Everyone likes to travel in different ways, and for different reasons. Be it for relaxation and comfort, for adventure and exhilaration or culture and new experiences. There are no right or wrong ways to do it, and nowadays there are ways to travel to suit everyone’s needs. A discussion that I have had many times is the old ‘group travel vs solo travel’ discussion.
So, as a traveller experienced in both here are my top highlights to consider for each before taking your next trip! It’s Solo Travel vs Group Tours. Check it out to see which is right for you.
Organised Group Tour Travel
1. Meeting people
On a group tour, you are guaranteed a new group of friends to hangout and discover new places with for the length of your trip. This is a great point to bear in mind as often when travelling solo I have met cool people who are perhaps leaving in a day or two and so you never get to actually travel together. But on a tour you are introduced to like-minded travellers often from completely different places and backgrounds that are going to stick around and share amazing experiences with for the entire duration!
Introducing you to people you may never have had the chance to meet otherwise, or been too afraid to approach. I have met some of the most interesting people on tours from every corner of the globe.
It is a great way to break the ice immediately, even for the shyest of travellers, and often life long friendships are born. Plus, there is always someone around to take that awesome Instagram shot for you!
So you have two precious weeks booked off work, you’ve arrived in a new country and you don’t want to miss out on all the amazing sights and experiences it has to offer. Not to worry! Your tour will have utilised the time wisely, ensuring you see as much as possible in your time, hitting the highlights and hopefully a few lesser known, hidden gems also. Having the luxury of a local tour guide or trained professional on hand is always a plus! Tours will choose tried and tested activities that are fun, safe and reliable. You may well end up trying something you might not normally do on a tour if it is included in the itinerary. I for instance would never have taken a cooking class when I first went on a tour, but I loved it! I now take a cooking class in almost every country I visit.
3. Amazing Accommodation and restaurants
How many hours have you spent online searching which hostel has a pool with a good location, comfy beds, nice staff and decent Wi-Fi? It’s a time consuming job. Your tour company will have done all this for you, often with speedy check in and added benefits when you do arrive.
Food for me is a huge part of my travelling experience and nothing is more annoying after a day of exploring than choosing a disappointing restaurant. Your tour takes the risk out of this by scouting out the best restaurants in town for you to enjoy.
Travelling alone in a foreign country can be a little scary for some people occasionally, so you know what they say; safety in numbers! You wont end up getting lost in a foreign city or wandering into the wrong part of town with a group. If anything was ever to go wrong they can make any necessary arrangements to speak to your emergency contact for you if you are unable to. More than just physical safety though, they can save hassles from getting ill by reminding you not to drink the tap water, or to provide a person to talk to if you are having a bit of a homesick day. Having a community of travellers close by who understand what you are going through can be invaluable sometimes.
On a tour, someone always ‘has your back!’
5. Tour Guide
With every tour comes a tour guide! Someone to organise your trip to maximise the safety, take care of all the boring bits and ensure everything runs as smooth as possible so you can focus on the important part of enjoying yourself! A good guide will be your dance partner, teacher, friend, mentor and shoulder to cry on, they often make the trip that extra bit special for some people and go the extra mile. Someone you can ask all the questions you want and has inside knowledge of the area you are in, maximising your travel experience.
Aaah! The liberating, rejuvenating experience of ultimate travel freedom. Travelling solo is easily the most free I have ever felt in my life. The world is in your hands, you can choose to go where you want and when you want, even how you want. If you want to work on your tan and kick back by the ocean, do it! No one is going to stop you! That waterfall someone told you about last night? Sure thing, go find it. You are free to do as much or as little as you please at completely your own pace.
2. Enjoy your own company
I like spending time by myself, I can read, write, listen to podcasts, tap into myself a little more. Often when you are surrounded by others it can be hard to unwind as much as you’d like. Travel helps you learn a lot about yourself! If you appreciate your own company and are comfortable eating alone some nights, then possibly riding solo is the way for you!
Not to say that you won’t meet people when wandering alone. Just head to the hostel kitchen or common rooms and you’ll find an abundance of people just like you. Ask around and see if anyone has any recommendations or tips on the local activities and you’ll have a new travel bestie in no time. In Vietnam I went to the hostel rooftop bar for a beer, by then end of the night 6 of us had agreed to buy motorbikes and drive for six weeks from the south to the north of Vietnam together. A friend actually met his future wife on that very trip! Proof that you’ll easily meet people if you want to.
3. Stick to your own budget
Perhaps you prefer to spend you money on activities and sights than on fancy accommodation, or you would rather take a 12 hour bus to save yourself $5. You control where your money goes and can travel accordingly. Tours may cost more money up front but save you money later, alternatively you can keep track of where every penny/baht/dinar/dollar goes as you spend it yourself, and keep your eyes peeled for bargains!
4. Unique Experiences
I find that when travelling independently you often open yourself up to a more unique experience (although perhaps with a bit more chaos thrown in!) My second night in the Phillippines I befriended the guy selling ice cream on the beach! We shared beers, stories and of course, ice cream. I ended up spending the night at his house and slept on the floor of the living room with his family tucked up under a mosquito net. Now, you can’t recreate an experience like that! In Turkey, I met a family who didn’t speak one word of English. I shared a BBQ with them next to the river and we ‘spoke’ (sharing no common tongue!) for hours. You can break free from the norm when you throw caution to the wind and head out into the unknown alone and open yourself up to new experiences.
5. That feeling of accomplishment!
You will discover that you are capable of just about anything! I once thought I’d never be able to drive myself across a country in the Middle East where I knew none of the road rules, in a left hand drive vehicle… but I had no choice, so off I went, and guess what; I did it! Returning home from a trip when you have pushed yourself physically and mentally is something that will stick with you and make you more confident in your everyday life. Now that’s a unbeatable souvenir!!
So remember, travel is personal to everyone and each traveller is looking for something different from his or her trip. Be sure to weigh up each option.
Solo travellers: don’t rule out Group travel, it’s a different experience and one many find refreshing and relaxing. You’ll find most tours are flexible and a the end of the day its your trip. So don’t worry about losing your freedom!
Group travellers: don’t be afraid to cut loose and hit the road alone. You’ll find it liberating and not as scary or as testing as you may have originally thought!
Have you tried both? Which do you prefer?
About the author
Mark is an independent travel writer, videographer and tour guide specialising in South East Asia. He is usually found near the ocean, surfing on top of it or scuba diving underneath it. He likes the countries he visits to be hot and the food even hotter. Keep up with his adventures on Instagram