It might seem a little odd writing a post about tours for independent travelers, but there are times when a tour can be a great alternative to independent travel. So what do you do when you don’t want to go it alone?
Times when a tour might be a great alternative to traveling independently:
- Short on time to research your trip
- Short visit at a destination
- Specialist interests
- Language or cultural challenges
- Limited transportation options
- Remote locations
- Specialist equipment needed
- Restricted access
Let’s look at each scenario and find solutions for the independent traveler who hates the idea of taking a group tour.
Short on Time to Research/Plan a Trip
If you have lots of time, and can find the information, planning your own trip can be very rewarding and save you a lot of money. However, we don’t always have a lot of time, or there is not a lot of information available about a destination.
In these cases, a tour might be a great option. And taking a tour doesn’t have to mean a large group tour. If you are primarily an independent traveler, the thought of boarding a bus with 40-50 people for a week-long tour is probably not your idea of a great trip. I know it is not mine.
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Self-drive trips, packaged vacations, all-inclusive resorts and private tours provide alternatives to taking a group tour and they don’t have to cost a fortune.
- Self-drive trips or package vacations- rental car, accommodation and itinerary are set and booked for you. Package vacations also include airfares. A self-drive or package vacation still provides independent travel, but it removes the travel planning saving you time and energy. It can be slightly more expensive than booking it yourself, but worth it if you are short on time. Look for off season or specials which can save you money.
- All-inclusive hotels/resorts
- A private tour – Many people think this is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Read more about saving money on a private tour in our longer article. Advantages of a private tour include a custom itinerary for you, no group tours, no fixed departure dates and no inflated tour prices.
In Peru, at Lake Titicaca, we stayed in an all-inclusive hotel. Our day trips, meals, and accommodation were included. We were able to select local activities to match our interests and our guide accompanied us each day.
Short Visit to a Destination
If you have limited time, taking a tour can be a great way to pack a lot of activities and information into a short period of time, maximizing your vacation.
This can be a fantastic day trip or several days of travel.
You can use a local guide and enjoy a well-planned day showing the local highlights and making sure you don’t miss a thing.
- Private or Small Group Day tours- a great way to pack a lot into a day.
- Private Tour for one or several days
When we were in Rome, we wanted to visit the Amalfi Coast (who doesn’t) but didn’t want an overnight trip so we decided on a very well organized Rome to Amalfi Coast day trip with Take Walks. We utilized the high-speed train, private van transportation and a boat to explore the cities of the Amalfi Coast. All of this would have been difficult, if not impossible, to organize ourselves for one day.
If you have a special interest taking a small group or private tour allows access to activities or attractions which you may not otherwise be able to access. And provides a knowledgeable guide so you make the most of your time.
If you are like us, exploring the local foods is always part of a trip. If we are staying for an extended period, for examples weeks, we have plenty of time to explore on our own. If we only have a few days, a short food tour or cooking class can be a great way to learn more about the cuisine.
Pick your special interest, and there is probably a tour designed just for you. It can be a great way to see the highlights and learn a lot of information in a short period of time.
In London we enjoyed a British Rock Tour and spent the day exploring the history of some of our favorite music! We enjoyed food tours in London, and cooking classes in Morocco, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Peru and may other places around the world.
Some Places to Find Great Day Tours
For day tours to match any interest try sites like Viator or Get Your Guide.
A couple of our favorite small tour operators include-Take Walks, Context Travel and Europe Eats.
Language or Cultural Challenges
When you don’t know a lot about the language or the culture, traveling on your own can present challenges.
In some developing countries, tourism infrastructure is still immature and finding and booking travel arrangements including accommodation can be challenging. Using a local guide or operator can save you hours of frustration and make your trip much more enjoyable.
In Vietnam, in Mai Chau we used a local guide when visiting the local villages. He was able to take us to places we would otherwise not be able to visit alone. He was also our interpreter for the day. The afternoon we spent with a local couple in their home was one of the highlights of our travels through Vietnam, so much so, we wrote a post about our afternoon and getting to know the locals.
In Morocco, we traveled with a local guide through the Moroccan desert. This was perfect as it also provided transportation between Marrakech and Fez as well. We spent 5 days exploring the local Berber culture and stayed overnight in a tented camp in the desert. The afternoon we spent in a Berber village having authentic couscous and lamb tagine was an experience we would never have had as independent travelers.
Limited Transportation Options
Sometimes the logistics of travel are just too much or too difficult to organize on your own.
When we wanted to travel through the Mekong Delta of Vietnam I struggled to work out if there was any public transportation or if so how to organize it.
In the end we found a local travel company which provided a driver and guide. This saved us a lot of time both planning and when were on the ground. We spent our time enjoying the sites not trying to find our way to the next destination.
And since we used a local company, it didn’t cost anymore than if I had organized it myself.
A second example is when we went on safari in Africa. The camps we stayed at had long travel distances and we utilized bush planes to move from one camp to another. We would never have been able to sort this on our own. Using a safari specialist, our custom itinerary organized our accommodation and transportation.
Accessing Remote Locations
Some places are difficult to reach on your own or lack tourism infrastructure.
In these cases, a short tour can be the perfect solution. Short cruises also fall into this category as often locations are only accessible by water.
Places where a short cruise provided access- the Amazon River, Halong Bay and a cruise around the tip of South America (Patagonia). We selected small ships for these journeys for the opportunities to leave the boat and explore the area.
Entering Torres Del Paine National Park via Rio Serrano took us through a very remote area not accessible by road. We traveled up river passing the Great Southern Ice Sheet and passing spectacular remote scenery few people ever see.
The Bay of Fires in Tasmania (Australia) is a remote area. Options for this multi day hike include camping or an organized tour. Since we prefer not to camp (and carry our gear) we joined a small group tour. This provided a guide, all meals and a comfortable bed and warm shower each day. We enjoyed the spectacular scenery and remote location. After each day of hiking ended, we experienced all the comforts you would expect.
Specialist Equipment or Skills Needed
If you require specialist equipment, for example bikes or rafting equipment, taking a tour or joining a small group can provide access to the equipment and eliminate the need for you to buy or pack this gear.
Sometimes, you just aren’t permitted to travel independently. This has happened to us several times.
If you want to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, guess what, you need a permit and a guide. And permits are very limited. Once you select a guide, he will organize the permits.
No independent travel is permitted in Bhutan. Once you select a tour company, they organize all your travel arrangements, including obtaining visas and booking your international flights. Once on the ground your driver and guide take care of everything!
When possible, we try to work with local companies for both accommodation and travel. More of the money you spend in the country remains in the community and you get the local perspective as you travel.
Many of our readers are independent travelers, and we are too, but there can be times when getting some assistance planning your trip or just having someone do it for you can be exactly what you need!