Maybe Organized Tours Aren’t So Bad After All?

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?

Machu Picchu Group Jump

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’s experience

 Holi Group

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?

Bolivia Think Shot

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.

 

 

 

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  • Steven Ward said at 2014-06-13T19:23:46+0000: We have gone on a number of tours in Italy, England, Turkey and Greece. Without exception, I was glad I did every time. If you understand that most tours have to offer a lot to get people to join them, then you should expect to be hustled from here to there to pack it all in. When I want to see something at my own pace, then we go by ourselves. Going on shore excursions is a must when you are taking a cruise because of the time constraints. When you only have 5 or 6 hours, an organized tour is the only way to go if you want to see any major sights. Sigh... Now I want to go on a tour.
  • Ivy Myles said at 2014-06-10T01:21:54+0000: I have just returned from a three month indie tour of Australia and New Zealand. While in the midst of the traveling I was having a great time getting outside my comfort zone. In between those two countries I did an Intrepid tour of Indonesia. Now that I am home I realize how I had to be "on" all the time as a solo woman. The brain could not rest. There was always something to be considering from safety to sleeping. I am burnt out. Hopefully this will pass but I have decided tours may be the better option. Let their brains do the work. I will show up with enthusiasm.
  • Samantha Avnet said at 2014-06-09T14:23:26+0000: I have done 2 contiki tours and there were a fabulous way to go, many solo travelers on each tour I did so I didn't feel alone at all. Plus made life easier for me, who is a meeting planner by career so planning outside of that is sometimes something I do not look forward to.
  • Mary Slaughter said at 2013-09-07T02:47:50+0000: I have done multiple REI Adventure and experienced the same advantages as Laura. I will undoubtedly do more of these trips.
  • Marilinne Cooper said at 2013-09-20T01:57:37+0000: I did two Intrepid tours last year as part of an indie round-the-world trip as a solo woman traveler and they totally enriched my experience. I have always planned my own trips, but I am a fan and a convert. Will definitely travel with Intrepid again to places I might never see otherwise!
  • Hollijo Monroe said at 2013-09-07T04:56:22+0000: I think the type of trip and type of company make a huge difference in the type of people and the experience you get. As long as the trip itinerary covers the things I want to see and do I have come to prefer small group tours when I travel solo.
  • Laura Rinderknecht said at 2013-09-12T04:15:32+0000: It definitely all depends on the tour company. Do your homework. I've done 12 trips with Intrepid, so obviously I'm a huge fan. I like the similar "indy travel minded" passengers but also really appreciate a multigenerational group - especially on my last trip (Cuba) where I was able to get the international historical perspective as well as the local guide's thoughts.Intrepid has also taken me into places I wouldn't have gone to on my own - Syria & Tibet for example. I appreciate that. They don't just do the touristy stuff but actually try to get you into more "real life." Public transit on basic trips, local hotels, home stays, etc. I really value the extra effort they put in to not be a gaggle of tourists.That said, I did a different company in New Zealand & realized I was spending 8 days with 18 year old Brits who were away from home for the first time ever... Yikes. Definitely not my style... So - do your homework. ;)
  • Trish Mullen Rempen said at 2013-09-09T18:46:06+0000: After living in 12 countries on 4 continents, traveling and working constantly for years, I never considered "group" travel. Long story short, Intrepid changed my mind. (Yes, we visited orphanages and local landmine museums, I'd never have done that on my own, it was more fun and interesting than it may sound!) We went places I wouldn't have found on my own, and I didn't have to worry about where I was staying every night. Or how to get there.
  • Tony Chan said at 2013-09-08T07:01:06+0000: I'm an indie traveler through and through, but whenever I do an organized tour I try to find a local owned company. With all respect to GAP tours and Intrepid travel they are based out of Toronto and Melbourne. I'd like to know that my money went towards building or orphanage or to building a school for abused children. At the very least it'll stay in the country. I've done organized tours and Vietnam and Morocco. They've been incredible! Having someone else do your planning and thinking while you relax to recharge yourself was a godsend! I know for my upcoming RTW trip, I'll be looking to book an organized tour. *This post is not a criticism against Intrepid or GAP. I'm just expressing my travel style.
  • Anjaly Sharma Malani said at 2013-09-07T01:59:55+0000: I have never liked tours myself but this article has definitely got me thinking. And after a recent trip through Thailand with my parents (where I took the responsibility of planning everything), I wish I had done a tour with them because it was just so difficult to make sure they were ok with the choices and spontaneity I travel with.. If I had just booked a tour, I would have enjoyed that trip a lotttt more for sure. I guess both ways of traveling can be fun...
  • Jared Alster said at 2013-09-11T20:23:26+0000: Hi Tony. Jared from Intrepid here. Glad to hear you have done trips with us and liked them. I thought you'd like to know that we've recently completed our Responsible Business Report for last year and calculated that $60m stayed in local economies from our trips. That's on top of the money we raised for local community groups through The Intrepid Foundation. We agree with you that supporting local communities should be a priority for travelers and travel companies alike and it's always front of mind for us. Happy travels!
  • Kate Green said at 2013-09-07T07:11:48+0000: Can't really afford entire tours with 4 kids going with me but we have hired a few local tour guides to take over and help. We did that in Siem Reap a few weeks ago and in April we hired an Egyptologist and driver in Luxor. I found both times that the experience went way beyond simply getting their knowledge and going to inside spots (which we did). We became friends and talked politics and cultural norms and family. Our guy in Egypt invited us to his home and a meal with his wife and children. We treasure that. It took the need to plan the entire day out of my hands and I relaxed and was able to sit back and enjoy the visits. Nice considering I was planning so much else!
  • Oompie Niinja said at 2013-09-07T10:54:45+0000: I have done several tours with Intrepid and love their small group, grassroots travel ethos. You are with like minded travellers as opposed to tourists.
  • Claudia Maag said at 2013-12-16T17:13:01+0000: Is it possible to get in touch with Laura rinderknecht by e-mail or Facebook? I'm thinking about doing something similar but would be helpful to talk to somebody (especially a girl travelling the world by herself) that has all that experience and could give me some tips.. would be great if i could contact her or if you could let her know so she might contact me :)