Guided Tours is a topic I often debate with fellow travelers, and it really does depend on who you are, where you are and what you are doing. It’s no secret that my personal preference is to travel alone, meet local people and make use of their hospitality preferably for free. Partly because I’m a cheapskate, and partly because in my opinion, you get a true taste of the local culture by fully immersing yourself in a destination and stepping outside your comfort zone. Nothing says ‘learn to walk’ like being dropped in a strange city and having to find your own forms of sustenance and transportation. The unpredictable is what turns me on, but I understand others prefer a more structured/scheduled approach to travel. Let’s
face it, the only way you’d get me on a guided tour is if I was in North Korea on a state mandated tour bus, while I sucked down Kimchi and conveniently avoided taking pictures of ‘the great eternal leader’. But for everyone else, let’s press on….
So without further ado, here are the pros and cons of going on guided tours! Woohooo!
- Everything is already planned and ready to go.
For those of you who like to know where you’ll are going, what you’ll be doing, what you’ll be seeing, where you’ll be staying and what you’ll be eating, guided tours are for you. The good news is most tour agencies have full itineraries to view and feature several online reviews from previous travelers with tips to make your vacation experience a good one. Make use of this pre-planned information and make your vacation a customized and memorable one.
- Local guides and translators
The greatest hurdle to cross when traveling is overcoming language barriers. I speak Arabic and English and I still have problems communicating! I hate to admit it because I do preach tolerance and multiculturalism, but it really bothers me when it takes sign language and 30 minutes just to order lunch! Have no fear, tour guides provide you with a translator and potentially a free pass into places you might not have the opportunity to go on your own. Life is so much easier when you’re with a native speaker.
- Transportation and Airport pickups
Transportation is always something that gives me anxiety when I travel. It might seem easy to get a ride from the airport, but in reality it can be a nightmare. I wish I had all the money back that I have had conned out of me by taxi drivers, and it’s not just them, hotels will charge upwards of $20 for an simple airport pickup, even in the poorest of countries. As mentioned above, public transport is also unreliable and there’s no denying that hiring a tour company takes away all that stress and worry and allows you to focus on enjoying your vacation.
- Good for people with limited time
Let’s face it, most Americans only get 2 weeks off a year and since time is of the essence, booking a guided tour with a strict timeline is a good option. Vacationing alone takes a lot of time to plan and things don’t always go the way we hope. If you don’t want to be inconvenienced by unreliable public transport and have no flexibility on time and dates, let a tour guide company figure it all out for you. You get to see a selection of local attractions and don’t have to waste time finding food and accommodation.
- Included meals and hotels
Because tour guides are booking for large groups, then often get good discounts on food and accommodation. A lot of them offer 4 star hotels and good quality local dining options. Oftentimes lunch is not included, so that is an extra cost to be aware of and also there is limited options available. You either eat at the same restaurant with the group or pay for your own meal somewhere else.
- Not a lot of opportunity to meet locals
As I have mentioned in my other posts, meeting locals people is truly the cornerstone to a wonderful and memorable vacation. I believe that everybody has something to offer and teach, and putting myself in positions to learn from others has allowed me to be an open minded and well educated individual. Being on tour does not allow for a lot of social interaction with people other then the translator and tour coordinator.
- Can’t get a taste of local culture
While it’s good to see the top local attractions in a city, that’s where it begins and ends for tour companies. Attractions are a must for any traveler, but what I enjoy the most about my vacations, is the option to stroll down the streets, talk to new people, eat snacks and even just to sit down at a local park and appreciate where I am for a minute. Take it all in and do it in my own time.
- Can be rushed and time limited
Having everything taken care of on a trip can reduce stress for some, but for others it can add to it. Going on tour means early mornings, scheduled meals, set allotments of time at different places, and a huge sense of rushed uneasiness that I would call anything but fun. Yes tour guides do a great job at squeezing in everything in the shortest amount of time, but be aware of the schedule ahead of time and if it’s not your thing, opt to go it alone.
- Stuck in a group
This is something I don’t do well with and it’s no secret that I’m not a huge people person. I spend most of my home time in my mountain cabin alone 7000 feet in the air. The people I have in my life I choose to associate with, and remember on a tour you have no choice of who’s on your vacation. You might get lucky and blend in with an amazing group of people. You might also get stuck with a bunch of louts and loudmouths that could make your holiday a miserable hell. It’s the luck of the draw and you have to personally weight the pros and cons on what you are willing to tolerate and what you won’t.
- Hidden costs and fees
This is double edged sword that a lot of people aren’t aware of when they book a tour. A lot of companies (especially the budget ones), will charge extra for day excursions and added on services that are not included in the original price. Also some tours expect extra money for tipping and alcoholic beverages. Just because you are quoted $1200 for a 10 day tour doesn’t mean that’s all the money you will need. Bring extra cash with you, you don’t want to have to miss out of an additional experience because you were not aware beforehand.
Which Option Is Cheaper?
I put this as a separate category because it really does depend on where you go, for how long and what you plan on doing. International tours often include airfares which are cheaper than those you could book for yourself so that’s a plus, but you might also be paying for attractions you really have no interest in seeing, and meals that you just won’t eat. Accommodation is also something to consider, and these days there are many options for discount travelers. Shop around for all vacation ideas and see what’s best for you.
Before booking a tour look at the itinerary, read the reviews and ask as many questions as you can in order to make an educated decision on your next vacation. It’s your dime and your time, make it as memorable as possible and above all else, enjoy yourself 🙂