In 26 years of running group tours, I have heard something along the lines of “I would never go on a group tour” countless times.
Generally, those comments come from experienced travelers who are proud of their ability to travel on their own. I certainly respect the decision to travel independently and agree doing so has many benefits.
But if one never travels on a group tour, one cannot really make a judgment on or a comparison with that mode of travel. In other words, you might not know what you are missing. So let me give you my experience as a world traveler who has done much travel both ways. Here are the benefits of a group tour:
My First Group Tour: Dordogne
The first group tour I ever took was a bicycle tour in France back in 1995 – 28 years ago! I had already traveled throughout Europe and to Africa and Asia and I was very proud of traveling only with “a passport, a Eurail train pass, and a hostel card”. But in 1995 I was living in Poland and, for the first time in my life, I had a job that provided me more money than time. With a friend, I signed up for a group tour biking through the Dordogne countryside of France … and had one of the best vacations of my life.
Saving time is one of the key reasons to sign up for a group tour. As in the situation I found myself back then, I suddenly had too little time to spend planning a vacation. Even now, with so many more resources available via the Internet, it can take a LOT of time to plan hotels, meals, and activities on a tour. All of that is planned for you on a group tour.
It is also true that for active vacations, going with a tour operator solves many logistical problems that might not otherwise be easily solved. In my case back in 1995, I would simply never have done a multi-day biking tour in Dordogne or, for that matter, anywhere. It is too challenging for most people to plan their own bicycle rental, routes, luggage transfers (or packing), etc. Group tours thus make some tours possible you would otherwise never do.
Another huge benefit of a group tour is the local expertise you get. On a group tour you will have either a local guide or one who knows the area and this expertise can turn a good vacation into a great one or a great vacation into a stellar one. In fact, I am so thrilled with hiring local guides that when I am on a personal vacation, I will often hire a guide just for a day so I get the full local experience.
Saving time, dealing with challenging logistics, and gaining local experience are the three reasons I most often hear from people – like our travelers – who know the benefits of doing a group tour. But I don’t believe these three are the main reason our alumni keep coming back on tours. Instead, I am confident it is the “group bonding” of sharing a memorable experience with others who have similar interests as you that make group tours so fun.
This last reason is so important it deserves a second paragraph. When people think “group tour”, they think of a busload of older folks seeing large European cities or national parks behind glass windows. And I won’t knock that travel for those who like it. But that ignores that group tours tend to have a much more focused niche and tend to attract others of the same ilk who are interested in that niche. Sharing a bicycle vacation across Italy or a hiking trip along Hadrian’s Wall means you are doing something you love in the company of others with whom you have much in common. It is that “group bonding” or what I like to call “human magic” (when a group creates more fun than one person could create on his or her own) that makes organized tours so powerful.
This is already a long blog post but let me say this. I love group travel. I love guiding our tours. I still love doing vacations on my own or with my own travel companions but nothing can replace the camaraderie of a guided group tour. There are many benefits of going on a group tour. See you on one soon.