Americans, and Canadians. Occasionally you will find a European or other nationality in there somewhere – we had a Swedish couple, and a girl from South Africa.

Cons:

    1. Lack of independence. I’m an adult, don’t tell me when to eat breakfast. I don’t want to go to THIS monument I want to go to THAT monument. Naturally, you can always separate from the tour and do your own thing. But not having organised anything yourself, you aren’t versed in the ways of the Italian train system, or maybe Berlin seems a bit daunting alone (especially when you’ve spent two weeks being told when to eat breakfast).
  • My tour counted a night in Vienna. We were there for maybe 15 hours. Overnight. We got in after sunset, did a bus tour in the dark, had dinner, slept, and had hostel breakfast. Then we got on the bus. I do not count myself as having gone to Vienna. With so much to see in a very short time, it can feel very rushed.
  • Because you are in a big group of westerners, you tend to stick with them. This can wind up with you sitting in a bar in Poland with nobody but your group in it. I don’t know about you but if I’m going to be flying all the way to Europe – I’d like to spend at least some of my time with Europeans.
  • The price. These tours are showing you these places through AT BEST one middle man, sometimes two middle men. Three groups of people need to make money off of you – the service (hotel, museum, etc), your guide/driver/porter, and the tour company. This means there are three profit margins to take into account instead of just the service. Tours are usually around $150/$200 a day. Sometimes you find a tour for $90-$100 a day and those are few and far between. Independently, Europe can generally be done for as little as $75 a day (in my experience, and other people I know have spent much less). Remember – you’re not paying for the places, you’re paying for the convenience.

My Experience: I came into my bus tour by accident – my plans in Turkey had fallen through and, as a first time solo traveller, I didn’t know how to get from Athens to Amsterdam over the two weeks left before my flight home. This tour was perfectly timed, and only required a short hop to Italy to start. I came off of ten days independent travel in Greece and from the get go I was not a fan of the heavily organised structure. I don’t like being told what to do at the best of times, let alone when I’m being told to get on a coach for an 8 hour drive, when actually I would rather have liked to have stayed in Venice, instead of going to Austria just then. I feel like I haven’t actually been to a lot of places my tour visited, read above comment on Vienna. On my tour there were 52 people including myself, I will admit now that I cannot remember all of their names, and I’m reasonably sure there were a few that I didn’t say in single word to in 18 days.

Conclusion:

Bus tours are ok, if you are a confident young person who is looking for the group experience – you are guaranteed to meet people, you see Europe, and you have some awesome stories to tell back home, (This one time, in the Czech Republic…).

But the idea that Europe is too hard to navigate, or that it’s scary, or that it’s unsafe – is at most flat out wrong, and at least contentious. Western Europe is very accommodating to tourism, almost everything has an English translation, there are several tourist points in big cities, and people in tourist spots are used to helping befuddled foreigners. Central Europe I would say in much the same, especially in the north. Eastern Europe you may begin to run into a few problems, language barriers, and transport systems not optimised for previously mentioned befuddled foreigners.

As for safety (I’ll be talking more about this in a post soon), you know what? The world is dangerous. THE WHOLE WORLD. Which essentially means you’re no safer out in the world than you are at home. Conversely, you’re no more at risk out there in the world than you are at home. I have felt safer walking around in developing countries, as a female, alone, at night, than I have walking around alone in the day in some parts of my home city. The same rules apply for all big cities – use your head.

The most important thing is that you choose the option that’s right for you. If you are as independent as I am, an organised tour may induce high blood pressure and rage spasms. But if you are looking for the quintessential twenty-something European holiday experience then go for your life, sign up to a Contiki, Busabout, TopDeck, etcetera etcetera! You’ll have a great time, but remember – it is not your only option. There are enough resources on line for you to jump into Europe feet first, have a whale of a time, and get to brag about how you did it all yourself

In this post I have spoken purely about tours in Europe. While these points do apply to most group tours, I will be writing a separate post on tours in developing countries, countries with more challenges, and why a tour might be the answer to your third world problems.

So, What are your opinions on group tours in Europe?

Here I am – pay attention to me!

This is the standard introduction piece – who I am, what I want, and why you should check back for my next post.

Who am I? My name is Sam, I am a 22 year old Australian girl. I am, in 2014, having a travelling/working year between my honours and masters degrees. I currently have red hair, but this is subject to change.

What do I want? I want to write about travel: my travel, your travel, travel concepts, travel photography, travel woes, travel lists… And I don’t want to just talk at you about travel, I want to use the experiences I have had to help out anyone looking for tips. In essence, I am huge travel nerd – I just want to create somewhere to talk about how awesome this planet is.

I will also be posting photographs of the amazing places I have been to, as well as the incredible food I eat – in essence, travel porn.

Exhibit A (places)

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Exhibit B (food)

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Why should you check back? Because if you’re the type of person who Googles travel writing, you’re the type of person who will want to know where I’ve been and where I’m going next!  Who knows? I may have the perfect secret to travelling with just a carry on, (I seem to do ok). Or maybe I’m independently wealthy and will give out huge prizes to loyal readers? (I’m not, but I would if I was!) Or maybe you just think I sound funny and want something new to laugh at every few days.

I have had a healthy dose of both organised tours and independent travel, I will write on both ends of the spectrum as well as all the nitty gritty in between. I will write lists, I will write reviews, I will write opinion pieces, and I will write about things that interest the readers! (That’s you)

 

Please check back, and let me know what you think!