5 Misconceptions About Guided Group Travel

By Jared Alster
May 17, 2015

I’ll admit it - I’m a convert. For many years of my adult traveling life, I took the path less trodden, most often by myself, with a group of friends, or more recently, accompanied by my wife. Traveling independently was invigorating - choosing where to go, what to do, and when to do it offered a sense of freedom that’s hard to beat.

However, more recently, I became a fan of group travel {gasp!} More shocking is that I actually enjoyed it. I mean I REALLY enjoyed it and came away with some truly special travel experiences.

This post isn’t meant to convince you to take a guided trip. They aren’t for everyone, after all. But I would like to dispel a few of the most widely misunderstood notions of a guided group tour and then leave the decision to you.

1.  There’s no flexibility in your itinerary

Gone are the days when group travel only meant following your flag-waving guide aimlessly from museum to museum. Sure, guided travel means traveling on a set, multi-day itinerary. If you miss the plane, bus, or train, you’re in trouble! However, these days, guided tour companies like Explore! actually schedule free time into the itinerary, which encourages travelers to explore on their own. For example, you might join your group on an orientation walk around Marrakech in the morning, but then have the afternoon free to explore Djemaa el-Fnaa square. On longer excursions, you might even get an entire ‘free’ day to lounge on the beach or go for a day hike.

2.  You’re shepherded around on a huge coach bus

Ah yes, the site of weary travelers stumbling on and off a coach, cameras around neck, water bottles in hand. While coach tours do exist and are great for some people, they are hardly the only option in the guided travel category. Many travel operators such as Abercrombie & Kent, offer transportation options like private luxury vans that hold only 16 people. Other companies, such as G Adventures and Intrepid Travel, use local transportation, such as tuk-tuk, felucca, and even camels to get you from point A to point B. Not only does this usually result in lower costs for you, but it provides an opportunity to mingle with locals vs. being stuck in a stuffy coach with your fellow travelers.

3.  You won’t get along with anyone in your group

Sure, at first, you aren’t going to be life-long friends with your fellow travelers.However, the majority of the time, you’ll find that you actually have lots in common with your travel companions.

Most group travelers are like-minded and choose group tours for the same reasons: to get an authentic taste of a destination without having to worry about planning the logistics of an international vacation.

Whether you’re in a group of 10 or 20, chances are you will connect with someone who you share something in common with. And you never know, you might actually make a few life long friends along the way - I know I have!

4.  You travel with a group of 50 people

Not unless you want to! These days, many guided tour operators are offering ‘small group’ tours. This means traveling under the radar with groups as small as 10 travelers.  And, if you choose the right tour operator, traveling in this intimate style doesn’t need to equate to high prices.

Small groups mean you are more nimble and flexible, and they make the group feel more accessible to the local people. It’s also much easier to make true connections with your fellow travelers (see #3 above).

5.  You don’t experience the real [fill in your country of choice]

A group tour can be just as authentic and eye-opening as independent travel; perhaps even more so if you’re lucky enough to have a local tour guide. Think of your guide as a friendly local who can ‘unlock’ the destination for you - showing off favorite restaurants, markets, photo spots, boutiques, etc. Some tour operators like Exodus include homestays in their itineraries.

What better way to experience France than by staying in the home of a local winemaker? On my myriad group tours, I’ve had the chance to chat with locals on public trains, play in a random soccer game with a bunch of children, and learn about local spices from a market vendor. What’s more real than that?

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