Independent vs Group Travel – Pros & Cons

Oh, a-travelling I will go!

As you may have gathered by now, I will travel anywhere at any time, but up until recently, I had never travelled (as a genuine tourist) with a group. When offered the opportunity to join a group of +70 year old Country Women’s Association ladies to trip around the Nepal, who was I to say ‘no’?

IMG_0357.JPGI do admit to wondering how I would adjust to being part of a group, rather than stepping out on my own into the world, but I was prepared to give it a try. So, I left my backpack on the shelf, daggy hiking boots in the cupboard, and sorted through my good clothes – ones that actually matched and sort of colour-coordinated – and prepared myself to be a follower/groupie rather than the chick up front.

As the tour progressed, I quickly identified a whole range of pros and cons about this mode of travel, and if you are wondering which is the best format for you? Read on…

‘Pros’:

  • Information: Throughout the tour, our group used the services of a number of professional guides. This was brilliant for developing a relationship with a local and getting an insight into the history and culture of a country. Yes, you could do this as an independent traveller, but I imagine it would be much more expensive to engage a private guide.
  • Strolling the streets of Patan, Nepal

    Strolling the streets of Patan, Nepal

    Overview: The tour covered the highlights and provided a good overview of the must-visit features of each location. We were shuttled from place with the minimum of fuss, with the maximum convenience, and all the time with commentary pointing out the peculiarities and points of interest. Naturally, we could ask our own specific questions to satisfy our individual curiosities.

  • Safety: Being part of a group helped us feel safe and secure in the knowledge that we weren’t stumbling blindly around the wrong end of town or needing to navigate through thronging traffic on our own. It also provided a small measure of security knowing how much we should be paying for various items and whether it was appropriate to haggle.
  • Relax: It was nice to go with the flow and switch off my brain from the simple travel logistics of what to eat, when to eat, and where to sleep the night. I could relax and literally enjoy the ride.
Exploring the Thean Huo Temple, Kuala Lumpur

Exploring the Thean Huo Temple, Kuala Lumpur

The flipside of this are the ‘Cons’:

  • Intrusiveness: Sometimes I found it intrusive to have someone talking at me all the time. Yes, they were very pleasant, were chock full of fascinating facts and figures, and they were only doing their job, but a constant stream of tourism monologue did my head in.
  • Thinking Time: Further to the previous point, when there is a constant stream of information, I find it hard to process all the input that is being thrown at me. Without some quiet thinking time, the information simply flows in one ear and out the other without me having weighed its importance of relevance. Yes, that is probably just the way my little brain works.
  • Bossy: In a group, someone was always telling me where to go and what to do. I must comply with someone else’s schedule rather than putter around on my own timing. In this tour, the schedule had very little free time which created the feeling of needing to rush, speeding from one activity to the next.
  • Guides: We had some fabulous guides on this trip, but even then, at times I felt we were not getting the full story. When it came to topics like politics and religion, I felt we got the ‘party line’ rather than the true reflection of what was happening in the country. Fair enough, I guess they have to be careful.
  • Welcome to Nepal. The streets of Bhaktapur.

    Welcome to Nepal. The streets of Bhaktapur.

    Stir Crazy: It was a good thing that the trip was only short. All lovely people, but I suspect that there would have been some frayed nerves (mostly mine) if we had been trapped together for long periods. As it was, the group did tend to split and go separate ways at every, and any, opportunity. We are grown-ups after all, and allowed to make that call.

  • Moving About: I feel that we lost some precious time as we had to move as a group. It takes longer to get to/from/through airports and attractions when 13 people are on the go rather than one or two. That means less time doing interesting things. Even if it is just an hour or two, it all adds up.
  • All Care, No Responsibility: Yes, this can be a good thing as I mentioned above, but at times I felt guilty that my brain was parked in neutral and it was someone else’s responsibility to ensure we met our deadlines. Perhaps this was good for me, not to be such a control freak, and allowed more brain power to take in all the remarkable places and people that I was seeing.
IMG_0475.JPG

The ladies shopping up a storm…

At this stage in my travelling life, the Cons outweigh the Pros. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and especially the support from our Nepalese guide, but it’s an independent traveller’s life for me. Perhaps this will change as I get older, or when I visit overwhelming destinations such as India, but I hope my individual wanderlust will remain strong for a long while yet.

If there is one key learning about group travel, it is to pick a tour that has plenty of free time built in. The ability to pick and choose how to spend some of your day is a vital consideration. You can always fill it with additional activities if you choose and there will always be a tout willing to sell you a tour. Alternatively, simply park yourself somewhere comfortable with a very large, cold beer or strong cuppa, and marvel at all that you have seen that day.

Yes, this is a First World issue and I acknowledge the privileged life I have to be able to travel!

How do you travel?

April 2017

Our fabulous guide Nabin, explains the funeral proceedings at the Kathmandu sacred cremation site.

Our fabulous guide Nabin, explains the funeral proceedings at the Kathmandu sacred cremation site.

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2 thoughts on “Independent vs Group Travel – Pros & Cons

  1. My tip is to travel independently and if you want a group tour within that you can choose them on the run for a day, half day or pehaps longer. The uncertainty of independent travel is part of the adventure and endures long after the happy snaps!
    Can’t say I warm to a highly held umbrella as my guiding light – good chance I would be an escapee on such a journey!

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  2. Ahhh, the best of both worlds!

    No right or wrong – it is just what works for you at the time depending on your budget, time available and mindset! I will definitely be following that umbrella, at least in the early days, when I head to India later in the year! 😉 Mel

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