You were scrolling on Social Media and found a beautiful place you want to visit. Or you were having dinner at a friend's house and they were sharing all the amazing stories of their recent vacation. Or you were thinking it's finally time for you to visit that destination that has always been on your list.
When you contact us, we will let you know all the options you have to visit that destination. And a lot of clients ask me if they should do a guided trip or an independent trip, so I put this article together to guide you through the initial process :)
What is the right way to travel? Guided or Independent? Of course, it's both! The important question is... which one is right for you?
My recommendation will always depend on:
- the destination,
- the number of people traveling,
- if adults only, families with children, or multi-generation families,
- how comfortable you are navigating a different culture,
- how much flexibility you want,
- your anxiety level when planning an international trip,
- how much time available you have to plan your trip.
Guided trips have become more and more popular over the years, as people seek out the expertise and convenience that they offer. These trips provide travelers with the opportunity to explore new destinations with the guidance of a knowledgeable and experienced tour guide, that most often is local to the area.
However, while there are many benefits to being on a guided trip, there are also some potential drawbacks that should be considered. Let's check what they are so you can decide which type of travel is right for you.
ADVANTAGES OF GUIDED TRIPS:
Expertise: When you're on a guided trip, you have access to the expertise of a knowledgeable guide who is trained in the area you're visiting. This means that you can benefit from their insights and knowledge, and learn more about the history, culture, and natural features of the destination.
Safety: A guided trip can also provide a sense of safety and security, especially if you're visiting an unfamiliar place. The guide can help you navigate the terrain, avoid potential hazards, and make sure that you stay on track. He/She will also be a great resource in case an emergency happens during your trip - they will know exactly what to do so you are not completely lost in a foreign country worrying about what to do.
Convenience: A guided trip can also be more convenient. When you are part of a group tour, you already have all the transportation, accommodation, and some activities and meals included. So the only thing you need to worry about is what clothes you are bringing!
Comfort: A group tour is usually done on a motor coach that is very comfortable, and provides a bathroom and wi-fi. So you can relax and enjoy the view without having to worry about getting a train (cheaper but more stressful) or a private driver (super convenient but more expensive). You can nap, watch a movie, look through the window - you choose!
Social Interaction: This type of trip also provides opportunities for social interaction and meeting new people who share similar interests. This can enhance your travel experience and make it more enjoyable and memorable. I am in contact with various people to this date from guided trips I did in the past and they sure made the trip even more interesting. You don't have to spend all the time with the group - you do have free time built-in on the itineraries but it's also fun to share some memories with new friends.
Customization: Depending on the tour company and trip, we may have some input into the itinerary and activities, and we can include those add-ons into the itinerary. We can even do pre or post-nights where you either arrive before your guided trip start, and you have those days to explore and do different things or stay longer.
DISADVANTAGES OF GUIDED TRIPS:
Less Flexibility: Being on a guided trip means that you may have less flexibility in terms of the itinerary and activities. You'll likely need to follow a set schedule, and may not have much control over how much time you spend at each location.
Lack of Privacy: Being on a guided trip means that you'll be spending a lot of time with other people, which can limit your privacy and personal space. This can be especially challenging if you're an introverted person or need time alone to recharge.
Limited Local Experiences: Depending on the itinerary and tour company, you may miss out on some of the more authentic and local experiences of the destination. Those really off-the-beaten-path or the small boutique hotel that no one knows about. Guided trips tend to focus on the more popular and touristy attractions, and because it's a group tour, they need to pick accommodations that can accommodate the number of rooms they need, and that allows a coach to come in for drop-off.
Neither an advantage nor disadvantage, but different ...
Time planning - one thing that is very different between guided trips and independent travel is the amount of time spent on planning the trip. The guided trip will have a set itinerary, that has been curated based on what 90% of people what to see and do in that destination. They have been there, done that, and decided that a certain itinerary will make sense and give a great experience to travelers. So all the planning has been done for you already - all you have to do is show up. On the other hand, an independent trip will require a lot more planning. Some clients prefer to do something really historical. Others want to skip the museums and do something adventurous - and everything in between. This means that some research on your part will be necessary to find out what YOU want to do during the trip. We are here to help you and make suggestions but you will be the one telling us what you would like to do and see.
I don't see the time planning either as an advantage or disadvantage because this depends from person to person. I have clients that love doing research and planning the trip with me. And I have clients who are really busy and just don't have the time.
But attention, not all guided trips are created the same! There are multiple companies out there that provide guided tours in different parts of the world. If you think that this type of trip is what you are looking for, we will help you pick the right company for you. Each one of these examples have dozens of options to choose from so it's important to go through a travel agent as we are knowledgeable on which companies are trustworthy and offer a great experience to clients. You don't want to book something that will be a bad experience in the end.
COST x BENEFIT
Guided trips can be more expensive than planning a trip on your own, as you'll be paying for the expertise and services of the guide, as well as some of the meals. However, depending on what you are choosing for your independent trip, prices will start o stack up once you add everything that's included on the guided trip.
$: trips that are cheaper (and sometimes really cheap) will most likely have multiple coaches arriving in one place, visiting very touristy places, without any "skip-the-line" tickets and other inclusions. They are very basic. I usually don't recommend it unless you have a very tight budget and it's either this or nothing, then I will say at least go (but I will prepare you for what experience you should expect).
$$: Large to mid-size groups, it has transportation and hotel included, as well as some activities and some meals. Hotels are a little better (3-4*) and city tours start to have skip-the-line tickets to popular attractions. Has a better motorcoach.
$$$: Mid to small-size groups, have transportation and hotels included, hotels are 4* plus, the activities are more tailored to a higher-end clientele, skip-the-line tickets to popular attractions, and inclusions that are more off-the-beaten-path like dinner with locals, or visit something very local and less touristy.
$$$$: Small groups, 5* hotels, luxury experience with inclusions that make the trip really special and different. It might have an adventure theme (like luxury biking tours) or a cultural theme where you get to really experience the culture in a very connected way. This will have the top inclusions like a castle stay, or first-class train tickets, the first entrance to popular attractions when there is no one there, and so on.
SPECIAL THEMES ...
While many guided trips are standard, some will have some pretty awesome themes:
- Adventure: where the itinerary and things to see/do are all connected to adventure. Biking, Hiking, and Kayaking, some even include expedition cruises and some have partnerships with National Geographics
- Living local: where you get to "live" in a place with a local family for a week and really experience the culture.
- Families with children: the itinerary and activities are tailored to younger children to really get them involved and having the time of their lives.
- Families with teenagers: same as above, but for teens!
- Single parents: to travel in a safe way with children and with the structure of a guided trip helping the experience to be a lot less overwhelming.
- Women-only: you get to explore a destination with like-minded women. This is a very safe way to travel that allows you to travel to some destinations that would normally be a little worrisome for women to be on their own.
- Food/Wine: itinerary and activities picked for food and wine lovers.
- And lots more!
Guided trips are pretty great since you do get an expert guide who knows all the best spots, and you don't have to worry about all the logistics and planning. Plus, you can make new friends along the way.
But it's definitely not for everybody. If you prioritize flexibility, and your independence to come and go as you please (without you feeling overwhelmed), then you might be better off with us planning a customized itinerary for you!
It really depends on what you're looking for in your travel experience. How stress-free do you want it to be? Would you feel more comfortable having a local expert close by? Would you feel more relaxed not having to check dates and times for tours and transportation? Are you comfortable traveling alongside other people you haven't met yet?
Hope this helps ;-) of course, we are here to help you decide based on your destination, the people traveling, and what you are looking for. Just reach out to us here!
Yours in travel,
Owner - Happy Hour Travel