Whether you’re a seasoned global traveller or someone who hasn’t travelled much further than your own front door, every travelling opportunity can deliver a unique and life changing experience. Discovering exciting new cultures can be mind blowing and eye opening. You get to expose your tastebuds to different food, meet new people and just generally see the world from a new and different perspective.
But what’s the best way to travel: on a guided tour or independently? Both have their benefits. When the Internet wasn’t available, most people had to depend on travel agencies to provide information about a an unfamiliar continent or country and to make the necessary travel arrangements. But now, thank to the Internet, travelling is so much easier. The world isn’t such a big place anymore.
So let’s look at the two different travelling experiences. What they have to offer; their similarities and the differences that set them apart.
Unlike most guided tours, which can be pretty full on, travelling independently certainly allows you to explore at a much slower pace. You’ll have more time to soak up the atmosphere, mingle with the locals and explore an area in more depth. So if you like to spend a considerable amount of time in any one given place, independent travel is the much better option.
But guided tours are still popular and with good reason, offering itineraries to suit the majority of travellers. If you live in Asia, for example, most people are only entitled to 2-3 weeks of annual leave. So with a limited amount of time, taking a guided tour could well be the better option. Plus, with your trips planned and organised on your behalf, they offer an easy and convenient way to travel. Aside from the organisational aspect, one of the best things about guided tours is your travelling companions. You’ll have the opportunity to meet people from different walks of life and different parts of the world, who all share a common bond – a love of travel.
Joining a guided tour is cheaper than independent travel as tour operators can negotiate bulk discounts with hotels, restaurants and places; and subsequently pass them down to you. If you’re travelling independently your travel costs will totally depend on your travel goals. Although sometimes guided tours are more expensive because you are paying for tour operators to do the planning, travelling in a small group might work out cheaper. Always compare the cost of travelling independently and guided tours and work out the best travel options.
If you’re 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 worth the money. 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. But there is a limit to where you can go and how long you can stay in each tourist attraction if you sign up to a guided tour. Travelling independently means you can explore the area at your own leisure; experience a city’s hustle and bustle and feel its heartbeat at your own pace.
Ease of travel
Independent travelling takes a lot of time and research. And sometimes you need to change your plans if there are environmental or political changes in a place or country you’re planning to visit. 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. Although you’ll at least have complete freedom and be able to act on spontaneity. However, taking a guided tour means your eliminate all the hassle in the planning stage.
Many people feel intimidated when they are travelling to a new place, especially when language is a barrier. A guided tour can make you feel safe, because there is someone around to rely on when help is needed. And don’t forget, there are some areas of the world that are best visited as part of a guided tour. For example, going to Antarctica or Bhutan could be difficult and challenging without being on a tour.
Tips for choosing tour operators
- Research. Find an reputable company that runs guided tours to 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. Think about the places you want to visit and what type of experience you are looking for. Some people travel for culture and history, some for sightseeing and shopping.
- Age group. To ensure you’re travelling with like minded people, always check the age group of the tour. Certain tours appeal to 30-40 year old mature professionals, whereas others are targeted at 18-30 year olds who are likely to be out for a different experience altogether.
- 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!
In conclusion, both travel options have their benefits. Ultimately, deciding between travelling independently and joining a guided tour will be determined by cost, where you want to go and what you want to get out of the experience.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine