Guided Tours vs Independent Travel

tseyinI am a seasoned and pro-independent traveller.

Depending who and where I am travelling to, I will sometimes join a guided tour of a region or participate in a guided tour. There are many benefits to travel in guided tours and the itineraries suits majority of travellers.

Having hailed from an Asian background, my family has a tradition of annual family holidays. In the olden days when Internet is not available, we had to depend on travel agencies to provide information about a continent or country and subsequently helped us make travel arrangements. At that time, I thought that was the only way to travel if you are travelling to unfamiliar places.

FYI, in most Asian countries, you are only entitled to 2-3 weeks of annual leave. Hence, with the limited time, taking a guided tour is definitely the way to go to make the time worthwhile. I remembered my parents took an Asian operated tour package to Europe about 10 years ago; the itinerary was 12 countries in 14 days. In my opinion, you barely get to spend 24 hours in a country! For that, I think it’s better to watch documentary than waste the money going there and you learn nothing from it.

Of course, not all guided tours are like that. I recently joined a first class travel package from Trafalgar to Central and Eastern Europe! As much as I am not a fan of guided tour, I am glad I took it. It was our annual family holiday and traveling with an aging mother, it is easier and more convenient to go around.

Travel Comfort

Travelling to different parts of Europe can be a challenge; different country speaks different language. Also, there are certain parts of Europe that doesn’t speak or understand English, hence I had to rely on pictures to order my meal! In this matter, a guided tour would be a better way, as tour operators will usually pre-order the meals.

Meeting New People

Another good thing about a guided tour is you get to know a lot of new friends from all over the world. At the end of our Trafalgar tour, we left our contact details with the rest of our “travel partners”. This is an excellent idea especially to those shy people who might not be as sociable as myself in getting out and about to meet new people on their own. It is great to have to many new friends who all shared a common travel memory. I keep in contact with a few of my “travel partners” upon my return and we are now planning on another holiday somewhere in the world next year!

Travel Cost

Joining a guided tour is cheaper than independent travel as tour operators can negotiate bulk discounts with hotels, restaurants and places; and subsequently passed down to you.

Travel Experience

If you are visiting places rich in history like Prague or Budapest (of which quite a few of their architectures are UNESCO listed), paying for a guided tour is definitely worth the money. I do not want to be walking around historical sites trying to read the history from a travel guide like Lonely Planet while I am there. Don’t get me wrong, I love Lonely Planet books as they provide extensive information about a place, but I am just not a fan of lugging guide books around when I am on holidays, especially if I am travelling to a few countries! A tour guide has all the local knowledge and can point out certain features and historical events that took place in the area. Guided tours are a great way to relax, learn about the culture and history minus the hassle of trying to get to the place.

Ease of Travel

It takes a lot of time and research to plan for independent travel. Sometimes you need to change your plans if there are environmental or political changes in a place or country that you will be visiting. Also, you need to decide how to get there, how to get around, where to stay, what to eat and the list goes on… it can be a tedious and cumbersome effort. However, taking a guided tour means your eliminate all the hassle in the planning stage. All you need is to explore, learn, shop and have fun minus the hassle.

Travel Safety

Many people feel intimidated when they are travelling to a new place and language is a barrier. A guided tour can make them feel safe, as there is always someone they can rely on when they need help or feel insecure. I remembered when I visited Johannesburg back in the 90’s when it was still a little politically unstable; we were escorted by bodyguards while travelling around Johannesburg.

Also, there are some areas that you can only visit on a guided tour, for example going to Antarctica or Bhutan would be extremely difficult without being on a tour.

I will discuss more on the benefits of independent travel in my next article. Watch this space…

Tips for choosing tour operators

Travel Research

Find those reputable companies that run guided tours through the destination you want to visit. For example Trafalgar or Globus are popular for Europe. Having said that, make sure you choose the best deal you can get for your travel budget.

Be clear on your travel goals. What are the places you want to visit and the experience you are looking for? Cultural, adventures, photography or shopping?

Age group. Trafalgar tours appeals to 30-40 year old mature professionals, whereas Contiki is for 18-35 year old budget and party type atmosphere.

Do not try to fit too much. That depends if you want to have a 5 minutes ‘I was here’ experience or you want a more fuller and exciting experience? Like I mentioned, 12 countries in 14 days is definitely exhausting and you might get confused with Germany from Austria.

Costs. Make sure you are aware of any extra costs incurred while on tour, for example transfers, optional excursions and meals. You wouldn’t want to turn up for a safari tour only to find out you need to pay extra before you are allowed on the adventure.

About Tse Yin

Graphic designer and photographer based in Perth, Western Australia, you can see more of Tse Yin's work at her web site