I’m a very independent traveler, meaning that I prefer to plan my own trips without much aid and travel on my own once I’m in a new destination. A few years ago though my eyes were opened to the benefit of a great tour guide, but it for a day or a week. This in turn prompted me to explore different options when I travel, such as longer guided tours. I admit from the start, I have more questions than answers in this post, but I do want to share some thoughts and hear your opinions as well.
First, there are a couple of different travel options if using the assistance of a tour company, day trips and complete tour packages.
Day trips are organized either through local travel groups or with larger global tour companies. The benefit of a day trip or going on a 4-hour walking tour is how much more you gain from the experience with the expertise of someone who knows what they’re doing. We’ve gone the cheap route before, walked around cities by ourselves, reading plaques and tiny paragraphs in guide books leaving content, but not totally satisfied with the experience. Doing the same walk with an expert tour guide though is an enlightening experience. The right guide can transform a mediocre travel experience into a great one and for a few dollars more, your entire trip is that much better. Most of us don’t revisit the same destination twice, unless it’s close by or really special. That means we need to make it a priority to get the most out of the experience as possible. I’m not talking about running through town with a checklist, instead whatever you decide to do, do it well. Usually that means spending a little more money, but it is almost always worth it. You are there for a reason after all, and you should do everything in your power to get the most out of your trip.
Day tours are easy to rationalize and quantify their utility. Where I’ve run into some psychological travel angst lately is with the concept of packaged tours.
Millions of people embark on a preset tour every year, and that’s great. It’s a travel style, just like cruising, adventure or volunteer travel. It’s not for everyone, but is great for some. In the past I never really thought this style of travel was for me. I love nothing more than planning the intricacies of a new travel adventure, and to take that away from me would be almost heartbreaking I think. But there are certain parts of the world which I think necessarily lend themselves to working with a tour company if the situation fits and if it is the RIGHT tour company. The Galapagos and Antarctica are two great examples where the traveler almost has to book with a reputable company. But there are so many other parts of the world where this decision is less distinct and harder to make.
I’ll use the example I’m wrestling with currently. Next year we are traveling to Southeast Asia to revisit one of our favorite places, Thailand, and to explore a new one. I haven’t decided yet if that new one is going to be Cambodia or Laos, but it will be one or the other. To get around either country is a little challenging, but certainly possible. I know many people who have navigated the bus and train systems of both countries to moderate and even high levels of success. But there’s more than just travel to consider, there is lodging, activities and tours – everything that combines to make a successful travel experience. While I could certainly figure out just about everything, I would still have concerns about local guides and certainly accommodations. This is where a reputable, well matched tour company comes in. There are several outfits which offer multi-day tours in both countries and, should I elect to go with them, THEY will manage all of the pesky details that would ordinarily keep me awake at night. My entire vacation wouldn’t be planned from start to finish, merely a leg.
And yet I still can’t pull the trigger. The idea of touring around with other people, other potentially obnoxious and annoying people, doesn’t really appeal to me. I love the idea of being able to go where I want and when I want, without worrying about a preset schedule. And yet I’m torn because of the relative ease that selecting a 3-5 day tour would give us if we went with a well known travel company.
As I promised, there are more questions than answers in this post, but I think my dilemma is one many people must go through. That’s why I’m curious to hear what you think.
Have you traveled with a preset tour in the past and do you think it’s possible for the independent traveler to really enjoy them?