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Guided Tour Group or Go it Alone?

By Bidvest Bank

Have the itch to travel and can’t decide whether to join a guided tour group or go it alone? Perhaps you’re a gregarious 20-something looking to tour Australia and make new friends. Or maybe you’re a retired couple who want to see the sights of Europe in your own time. Whatever your personality type, life stage or time pressures, there are ups and downs to both options. Here are some pros and cons of travelling independently versus joining a group holiday tour.

Independent Travel

Independent travel is all about choosing your own path. You can plan your own trip exactly as you want it from start to finish, including where you’ll stay, how long you’ll stay for and what you’ll do on any given day. You can also adapt your trip as you go, for example by staying longer than you intended in a certain place simply because you like it. Independent travellers are usually friends, family members or simply travelling on their own. 

  • While you might have to put more effort into planning and research before you go, you can be more spontaneous about where you go and what you choose to explore. Maybe you decide at the last minute to hop to a different Greek island than the one you’d planned to visit. Or, maybe you discover that there’s a music festival happening in the city you’re passing through. Whatever it is, independent travel gives you the freedom to decide to do things on a whim.
  • Chances are you’ll have more authentic experiences because you’re travelling in a smaller group. Going to local restaurants, taking public transport and doing cultural things like a tango class if you’re in Buenos Aires all allow you to interact with locals in the country you’re visiting. 
  • You can choose exactly who you travel with, whether it’s your partner, your family, close friends, or just yourself. 

  • Getting from one place to the next on your own steam can be difficult in parts of the world where there might be poor infrastructure. In these situations, it may be easier to cover ground with a structured tour company that uses its own vehicle. 
  • It may also be dangerous to travel alone to certain countries where there’s political instability, so in these instances it may be safer to join a tour group. 
  • Independent travel may make it harder to budget, as with a tour group you usually pay for all your expenses upfront. 
  • Organising your own itinerary and travel arrangements can be time consuming and involve lots of research beforehand. 

Group Tours

Group holiday tours usually offer a pre-arranged itinerary where all your accommodation and transport is organised beforehand. From a 15-day tour of Europe to a seven day ski trip to Italy, you can choose from many different types of group tours depending on your interests, the time you have to travel and your budget.  

  • You can forget about all the nitty-gritty details, such as where you’ll sleep and how you’ll get there. Rather, you can simply relax and enjoy the experience while someone else organises the details for you. 
  • You’ll automatically meet new people in your group without having to go too much out of your comfort zone. 
  • If you’re on a strict budget, you’ll know upfront just how much the experience will cost you (barring any unplanned incidentals). 
  • Guided holiday tours are great if you have limited time and want to see a lot. For example, if you have only three days in which to see the best of Italy, it may be a good option to let someone else work out your itinerary for you.
  • These types of tours are usually led by knowledgeable guides who know a lot about the history, culture and context of the places you’re visiting, so it’ll be a great learning experience as well.

  • While group tours take the stress out of planning and making decisions, they can also mean that you lose the spontaneity and sense of discovery that comes with independent travel. If sticking to a pre-planned itinerary isn’t your thing, you might find a group tour stifling, as you don’t always have much of your own free time. 
  • Guided holiday tours can also be overwhelming if the groups are too large. Anything more than 12 group members can start to feel claustrophobic for some people. 
  • You may not identify with the people you’re travelling with. They may be a lot older or younger than you, or may be looking for different things from their trip than you. While you might very well get along with most of the people on the tour, you always run the risk of having to spend your entire trip with people you haven’t clicked with.
Bottom line

If it’s too daunting to tackle the mountains of Northern India or the beaches of Central America on your own, a group tour can be the answer to seeing a new place in a comfortable and stress-free way. It’s also a good option if you’re pressed for time and want to pack in all the main attractions. However, if you’re feeling more adventurous and have more time – let’s say you have a three month window in which to travel through Europe, you might consider heading off on your own steam, or with a partner or friend. 

Whether you choose a group tour or to go it alone, the Bidvest World Currency Card is a safe and convenient way to carry your money while you’re away. You preload the card before you go so you won’t have to have cash on you, and its pre-set exchange rate means that even if the Rand gets weaker while you’re away, you won’t lose out.