Travel Tips

To tour or not to tour, that is the question

I’m generally a very independent traveler, which I probably picked up from years of independent travel with my family.  But I have done a few tours and found that there is a time and place for organized tours, and there’s also some people for whom touring is the better way to go.  Our 2014 Round the World trip will include a couple of tours for reasons I’ll talk about in a minute.  Here’s my overview (based on my experiences) of various types of tours for all budgets, followed by some pros and cons to consider before you plan your next adventure.

 

Types of Tours

Educational Tours– Low to middle price range, these are aimed at school groups and are a good option for people under 18.  You’ll have a guide at all times and meet other people your age from other parts of the world.  EF Tours

Semi-Independent Traveler Tours– Low to middle price range, these tours are geared towards the backpacking type who for some reason or another want slightly more structure or company.  You won’t be with your guide at all times, but they’ll help you make the most of your free time.  Mostly 20-30 somethings on these tours.  Intrepid Travel and G Adventures 

Cruises– Low to high price range, cruises vary from simple to luxurious and can be found in every ocean, as well as many lakes and rivers. If you want to see multiple islands in a region, there’s simply no way that’s more efficient than a cruise. Larger boats mean larger crowds and bigger ports, while smaller ships provide a more intimate experience and can reach more secluded locations.

Vacation Packages– All price ranges and ages, most vacation packages will include airfare and a hotel in one location.  You can find great deals that make this type of package a very family-friendly option.  Guides and excursions are usually not included, but all-inclusive resorts will include food and drinks.  Apple Vacations

Private Tours– These are the most expensive tours, but are fully customized to your desires.  For my parents’ 30th anniversary, they splurged on a private tour of Australia (where they lived when my older sister was born).  They wanted to see highlights of the country as well as visit some of the places they hadn’t been to in 30 years, and a private tour can make that happen.  You may or may not have a guide with you at all times (a guide will cost more), but you’ll have transportation and excursions arranged and a dedicated travel agent you can reach with any problems.  Swain Destinations

EF tour to Mexico in high school, at Tulum; Swain tour to Australia including Ayers Rock at sunrise; Intrepid Hilltribe trek in Thailand; Apple Vacations is great for deals to Caribbean all-inclusive resorts including the Dominican Republic

EF tour to Mexico in high school, at Tulum; Swain tour to Australia including Ayers Rock at sunrise; Intrepid Hilltribe trek in Thailand; Apple Vacations is great for deals to Caribbean all-inclusive resorts including the Dominican Republic

Pros and Cons of Touring

(these will vary based on the type of tour and group you’re with)

Pros
-meet awesome new people in your group
-access sites that are not open to the regular public
-get local insight on culture and history
-find out where the locals go to eat, drink and play
-less stressing about arranging transportation, accommodations, and meals
-safety net if anything goes wrong

Cons
-get stuck with annoying, or otherwise unpleasant people in your group
-usually more expensive than independent travel
-less flexibility and freedom to do what you want, when you want

Group tours can be great for meeting new people and finding secret spots (like just the right vine to swing through the jungle like Tarzan).  Groups and guides also come in handy when you end up with severe food poisoning and need other people to carry your pack, navigate the boat, and share their toilet paper or medicines with you!

Group tours can be great for meeting new people and finding secret spots (like just the right vine to swing through the jungle like Tarzan). Groups and guides also come in handy when you end up with severe food poisoning and need other people to carry your pack, navigate the boat, and share their toilet paper or medicines with you!

 

Given the pros and cons we’ve decided to do two tours on our upcoming trip.  We really enjoyed our Hilltribe Trek in Thailand with Intrepid Travel, so we’ll be using them to tour Vietnam.  I have no doubt that I could work my way through Vietnam by myself, but I enjoy meeting new people, not having to arrange overnight trains myself, and the ability to see and do some things that would be more difficult solo. We would’ve preferred one of their Basix tours, which is cheaper and allows more independence, but the one that fit best with our schedule is an Original tour, Scenic Vietnam, that happens to include some neat things like a night in Halong Bay on a Vietnamese junk.

 

The other tour we’ll be taking is a cruise of the Maldives.  As a marine science buff, the Maldives is one of my dream destinations, and one that is extremely threatened by sea level rise.  Since resorts are so expensive (with food/excursions usually extra) and allow you to explore only one island, this is a perfect location for cruising.  I’m not a fan of the mega cruise ships that take hours to unload at each port and can access very few ports, but the cruising vessels in the Maldives are all much smaller and more intimate.  We debated between a traditional Dhoni cruise or a more modern vessel, and settled on the Yasawa Princess due to its low(ish) cost, great reviews online, and more comfortable accommodations.

 

 

Stay tuned throughout 2014 to find out how our latest tours stack up to our solo adventures!

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