As an independent traveler, people often think that I have a predisposed hatred towards organized tours.
It’s no secret that I’m a big supporter of traveling alone. There are a lot of benefits to solo travel, and I always try to cultivate the vagabond in everyone. So it may surprise you when I come out in support of organized tours.
My first holiday abroad was with a tour group to Costa Rica through Gap Adventures, who tend to focus on independent-style tours. I spent 14 days exploring the country, getting lost in the jungle, and making new friends. Most of the people on the tour were also alone and in their late 20s, so we all had something in common. That trip infused me with the travel bug. More importantly, it didn’t try to rush me and gave me some breathing room. For this first-timer, it was the perfect introduction to travel – the right balance between solo travel and group travel.
Most people think of tour groups as being filled with Bermuda-shorts-wearing, camera-toting, never-leave-the-hotel package tourists. It’s true that many tours are like this. You often see them in double-decker buses, driving through countries – in a country, but never really experiencing it. These plush package tours promise to show you a country without ever having to leave the resort.
I hate these tours and the tourists that come with them. They come all the way to a new country, but never leave their Marriott. They are only there for the photos, and all the benefits of their travel go to big, multinational organizations. For all their trouble, they could have just stayed home and photo-shopped themselves into some pictures.
However, not all organized tours are like that. There are some organizations that specialize in eco-tourism or independent tours – tourism that not only leaves a small environmental footprint, but also supports local businesses and operators. Many of the companies design their tours so you aren’t shuttled around like cattle, but are allowed to wander and spend time getting to know each location.
Most simply take the hassle out of the booking process. Companies like Gap Adventures and Intrepid Travel are two of the bigger ones that offer “independent, eco tours.”
Tours can be right for a lot of people. They can offer a lot of benefits, especially for new travelers. They can:
- Provide comfort.
- Reduce stress.
- Give you people to hang out with.
- Provide a local expert.
- Reduce planning.
- Offer convenience.
Not everyone is comfortable with just picking up and going to an unknown place. Tours can reduce the stress and anxiety that comes with a first trip and make people more willing to travel. Many people are anxious about meeting others and find it hard to just chat people up. Tours give people a chance to get comfortable and make that leap. After that, the second step could be solo travel.
For the anxious, tours can be a great way to ease into the unknown world of travel. Traveling alone requires a lot of skills, and some people just aren’t ready to dive head-first into that.
An organized tour isn’t as bad as travelers make it out to be. Sometimes, places and journeys require organized trips. You can’t just show up at Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, Halong Bay, or the Galapagos Islands. These places are designed to be done in tour groups. Doing it on your own is often more expensive, more inconvenient, and sometimes illegal. In fact, most anti-tour travelers take tours without even realizing it. You’ll find them on hill tribe treks in Asia, trips to Fraser Island or Kakadu in Australia, or on the Inca Trail in Peru.
Moreover, not all tours feature bad tour guides. My guide in Costa Rica got out of our way to let us do what we wanted. My Aboriginal guide in Kakadu National Park helped make for an amazing experience. He knew a lot about the land. My tour guide in Thailand was my own personal biologist.
Yet I’ve had bad guides, too – the guide in Belize needed to silence himself, the guide in Ko Samui needed to be pushed off the boat, and the guide in Vietnam was one of the rudest humans I’ve met in my life. However, many of the tours you want to go on – local, friendly, informative – hire guides who can enhance your travel experience.
Tours can be a helpful way for people to ease into the vagabond lifestyle. If you’re a first-time traveler and nervous about heading out on your own, consider starting off with an organized tour. You may get bitten by the travel bug, and anything that gets people out of their homes and on the road in a constructive way is something I support.
Here are some good companies and resources on sustainable travel: