While I always push independent travel and backpacking, I know there are many more ways to travel. In fact, I participate in a lot of different forms of travel. I’ve taken good tours and bad, I’ve enjoyed cruises, and after a week on a luxury tour in Canada, I can tell you that luxury travel is everything it’s cracked up to be.
People are usually shocked to hear that I enjoy organized tours. After all, being shuttled from one place to another with a set itinerary and a guide seems diametrically opposite of independent travel and backpacking. But at the end of the day, travel is about having fun, and not all tours are bad. Many tour companies are quite enjoyable since they don’t shuttle you around, they let you explore places, and they don’t overcharge.
Travel is about exploring the world. It’s about getting to know new places, experiencing new things, and meeting new people. Whether you do that on a cruise, during a gap year, on a bike trip, for a two-week holiday, or on a tour doesn’t matter. All travelers are the same. It’s about pushing your boundaries and seeing the world. How people choose to do that is irrelevant.
When most people think of tours, they usually form an image in their mind of buses filled with tourists who hop out of a bus, snap a photo while their guide offers a brief explanation of a sight’s importance, and then hop back on the bus and go on their merry way. Especially on the budget travel circuit, there’s a tendency to disparage tours because of this stereotype. But not all tours are like this; there are many different kinds. The day trip around the Great Barrier Reef was a tour. So was that walking tour in New York City or that museum trip. The two day sailing trip to the Whitsunday Islands was also a tour.
The fact of the matter is: tours come in all shapes and sizes and we all take them, even if we don’t want to admit it. We don’t think of those little day trips when we think of what a “tour” is, we only think of the big, stereotypical groups. But even the little ones count. Regardless of what we consider a tour, it’s important to recognize that they play an important role in travel. Do I think there are bad tours? Yes. Tours like Contiki or the big buses that just shuffle travelers from destination to destination in comfort are forms of travel that don’t agree with me. They work for some people, just not me — so I don’t recommend them.
My first holiday was on a tour to Costa Rica through Gap Adventures, who tends 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 it gave me some breathing room. For this first timer, it was the perfect introduction to travel – the right balance between solo experiences and group expeditions.
Tours 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 on their own. Tours can reduce the stress and anxiety that comes with taking your first trip, which can make people more willing to travel. Many might be anxious about meeting people and find it hard to just chat people up, so tours are the perfect opportunity to get comfortable and make that leap. Traveling alone requires a lot of skills and some people just aren’t ready to dive head first into that, so traveling with a group can be a great way to ease into the unknown world. After a great tour, a natural second step for some travelers might be to attempt a solo journey.
Moreover, the guides can really deepen your knowledge of a place. 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 shared the history and significance of the land to the local people. My tour guide in Thailand was my own personal biologist, teaching us about the local wildlife that I would have never have known otherwise.
In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with tour groups. In fact, I encourage people to consider taking them, regardless of how you typically travel. Having a guide to teach you about your destinations can be more fulfilling than just exploring them them on your own. I’ve taken long tours as well as day trips, so before you talk disparagingly about them, remember that all forms of travel have their time and place and that organized tours can also be a wonderful way to see the world.