I have to confess that I’m a serial independent traveller. My first big backpacking trip was at the age of 18 on a classic “gap year” loop around Southeast Asia, with a bit of a twist to include India and Nepal. At that time, the idea of taking a group tour seemed entirely foreign to me. I wrote it off as something created for a very different type of traveller than I was. Nine years later (and only slightly wiser), I’ve learned the huge value group adventure trips can have for starting your love affair with the world of travel. With amazing trips planned by companies like our fellow Canadians at Free & Easy, you can get off the beaten path, leave a positive social impact, and learn the ropes of travel without sacrificing, well, anything! If you’re as skeptical as a younger me once was, these six reasons may change your mind about group tours.
A group trip will help you travel more responsibly.
The first time I travelled independently I was guilty of an embarrassing number of irresponsible travel moves. I bought small plastic water bottles everywhere I went. I avoided the tiger temples and elephant rides, but accidentally went to a tarsier “sanctuary” in the Philippines that wasn’t really a sanctuary at all. Let’s just say I wasn’t the most responsible traveller, as much as I did try to be. That’s why travelling with a group can be such a great way to backpack. There are a handful of fantastic companies out there who are really focused on ethical travel in all of the activities they plan, and the best ones have responsible travel policies built right into the heart of who they are. Free & Easy is one great example of this and it’s part of the reason we have a huge amount of love for them. Installing reusable water coolers at the accommodations they choose for their trips, implementing an initiative that turns used beer can tabs into prosthetic limbs for those in need, and promoting ethical animal treatment on the ground, this team of travellers has really embedded responsible travel into every one of their adventures (if you’re curious, you can check out all of their initiatives here). This makes it a lot easier to learn the ins and outs of being a responsible traveller than going at it alone on your first adventure.
You get an automatic group of friends.
You may have thought about travelling alone, but the fear of sitting yourself down at a table full of strangers scared you off. I used to term it “hostel speed dating” as I’d stressfully move tables until I finally found the one full of fellow travellers I best meshed with. It can be a daunting experience at first and it can be nice to have a batch of like-minded people to hang out with immediately, which group travel provides. Better yet, they’re going the same direction as you are! There’s nothing worse than finding your travel soulmate and realizing you’re heading south in Vietnam and he or she is going north. Travelling with a group helps you avoid this unfortunate issue and it’s a great way to be introduced to the lifelong friendships you’ll make when you travel!
You reduce your chances of getting ripped off.
This is a huge one for me. When I first arrived in Bangkok I was horribly ripped off getting my bus to the Cambodian border. When I first arrived in Kathmandu, my cheap hotel had lost my reservation and I was taken to a freezing “hotel” (read: cupboard) next door at 2am. When you’re travelling on your own for the first time it’s inevitable that you’ll get ripped off. Travelling with a group, and particularly with a trip leader who knows what she/he is doing, goes a long way. Your chances of getting seriously ripped off are decreased significantly and you won’t be left with that sour taste in your mouth on your first day in a new country.
You get to see the coolest places. Guaranteed.
I missed a whole bunch of amazing places travelling by myself. For some reason I didn’t go to Guatapé when I visited Colombia. I missed Chiang Mai in Thailand. And these are only two examples. There were a lot of spots I simply didn’t think to see that I definitely should have. The great thing about an organized trip when you’re starting out is that these experts really know what to see. Free & Easy is one of the best I’ve seen for this. Their trip leaders have been to the spots they visit a bunch of times, so they really know where to take travellers.
Group trips are convenient and easy when you don’t know where to start.
We’ve all been there. Booking that flight for the first time on your own can be scary. It’s tough to know what to do first, how much you should plan or not plan, what type of places you should stay at, and the list goes on. Group trips make it easy to get your trip started, and while I used to imagine they would be like summer camp with chaperones running around wherever you went, group adventures have advanced far beyond this outdated notion. A number of them incorporate time for you to go off on your own and get your feet wet doing stints of independent adventure. This is an awesome opportunity to get a feel for exploring on your own (or with some of your new friends) while still having some of the harder or less interesting organizational bits of travelling sorted for you. With a group trip, you get a firsthand tutorial of what you need to do for planning your future trips (with or without a group!). It’s a great stepping stone and one that makes travel a lot more accessible to different comfort levels and personalities.
You can worry less about planning and more about travelling and experiencing the culture.
It’s easy to get consumed with the logistical details. Going between several different agents to find the cheapest bus ride to your next city or spending an hour on Hostelworld to find the best accommodation can detract from really being in the moment when you’re on the road. On a group trip you can sit back on the planning side of things and really focus on getting to know the country and culture you’re visiting. It helps you be present on your travels, which can be tough if you’re always trying to plan what’s next.