Planning your next overseas holiday, but undecided whether you should tackle the destination by yourselves or join a guided tour? There are pros and cons for both options.
There is nothing better, especially to help build the excitement for an upcoming trip, than researching and planning your holiday by yourself. If you are really organised you may attend travel expos, try out the cuisine at local restaurants, see movies and read books on your chosen destination. I even went so far as to attend a South American Opera when planning a recent trip to Argentina and Brazil. Although not really my cup of tea, it was helpful in knowing what activity I would be crossing off my ‘To Do’ list!
With travel being so much more accessible and affordable these days, you are bound to know someone who has visited your chosen destination. They will be only too happy to share their experiences and give you advice on what to see and do.
When you travel independently you don’t have to feel rushed if you find yourself captivated by a particular site or attraction. You can take as long or as short a time at a destination as you please. I recently found myself completely enthralled by the scenery in and around Potsdam in Germany, but had to cut my visit short to rejoin my tour group heading to our next destination. All I really wanted to do was hire a bicycle, pack some food into my backpack and spend the day exploring the area.
The downside is, of course, having to organise everything yourself. From transport to and from the airport to your accommodation, navigating the public transport system (not so easy in countries where you don’t speak the language), as well as finding your way to all the places you want to visit.
More importantly it can get lonely, especially if you are travelling for long periods by yourself. And if you are quite shy or reticent about talking to strangers, unless you are prepared to make a real effort to come out of your shell, you might find independent travel a little daunting.
Sometimes it is just a relief to have all those headaches taken care of for you. With a guided tour you are generally collected from the airport on arrival, although you may have to wait an hour or so as the shuttles are usually picking up at least a dozen or so of your other travel companions. But you can always while away the time chatting to the tour guide about your upcoming trip and getting some inside information about the destination. You will be taken straight to your hotel, so there’s no stress about dealing with local taxi drivers and worrying whether they are taking you the longest way possible to your hotel and ripping you off. Your bags will be loaded on and off the bus, and for those of you who have gone it alone, this is an absolute godsend. If you have experienced the nightmare that can be public transport, with lifts not working at train stations or airports and having to lug a 20+ kilogram suitcase up and down seemingly mountainous flights of stairs, this will be heaven for you.
Your tour guide will show you the best of the sights at your destination, and if you are lucky enough to have a really knowledgeable guide you will receive lots of interesting facts and anecdotes. You will also have the comfort of knowing that someone is there to take care of you should anything go a little pear shaped. On a recent visit to Spain I woke up on day two of my tour to find that my right ear was completely blocked and I couldn’t hear a thing out of it. As I didn’t speak Spanish I found the prospect of going to a pharmacy to get some medication completely daunting, but my gorgeous tour guide took me aside in Toledo, organised some ear drops and had me back with my group within 15 minutes – I’m sure that would have taken me two hours and endless stress to organise myself!
The flip side can be that you sometimes feel a bit rushed and that you are not spending enough time at some of the sights. Guided tours are geared towards providing a generalised experience for a large group of people, usually around 45. So, unfortunately there may be parts of the tour that you will not appreciate. But you are always given free time to explore the area by yourself.
Personally, I like a mixture of both forms of travel and, when I can, I try to have a few days either side of a guided tour so I can see everything I want to. Having said that, there never seems to be enough time at any destination to see everything.
Do you have a preference? Is the thrill of going it alone your chosen form of travel or do you prefer the road less stressful?