I admit it – I try to avoid organized tours as best I can.
As a self-proclaimed indie traveler and employee of BootsnAll, organized tours are the opposite of what I thought indie travel was all about.
But do I have it all wrong?
As an independent traveler, am I not supposed to have an open mind when it comes to all things travel? Isn’t that part of what indie travel is all about? There isn’t a right way to do things.
Shouldn’t I replace all those broad expectations I have with the reality of the situation?
What had me asking these questions?
I recently heard a story about a woman named Laura, another independent traveler who spent a ten-month trip going on NINE organized tours with Intrepid Travel. Jeez, a long-term, round the world trip done mostly on tours – was this woman crazy?
We always like to hear unique stories from other travelers, so naturally we were intrigued. We got in touch with Laura and interviewed her. What we found out got me thinking and asking myself, “Maybe organized tours aren’t so bad after all?”
In fact, maybe I need to look deeper into various tours and tour companies who provide a travel experience similar to how I travel independently.
Laura loves travel. She’s not rich (she’s a teacher). She isn’t a travel blogger who gets free travel perks. She’s just an ordinary person, who like the rest of us, works hard, then spends a good chunk of that hard-earned money on the thing she loves most, which happens to be travel.
Eventually when one and two week trips weren’t enough, she started planning a trip around the world. Like many first time round the world travelers, she needed to figure out what worked best for her and her trip itinerary.
Laura is honest with herself as a planner. She doesn’t like the idea of turning up in a new city and looking for a place to stay. “I didn’t want to always have to be looking for the next thing to do…As a type A personality, as a planner, I knew I wouldn’t enjoy where I was in the moment because I would always be worrying and planning for the next stage,” Laura said.
Why not take off a year and go do this extravagant, epic adventure but do it in an organized type of fashion that would meet my need to plan but also help me explore different parts of the world?
She was also going to be traveling as a solo female, and she hoped to visit some locations that her parents, like all parents of travel-obsessed sons and daughters, were concerned about. Laura ultimately “decided why not take off a year and go do this extravagant, epic adventure but do it in an organized type of fashion that would meet my need to plan but also help me explore different parts of the world?”
She had traveled with Intrepid before on shorter trips, so she was familiar with them and what they offered. She liked their small group sizes (most are under 12 people), the fact that they have a policy of using local guides, and that most people on their tours are like-minded, adventurous, experienced travelers who love to travel. “I like to think of Intrepid as responsible travel,” Laura said.
Laura also likes that tours automatically introduce her, as a solo travel, to a group of like-minded people, many of whom she ultimately became friends with. “When I’m traveling by myself, I am maybe not as outgoing as I when I am in this country, but for whatever reason, the safety and comfort level of being on a trip allowed me to open up more and get to know people a little more….so I have friends in Australia and in Great Britain and in Ireland and Norway.”
So she set off on an epic adventure – 4 months in South America (on 4 back to back trips – 83 straight days on a tour), before heading to Easter Island, New Zealand, and Australia (where she visited Australian friends she met on her South American tours) on her own. She finished her trip with 5 months on tours through Southeast Asia.
How does this one experience change my thoughts about tours?
As I listened to Laura’s experience, I found myself nodding along with her through many parts of the interview.
Like Laura, I am also a planner. And while I’m comfortable with things like turning up in a new city without a place to stay, it isn’t my favorite part of long-term travel. As someone who likes to have a good balance between having a plan and spontaneity, I have always dismissed tours because I just assumed they take all the spontaneity out of travel.
As someone who likes to have a good balance between having a plan and spontaneity, I have always dismissed tours because I just assumed they take all the spontaneity out of travel.
But the more I talked with Laura and learned more about different organized tour companies (and there are lots of them out there to choose from), the more I realized that not all tour companies are made alike. Not all pile people into a massive bus like sardines, hand out name tags and colored hats, and set off to see as much as they can as quickly as they can.
I am also someone who sometimes struggles meeting new people on the road, so I really appreciate the fact that there are companies out there who have the same travel ideals that I have, and thus attract like-minded travelers who share my same travel philosophy.
As someone who preaches open-mindedness, how could I be so closed-minded about a particular type of travel, even though I actually know very little about it.
I’ve learned that I’ve been a bit of a hypocrite over the years. I travel largely because it opens my mind and helps me learn – about different people, different ideas, different places, different ways of living life. As someone who preaches open-mindedness, how could I be so closed-minded about a particular type of travel, even though I actually know very little about it.
All of this makes me think, “Maybe I need to seriously this whole tour group thing on my next trip?”
Check out the video below to see Laura’s interview in its entirety:
What are your thoughts on organized tours? Comment below to share your thoughts.