I have been an avid traveller since I turned 20 and in the past five years, I have had my fair share of adventures. From hiking up a volcano in Bali to white-water rafting in the Canadian Rockies, my trips around the world have been pretty varied. But what has also been varied is whether or not I’ve chosen to travel solo or join a tour group.
Both options have their highs and lows and I would say that neither is right for everyone. If you’ve never travelled alone (and no, I’m afraid catching the train from one end of England to the other doesn’t really count) you might be trying to decide which one is right for you. This is a fair question and not one that is easy to answer. Tons of questions will be whirling around your head, like:
• Will I be safe travelling alone?
• What if I don’t like the other people on my tour?
• Will, a tour restrict me from doing all the things I want to do?
• Which is more expensive?
• Will I be lonely travelling on my own?
I’ve been lucky enough to have trialled and tested both kinds of travel and honestly, I love them both! I love being able to travel to my own timings and not have to compromise my plans for anyone else, but likewise, I like to have experiences with people that make memories, and meeting new people from all different cultures is one of the biggest benefits I think anyone can take from travelling!
So, to help you decide which type of travel would suit you best for your first time travelling without your family or friends, here are my three Pro’s and Con’s to Group Tours and Solo Travel:
Pro’s to Group Tours
• New Friends – One day you’re introducing yourself to a group of strangers, all awkwardly being reminded of their first day of school and trying to suss out the different personalities of the class. A week later, your sobbing on the shoulders of your new group of best mates who you promise you’ll keep in touch with no matter what!
• Peace of mind – My favourite thing about group tours is that I can pick a trip with an itinerary that meets all my needs, and know that all I have to do from there is sit back and look forward to enjoying my trip. All the stressful, behind-the-scenes stuff like arranging travel between activities, ensuring accommodation is booked, is all taken care of by the tour company and my tour leader. Also, whilst you’re on your trip you know you’ve always got your tour guide to turn to should you need any help.
• Cost – Although some group tours can seem pricey, what you have to remember is you pay to let someone else worry about the important things and you are able to have a stress-free, yet actioned packed holiday and focus on having fun with your new best friends!
Con’s to Group Travel
• Set Itinerary – There are so many amazing group tour operators out there at the moment so being able to find the right itinerary for you shouldn’t be a problem. However, depending on how many things you want to do in one place, it may be hard to find an itinerary that ticks all of your boxes.
• Accommodation – Most tour operators are going to try to ensure you are getting the most for what you pay. So you might find that the hotels you stay in are less luxury boutique, and more cheap & cheerful so that they can put more into the overall experience including the activities on offer. This isn’t to say they won’t be perfectly clean and have the comfiest beds but if you prefer to stay somewhere that guarantees room service and a heated indoor pool, you may want to bear this in mind.
• Personal Space – A group of strangers put together will most likely also mean, a group of very different personalities, mixing together, in an unknown destination, away from familiarities for at least a week. You need to keep an open mind about sharing almost all of your time with this small group of people. Group tours are normally jam-packed with activities and alone-time is few and far between.
Pros to Solo Travel:
• No compromise – The great thing about travelling on your own is that you can tailor your travel plans to entirely what you want them to be. You can plan to go where you want when you want and for however long you want. You won’t have to worry about possibly sacrificing some lifelong bucket-list excursions because your travel buddy “just doesn’t fancy it.”
• Last-minute changes – Creating your own itinerary to follow means that if you are enjoying your time in one particular place, you can choose to stay in that place a little longer and change your travel plans slightly. So if you’re backpacking around Europe and you feel like you need more time spent in one area, you could just extend your stay a couple more days, then carry on with your trip `(provided your booking future accommodation along the way and not in advance – which is another thing you could do if you’re only having to worry about you!)
Likewise, if you’re not really enjoying a certain place, you could look to move on sooner than your originally planned – it will be entirely up to you!
• Confidence Booster – Coming back from a solo trip and being able to say “Wow, did I really just do that?!” is the best feeling. When you’re travelling solo, you not only become self-aware but socially aware as well. To be able to navigate your way around unknown places, handle strange currencies and communicating with people through language barriers can leave you thinking, “If I can get through that, I can do anything!”
Con’s to Solo Travel:
• Staying Safe – It’s as the saying goes, “Safety in numbers”. In a tour group, not only are you surrounded by your new-found travel buddies, but you will also have a tour leader who knows their way around, understands the safety concerns of the places you visit and the appropriate measures to put in place to ensure everything runs smoothly. On your own, these are things you will have to think of yourself. This can be done but it will involve research on your part before you travel.
• It can be lonely – I am the type of person that loves their own space. I love taking my time to wander around new places and take them in at my own pace. But there does come a point when even I miss being able to talk about what I’ve seen with someone else. Sometimes meeting new people on my travels does the trick for me, but they are only “fleeting-friends” when it comes to solo-travel and soon enough I’m back to exploring on my own which can eventually get lonely.
• Luggage struggles – Imagine having wandered around an unknown city for the past 6 hours and finally being able to sit back and relax on the train to your next destination. All of a sudden you realise that you are bursting for the loo! Not wanting to leave your luggage alone and not having anyone you know to leave it with, you have no choice but to take it with you…only thing is, train toilets (like most public transport toilet facilities) don’t allow for breathing space once the door is closed, let alone space for personal belongings…the train journey is 4 hours long!
Weighing it all up…
Don’t let the cons put you off! There are downsides to all types of travel, but what you need to ask yourself is, do these things concern me and can I make it work despite them?
If you’re the type of person that loves meeting new people and can sacrifice a few original ideas on your checklist and preferred comforts when travelling, Group Tours will be the perfect chance for you to make a tonne of new friends, see exciting new places and have incredible hassle-free adventures!
If you like the idea of putting in the hard work to plan the perfect itinerary, researching destinations before you travel and like to go at your own pace, with your own company, then solo travel is the way for you!
Whichever type of travel you choose, make sure you do your research beforehand to get the most out of your trip.
Here are some of my personal favourite recommendations to get you started:
Gap360 – Gap360 is a tour operator for 18-30year olds and organised all sorts of itineraries around the world from Adventure travel, Volunteering projects and even paid work. Their call centre staff are super helpful and help you decide the best trip for you.
Gadventures -Gadventures work in a similar way to Gap360 except they don’t just focus on the 18-30 bracket. They also cater for different travel styles such as Marine lovers, Family-friendly, Active adventures and Rail Journeys to meet all traveller needs!
Loney Planet– Lonely planet is a travellers hub of information on every destination imaginable. Not only do they tell you the top accommodation and attractions to see, but they also give you important information on health, etiquette, Safety precautions etc.
They also have a book out called the Solo Travel Handbook which is a solo-travellers bible!
STA Travel – STA Travel can arrange all your travel in one place so that you can have the reassurance of a tour operator but still get the most out of your solo travel experience. They can arrange everything from flights, excursions, transport and insurance.