Traveling with a guide is the ultimate educational experience. Guides are trained to cover the details of the areas and sites that are part of their tour. As a veteran of a host of different tours, from walking and hiking tours in the Bush of Australia to the beauty of Oahu, it is the perfect way to become educated in the background of an area, a city or country. However a guide isn't the only person to provide education on some trips. When traveling on specialized trips, such as a cooking or wine tour, one can learn about cultures by taking classes, how to cook and glean a bit of the local language from buying supplies at local markets for classes.
Face it, everyone has different interests, and when you get a group of 20 or 30 people together, finding common ground to keep everyone happy can be quite daunting. Going somewhere that you aren’t interested in as part of a tour isn't anyone's idea of fun. When you are with a group and constantly making compromises to keep the peace, it can turn a fun time into frustration quickly. As I get older, I am more interested in places where I can relax and enjoy the view. So if you are traveling with friends, choose friends with similar interests and those with same idea of fun as you and ditch the group tours.
Because tours are put together with group rates on everything, the price is generally cheaper than traveling to see the same things on your own. On a trip you must consider transportation, (generally on a coach or train) hotels or other accommodations, and attractions such as museums and theme parks. If you are up for all they offer, then it can be a sizable savings and you can use that money to see and do other things.
Disadvantages of traveling alone
My biggest concern with traveling alone is safety. Nothing says target like a person traveling alone in a foreign country. Even if you are a seasoned traveler and know all of the tricks, you may find yourself targeted simply because by being alone you may appear vulnerable. Single travelers often are the targets of muggings, pick-pockets, attacks and so on, most often because they appear vulnerable. There are many things that one can do to ensure safety, which I will discuss in a later blog. Also there is the consideration of what to do if you become ill or hurt and need assistance Who is there to help you, take you to a hospital and care for you? I have had to rely on my wits and build upon my experience. Now, as a senior, I use these and common sense to stay safe.
Not having enough privacy or alone time.
Most people need some alone time and some like me need a lot. When I can’t get it, I go looking for it by taking a walk or barricading myself in my room. If I am on a tour, the lack of free time can be impossible. If you are one of those people who can’t do without privacy for however long a tour lasts, then perhaps a tour is not for you. Many tours incorporate free time, but it is usually limited with little time to see and do what you want. When I was in Florence, I literally ran through the Uffizi Gallery so that I could see all I wanted and the group that went off to Pisa for the afternoon did the same. I could have begged off of some of the tours, but again having paid for them and being in Italy, I didn’t want to give up the chance to see anything!
Advantages of group travel
When I booked a tour for the Australian Outback, it was at the spur of the moment through an Australian travel agent. I not only beautiful memories of an incredible trip, but made a friend of my travel agent in the process. I didn’t have the time or the travel experience to book a tour on my own, so I put myself in the capable hands of an agent from Jayes travel service in Gosford. It was a perfect package, and with the exception of being thrown from a camel near Alice Springs, my trip went off without a hitch.
No planning necessary
I love planning, but I there have been occasions when I haven’t had the time to pour over the many websites and blogs to find my perfect vacation. That is when I have made use of tours. With their all-inclusive programs and accommodations, they do all of the heavy legwork for those looking for a stress-free vacation. Tours provide the best vacations for people who are traveling to places for the first time, those not comfortable with traveling alone or those too busy with life to bother with the details of travel. You can relax as someone always has your back on your trip, showing you the best spots, taking care of long tourist lines for attractions and taking you back to your hotel so you don’t have to drive.
Inability to travel on your own schedule
Like I have already stated, this is one of the biggest issues for me. I need to be able to have some control over my schedule. Some days I have plenty of energy and others I don’t. You need to find a tour or group that matches your own body's ability or ditch the tour idea all together.
Problems getting into popular sites
Long lines were not major problems when I began traveling in 1977, but now they can consume major segments of your precious travel time. In Venice we had approximately 2 hours to spend on our own, outside of our tour group. I had grand plans to see the city from the bell tower, but once I saw how long the line was, I changed my mind. As this wasn’t on our tour, my wait in line alone would have exceeded our free time. This is often the case when visiting popular tourist destinations during peak season on your own.
The Excitement of Adventure
If you are the adventurous type, like I am, there is no better way to travel. Half of the fun is the planning and getting ready. But once you have arrived, there is a myriad of things one can explore, from types of food to the history and culture of the country. Along the way, you are likely to meet a few people who become friends, and with the magic of Facebook and Twitter, stay in touch with a few. Each day you can plan your own adventure and not have to worry about keeping up with a group or going someplace planned. You can do and see what you want; you can even indulge in an ice cream along the way!
Itineraries that are pre-planned
Visiting Italy on the Best of Italy tour was wonderful and I had a gorgeous time on a cruise to the Western Caribbean. I wouldn’t change a thing. But if I was to go back to these areas, I would prefer to stay longer in just a few places. I fell in love with both Florence and Belize and because of the tours I booked, I was only able to spend a day in each. If you are the type of person who loves to spend time leisurely taking in the sights or enjoy looking at all of the paintings in an art museum, than perhaps using a group tour like I did to find a favorite area to go back to may work for you as well.
You don’t have control of where to stay or eat.
Eating is always a problem for those who have specific diets. I like to stay away from sugars and foods that contain a lot of fats for my health. I have many friends who are diabetics or have issues with allergies as well. Also, many tours book upscale hotels for their participants and although this is nice, I would prefer to use a hostel and save the money for other extras on my trip.
I am fiercely independent and consider it one of my greatest assets. Independent people often like to travel alone because of all the options available to them. I learned long ago that when it comes to visiting another place with different people, you must take into consideration everything everyone else wants to do. I enjoy planning my own day, mainly because it gives me the opportunity to listen to my body and follow what it tells me to do. If I am having a bad day I can take in something leisurely, but when I am having a great day, I can go to as many places as I feel comfortable seeing and don't have to worry about ruining someone else’s vacation.
Loneliness is a part of traveling alone. It is something everyone has to learn to deal with in their own way if they choose to travel by themselves. I am accustomed to it as I have traveled like this for most of my life. However, some people find it harder than others to handle it, especially if they are used to the companionship of others. Loneliness can hit everyone while they travel. On my past trip to Hawaii, I was gone for 2 ½ weeks. By the end of my stay in Hawaii, I was already tired and lonely for my family and friends at home, and I am a very independent person! It can happen anytime during a vacation, but especially when one is tired or alone, without something to do. If you are used to having someone with you and miss the companionship of others, or feel uncomfortable eating alone, then group travel is probably your best bet. If you crave the connection of a friend or travel companion so you can share adventures and stories when you return home, by all means choose group travel or travel with a friend.
Advantages of traveling alone
You are at the controls and make the decisions.
This is one of the things I like most about traveling alone. I call the shots as to when I leave my hotel in the morning, if I want to sightsee or if I just want to rest. I can go at my own pace. At 62 years of age this is of paramount importance to me and I get this by traveling alone.
Meeting new and interesting people and making friends
Meeting new people is one of the joys of traveling. I have met some of my best friends while in other countries, two of which I have known for 30 years. For those traveling alone meeting new people is part of the draw. Many times while traveling you will find that solo travelers often end up at the same spots, giving you an opportunity to meet others with similar interests. You might be fortunate and spend a day with them and then go separate ways or exchange emails and stay in touch for a lifetime.
Experienced tour guides
Tour guides are some of the most well versed, educated and helpful people in travel. They are well educated about the places on your tour and can educate you on its details and history. An experienced tour guide can add interest and extra value to your experience. Our tour guide in Italy lived in Rome, and was able to provide us with some of the everyday information about his city, the local culture, and cost. Guides also have connections and know all of the places to go for the best value and enjoyment.
When you are traveling, you must decide if you want to travel alone once you have arrived or with a group. Both have their upsides and disadvantages. This month I will be shining a light on both of these to help my readers decide which is right for them.
Making new friends
At this point in my life, I have no trouble meeting new people and making new friends. That being said, this was far from true when I was young. I was very shy and had major problems breaking out of my shell. Many people feel uncomfortable traveling by themselves and making new friends is hard. If you feel this way, you might consider a group tour, like the one I used to travel in Italy or in Kakadu. As part of a tour group, meeting the people on the tour and becoming their friends is part of the fun of the trip. These groups already have people who share the same interests as you, and whether they are traveling by themselves or with their families, they are usually open to making friends in this relatively safe environment.
Having someone to share your experiences with
This is one of the reasons that the friends you make on a trip will often remain friends; because both of you will have shared once in a lifetime experiences. For many people, this is the best part of traveling. There is always someone to translate languages in a foreign country when you fall short, someone to take your picture in front of a statue or building, and someone to laugh with. Traveling in a group is great fun and by doing so you will be creating memories and building bridges to other cities or countries with the friends you make.
The cost of traveling alone can be very steep, with extra costs paid for single occupancy or tickets, etc. There are always ways to scale back, but most of the time you may find that even when this is done, the cost may still be more for single travelers. Group tours capitalize on the scale of their sales with the savings passed on to their customer.
Conflicts in personalities.
In life, there will always be people we don’t like, and traveling with a group is no exception. There is always one or two in every group. When I was traveling in Italy, there was a couple that was very self centered and irritated everyone. If you lack diplomacy or if this type of person destroys your ability to enjoy your surroundings, then by all means find some other way to travel. Also, if you are traveling with a friend you might find that spending long stretches with that person might strain your relationship. So make certain this type of travel will not spoil your trip before committing to it.
Traveling alone can be stressful
I can remember several times traveling alone during which I was very stressed out… Running late in a driving rain trying to catch a bus to the airport for my flight home from Australia comes to mind. I was in tears. Another was traveling alone on a train to Belgium and having to switch trains in the middle of the night. I put my wind up alarm clock under my sweater so when I fell asleep I would wake up and not miss my stop. If you are afraid of challenges at every end, then a group travel experience may be what is best for you.
They say there is safety in numbers. I agree with this 100%, which is why I probably felt so comfortable in Germany on my first journey abroad for a semester in college. I had only taken 2 years of German in high school and had forgotten much of that. However, because we traveled in a group, there were always some of my companions who could help with the language when those, like myself, fell short. A good rule of thumb is to always stay close to your group or a buddy so that you can watch out for each other. Every place we go has its share of problems, but you can avoid a great deal of them by staying close to someone who can watch your back.
Ability to reflect
One of the trips I hope to make in the future is to Florence, Italy. My dream is to stay for a month to write and take in the sites. Being alone on a trip helps one process information and use it creatively as I plan to do. I like to take vacations alone as it gives me time to reflect and take in all of the events of the day. As for Italy, it will help me to use and practice my Italian by speaking to others and trying to understand without having someone elseto rely on.
Worry free travel
Traveling alone can be stressful if you don’t know what you are doing. Traveling in groups or as part of a tour, most of the worry is taken care of as they plan nearly everything; flight, transportation, hotels, tours, venue tickets, meals, (in a lot of cases) help when things go wrong, and share advice for a wonderful vacation. So if you are a travel newbie or you are just timid about setting things up on your own, this is often the best way to travel.
Disadvantages of group travel
Often group travel can be too fast paced.
Even though tour groups work very hard to create tours that fit their customers, group travel can often be fast paced for many. When I was in Italy years ago, we went from Rome to Venice, then to Verona and Florence, on to Assisi and finally back to Rome, all in 8 days. And even though the guide warned us not to try to do everything, I still did. And like many others it left me exhausted and hurting because of my limitations. There was very little time to get to know the areas in which we stayed and relax while enjoying a cup of coffee in a café.
Access to overcrowded sites
40 years ago when I first went to Rome as part of my semester abroad experience, I had no problem getting into the Colosseum or the Sistine Chapel. Now one might wait hours in line just to get a ticket. When you go with a group on a prepaid trip, like Trafalgar, your priority access ticket will be included with the price of a tour and your tour guides can get you in within 15 minutes of your arrival. When you spend thousands of dollars on a trip, do you really want to spend part of your day waiting in lines to see the sites? Unusual places such as Antarctica or the Amazon require you to go with a tour group. Most places have tours already set up, however tour operators can always set one up if places can’t be reached by yourself.
The cost of group travel with tour guides can be a bit pricey. A week-long tour in a foreign country may cost upwards of $4,000. But remember all of the things that are included; airfare, accommodations, meals, sight seeing venue tickets, transportation, and guided touring. It might amount to a value if you don’t like to travel alone. And remember, you are also paying for the people who worked to organized the trip, the tour guide, the bus driver, etc. However, if you are like me, you might like to see one place a day and have already found that nice little villa that costs the same for a month as some accommodations cost for a week. If you would rather take it slow, control your prices on all things, then leave group travel for other travelers.