Group holidays can get a bit of a bad press. Horror stories abound of being forced to spend your trip with a tedious bunch of randoms, having to share a room with a snoring stranger, spending hours on a bus being waffled at by a bored guide, or being dragged round crowded attractions that don’t interest you without the freedom to set your own pace or do your own thing. But while these are certainly rational fears, and group trips do have their downsides, there are plenty of reasons why I personally think they’re one of the best ways to travel, especially if you’re on your own.
As a single woman and a busy freelancer I’ve often found it hard to get people to come on holiday with me. And no, it’s not because I’m awful – at least, I hope not! Nope, the problem is that more often than not my friends want to travel with their other halves, or we can’t make the dates work. Which is why I’ve turned to group tours as an excellent alternative, and not just when I’m on my own either; I’ve joined group trips with a friend or boyfriend too.
Here are some of the group holidays I’ve done, with links to the posts I’ve written about them:
- Walking in Mallorca with Explore (my first group tour, all the way back in 2007)
- A tour of Cuba with G Adventures in 2013
- Best of Myanmar with Intrepid* in 2015 (posts from that trip are here)
- Climbing Kilimanjaro with Exodus* in 2016 (I wrote masses of posts about it; here they are)
- Southern India with Intrepid* in 2016 (find out more here)
- Highlights of Morocco with Flash Pack in 2018 (read about that one here)
These days there are literally hundreds of companies offering every style of group holiday to every destination on the planet. So if you’ve been thinking about booking one, here are 10 reasons why I think they’re pretty great.
1/ You don’t have to do any work
Unless you’re going to book an all-inclusive hotel and sit on a beach for a week, planning a holiday involves an awful lot of research. You’ve got to investigate flights, accommodation, visas, health and safety, on-the-ground transport and loads more. Of course some people enjoy this stuff, but if you’re too busy, or you’d rather just get to your destination and enjoy your holiday, why not just sit back and let someone else plan it all for you?
2/ You’ll get taken to the best places
No need to scour blogs or guidebooks trying to work out what to see and what you can skip. The company you travel with will have already done all the research, and will have listened to feedback from previous travellers to perfect their itinerary. So there’ll be no need to dither about where to go, and no FOMO that you’re missing something great.
3/ Local experts with insider knowledge
Your group will be led by a qualified guide who is truly passionate and knowledgeable about his or her country. Yes, you could wander around by yourself with the Lonely Planet, but what better way to see a country than in the company of someone who actually knows the place and can answer all your questions?
4/ Smooth and efficient travel
If you travel on your own, you’ll invariably end up wasting a lot of time. Maybe your hotel is a long way from the bus station. Maybe there are only two trains a day. Maybe the bus is super slow and stops everywhere. Maybe you turn up at the temple to find it’s closed for prayers. With a group trip, you avoid all of that. Your private tour bus, tuktuk or 4WD jeep will pick you up outside your hotel and drop you right at your destination. The itinerary will have been worked out to fit in as much as possible. If you only have a short amount of time, a group tour is absolutely the best way to see as much as possible with the minimum amount of faffing and time wasted.
5 / Safety and support
Particularly if you’re visiting a country where things don’t always run smoothly, having a local guide with local contacts can be priceless. He or she will be able to deal with issues as they arise, ease your passage through checkpoints and past officials, and if anything does go seriously wrong, sort it out for you.
Whereas if you travel on your own and disaster strikes, well, you’re on your own.
6/ They’re surprisingly cost effective
You might think group tours are super expensive, but they can actually be exceptional value for money. Travel companies can often negotiate group discounts that you’d never be able to get on your own, plus when you factor in the time efficiency that I’ve just mentioned, that means you’ll be able to see more of a country in less time, saving you food and accommodation costs. And don’t think they’re all about roughing it either – there are levels of group tour to suit all budgets, from the more basic, camping-style ones to much more upmarket trips where you get to stay in fancy hotels for a much better rate than you’d get if you booked it by yourself.
7/ They allow you to keep control of your spending
If you travel alone, you quite often have no idea how much it’ll end up costing, and sometimes you can get caught out by unexpected nasty surprise charges. A group trip solves that problem. Apart from some meals and tips, the price tag you see listed is what you’ll pay, allowing you to keep control of your finances. Even better, you pay up front, meaning that when you return from your holiday it’s already been paid for, and you’re not left looking at a hefty credit card bill to add to those back-to-work blues.
8/ You can go on your own, but not be alone
I’m a sociable person, and I like sharing experiences with people. But I also like my own space, and when travelling with a friend I’ve sometimes found it can get a bit intense being in each other’s company 24/7. That’s why group trips are so perfect. You have plenty of company to talk to at mealtimes or whenever you’re feeling sociable, but you can also distance yourself from the group or wander off to do your own thing when you’re not.
9/ Make new friends
The sorts of people who book group tours will be just like you and me: outgoing, adventurous types who want to see the world. Yes, you might not click with everyone, but unless you’re really annoying yourself it’s highly likely that you’ll meet at least a few people you get on well with. On my Myanmar trip in 2015 I met a Kiwi woman called Sarah – and we became such good friends that we climbed Kilimanjaro together in 2016. My Morocco group in 2018 was also a brilliant bunch, many of whom I’m sure I’ll stay in touch with. So if you’re lucky you won’t just get a few pleasant travel buddies, but some friends for life.
And as an added bonus you’ll always have someone on hand to take y0ur photo for Instagram and Facebook!
9/ Argument-free travel with friends and partners
Of course you don’t have to be a solo traveller to take a group trip. As I’ve just mentioned, when I climbed Kilimanjaro I went with my friend Sarah. In 2013 I did a group trip to Cuba with my then-boyfriend. Friends and couples often do group trips too – it’s a great way to avoid any arguments over planning, and also to dilute that intensity of having to spend a week or more with just one person and discovering you’ve run out of things to say to each other after day three.
10/ Unique experiences and special access
Travelling with a local guide can often get you access to things and places you’d never manage on your own. Sometimes you can skip queues or get in through the secret back entrance. Sometimes you can get in early before the masses arrive. In Israel our West Bank tour guide took us to have lunch with his mum, and we had a fascinating experience learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Myanmar we were woken up before dawn to climb a temple and watch the sunrise, something I very much doubt I would have done if I’d been there on my own.
So yes, group trips can have their downsides. You may well have to put up with someone annoying, and you won’t have as much freedom to do what you want, when you want. But for me, the advantages of travelling with a group massively outweigh the disadvantages, and that’s why I plan to continue doing them for as long as my travelling days continue.
Have you been on a group trip? What was your experience like? Would you recommend it? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.