I feel like tour travel gets a bad rap. Especially in the travel community. Having traveled by tours large and small as well as traveling independently, I think its time to go over the whys and why nots of guided travel.
I travel both ways depending on my mood. If a place is difficult to get to or I just don’t feel totally comfortable doing an independent trip (because of the area, language, or maybe I’m just stressed at work and just want to go somewhere), I think a tour is a really good option. I do sometimes begrudge giving up some freedom of choice regarding how and where I spend my time, but often I find that the places chosen make a lot of sense. While they may cost more, everything is planned, arranged, and ready to go – plus you have essentially, an on-call concierge riding along with you! There’s a real benefit to being in the company of someone who knows what they’re doing and where they’re going.
Today I’ll focus on the Pros and will revisit next Friday for the Cons. Hopefully it will 1) dispel some of the stigma and 2) help those undecided about tours get off the fence!
Pros of Guided Tours
1. Guides are knowledgeable about the area
One of the best perks of having a guide is the historical knowledge a guide can impart along the way. Many of the guides I’ve had have been history, poli-sci, or art history majors and are able to give a very rich history of the regions and towns we’re passing through.
2. Your guide is a secret food critic
I always ask my tour guide where they would go to eat if they weren’t a tourist. If you make it clear to them that you aren’t looking for easy, cookie-cutter McDonald’s-y stuff, they will reward you with the hidden gems.
3. You are given the (alone) time you need
Sometimes the most difficult part of traveling somewhere new is deciding where exactly to go and for how long. Only once have I felt like I didn’t have enough unscheduled time in a town (and that was just poor planning). Bigger companies might struggle getting you into the tiniest of quaint towns, but they’re practiced enough to know how long is long enough. Smaller companies can get you into the tiny towns…but they tend to be a little quirky (more on that next week!).
4. Less stress, more doing
One of the best things about traveling with a guide is not having to consider how you’re getting around. You just get in and go. Having driven myself around and navigated public buses and trains, you can do it but sometimes it just isn’t worth the hassle.
5. Well-curated sight-seeing
I have always been impressed with the places a tour has taken me- whether it’s a 17th century mansion or a giant Edwardian garden. So many of them have been totally off-the-wall, not-on-Pinterest places that I hadn’t heard of but was so glad I had seen!
6. Surprise excursions
Surprise excursions on tours have led me to a Spanish Civil War Memorial, a giant saint’s statue, a hidden Cornish beach, and gelato in Sirmione – they’re always great and never anything I would have chosen for myself.
7. (Usually) great hotels
From the bizarre space-y Italian hotel (with its spaceship pod bathroom) to revamped Irish Georgians to Cornish mansions, the hotels tend to be well situated for town, quiet, and comfortable. My Cornwall tour was all in historic buildings – mostly 17th and 18th century conversions with harbor views, tea kettles, and feather beds. One had an award-winning garden, the other had stunning views, a spa, and a great walk into town. Plus, tours almost always get breakfast included which is sometimes upwards of $15 per person daily on your own.
8. (Usually) great people
Apart from a single tour done with my mom, I’ve only ever done tours solo. Each time, I’ve met really great people along the way from all walks of life. Some I’ve kept in touch with; others were nice to know in the moment. The beauty of a tour is having someone to connect with and explore with but also being able to drift off for a bit on your own – and if it turns out somebody’s a really difficult travel partner you can either 1) distance yourself easily or 2) cut them loose at the end (which can’t always be said about traveling with friends!).
These are just a few of the reasons why I sometimes opt for a guided tour over solo travel. Next week, I’ll cover the Cons of tours before delving into the benefits (or not!) of doing it all on your own!