Let’s say you want to take a trip to Spain this summer. Your best friend was going to go with you, but now can’t. You can go alone… or you can look into going with a group travel company. Of course, there are pros and cons to both scenarios. I’m mostly a solo traveler, but have tried a few group trips over the years. As you can imagine, each travel company varies in the same way that no two trips are exactly the same. So, when it comes group travel vs. solo travel, which do you choose?
“Traveling with others can be a blast, but before you embark on a group trip, there are a few things you should take into consideration,” Mary “Libby” Emanuel, owner of Premier Group Travel in Mount Dora, Florida, said in an email. She said it’s essential to make sure you are looking for a travel experience similar to what the group offers. “For example, certain tour companies have more of an emphasis on the nightlife aspect of traveling, whereas others are more educational or eco-tourism-focused,” she said. “You want to make sure you and your traveling companions will be compatible in your trip expectations.”
Before putting down any deposits, Emanuel said to ask yourself: Do you want to travel with people closer to your own age or do you prefer a more wide-ranging generational span? Do you want to room with someone to cut costs, or are you someone who needs private space for yourself? And, are you comfortable in group settings? “If you’re a true introvert, you may not enjoy being with a lot of other people, particularly if they are all strangers,” she said.
But, the good news is, there are so many group travel tour companies out there these days, you can probably find one that has many of the things you want, from destination options and trip lengths to group size and age ranges. Of course, at the end of the day, you may decide you’d rather organize a group trip with some close friends or go off on your own. If you’re trying to decide between going with a tour group or planning something on your own (whether with friends or literally flying solo), here are some things to consider.
Pros of group travel trips
1. All (or most) of the planning will be done for you
If you have a limited amount of vacation time and really don’t want to worry about planning your trip, that’s where group tours come in handy. Often, they’ll plan things so well, from excursions to where you’ll be sleeping, that all you’ll need to do is show up. Plus, most expenses will be covered, often including travel insurance, so you’ll have fewer logistical headaches.
2. Built-in travel companions (OR friends) — for life
When you travel with a group, you’re bound to bond with at least some of your fellow travelers, which means you’ll have instant travel buddies. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t just walk up to and befriend strangers, then this may be a big perk of why group travel could work better for you. So, not only will you experience new cultures in the cities you’re visiting, but also among your travel group since they’ll likely be from all over the world.
And your new travel friends won’t just be your friends for the duration of the trip; they could be your friends for life. For example, when I was 17, my grandma took me on a three-week trip to Poland… the second-youngest woman was 50 (!) and everyone else was 70-something. At first, I wondered how I’d relate to these people for a day, let alone three weeks. But they all became my pseudo-grandparents and I still keep in touch with them today.
3. Access to places you may not get if you’re traveling alone
Some group trips get magical access to places and experiences that the average solo traveler cannot get, which is definitely a bonus when it comes to group travel, not to mention that some travel destinations are not easily accessible if you go alone, like an African safari or trip to Antarctica to see penguins. In addition, when you’re with a group, you’ll often be able to skip long lines that you’d probably have to wait in if you’re traveling solo.
4. Insider information
Since tour guides often do the same trips again and again, they are chock full of insider information about everything from the city you’re in to the best café in town that no other tourists know about. And, they’re much more than a tour guide: If you think they just help you find your way from tourist destination to tourist destination, you’re wrong — they can be everything from your travel mentor to your personal security guard. So, whether you’re having a tough day and need some emotional support or an extra element of safety, look no further.
5. Safety in numbers
While you may be a pro at traveling solo, at times, you may also not have felt 100% safe all the time. Or maybe you’ve delayed going on a certain trip because you’d rather go to that destination with others. In that case, “safety in numbers” — i.e., traveling with a group — may be best.
1. They often cost more
Since many group trips are all-inclusive (or mostly inclusive), they tend to not be as cheap as if you’re traveling on your own. For instance, maybe one company has you stay at four-star hotels though you are usually more a hostel or economical Airbnb person (so that’s money you could have saved). Of course, this aspect — and others — will vary from company to company, but it’s something to keep in mind when considering your travel expenses. As a solo budget traveler, I was surprised at how much some group trips cost, which is why it’s important that you weigh all the costs before you commit.
2. Limited amounts of time to sightsee
While group tours may squeeze in more sights in a shorter amount of time — which could be considered a plus — this also means that if you’re really loving a place, when the tour bus leaves, the tour bus leaves. (Then again, you can always return for a longer period of time in the future.) Of course, if you’re traveling alone or with friends, you’ll be able to set your own pace.
3. Too many people
While some group travel trips are small, averaging about 10 people (or less), others have dozens of people on one trip, which could be overwhelming. Like Emanuel said, it depends what type of trip you want; if dozens of fellow travelers is not an issue to you, it’s not an issue — you may love all the additional potential friends you’ll make.
4. Not enough alone time
Although many group tours do give you alone time, it’s not unlimited amounts, so if you’d rather have more, you may prefer traveling alone; with the latter, you’ll have an added element of getting to know yourself better vs. fellow travelers.
5. Lack of freedom
I’d say the biggest con, aside from cost, is the lack of freedom. On a group tour, there’ll be no sleeping in; you’ve got that tour of the Vatican to see! If you’re usually someone who operates on their own schedule and makes plans spur-of-the-moment, you may be better suited to travel on your own or with some like-minded friends.
Like anything else, it all comes down to what you want to get out of your travel experience. If you really value your freedom and don’t want to be tied to a fixed schedule, you may find that traveling with a few friends — or alone — is a better fit for you. But if you like the fact that everything’s organized for you and you don’t have to stress about what you’ll do each day, then group travel may be the best option. In any case, it’s a win-win since you’ll travel and see someplace(s) new, which is what it’s all about.