When I went to Europe when I was 18, I chose to take a tour rather than independent travel. Then, just this past year, I chose to do part of my Australia trip as a tour. A lot of people have asked – why a tour?
I feel that there’s a lot of negativity associated with tour group travel, some of it warranted, some not. Personally, I believe that a lot of the issues come from specific companies or groups and do not reflect positively on the travel style as a whole. There’s a lot to be said about travelling with a tour guide and a group of like minded individuals. Below are my reasons to choose to travel this way:
1. Travelling Solo, Not Travelling Alone
I’d been planning to go to Europe for years, had been tossing it around with different friends, and had even gotten to the planning stage with one of them. But then circumstances changed and I was left with going alone or not going at all.
But I was a little 18 year old (though I didn’t think so then). With absolutely no travel experience – I’d never even been on a plane! So the thought of backpacking around Europe, which had been my previous plan, was absolutely terrifying. As it should be, especially as a young women. I know there are a lot of blogs/info about women who travel alone and how to do it safely – personally, I am very hesitant about doing so. Plus, when you travel alone it really limits what most of us are comfortable about doing solo.
So I stopped at a travel agency, picked up all the Europe brochures I could carry and started searching for the perfect trip.
2. The Right Company
When you’re deciding if you want to do a tour it is essential that you choose the right company. That is, the right company for you. You want to look at what level of accommodation you’ll be staying in – are you paying for 5 star hotels when you’d be perfectly happy in a hostel? Are you flying from stop to stop or taking a bus? How many meals are provided – sometimes more is better, sometimes it’s nice to be able to choose your own place to eat. What type of people will you be travelling with? Etc.
Some companies have multiple options for the above questions, some are specific to one option. For example, Contiki specifically designs tours for 18-35 year olds but has a variety of budget/accommodation levels. GAdventures on the other hand creates tours for adventure-minded travellers but also has levels of budget, accommodation, travel style and age range.
Finding the company that’s right is not a simple choice of what others say is the best choice but a decision of what’s best for you. And that choice will make or brake your “tour” experience.
3. The Right Trip
After you’ve chosen the company that suits you best you have to choose the trip you want to take with them. You have to decide where you want to go, what you want to see, how long you want to go for. Tours can range in length anywhere from 4 days to 54 days – it’s up to you how far you can go.
For anything extended it is my belief that anything less than 2 weeks is a waste. While looking at tours you have to remember that the “days” in a place are actually nights and you have to read the fine print to figure out how much of that is taken with travel time. This can eat up a lot of your time and “2 days” in Paris is actually only one full day.
Points 2 and 3 are intertwined and sometimes finding the right trip makes the decision on the right company and not the other way around.
It is so relaxing not worrying about finding a hotel or booking a hostel. You didn’t have to worry about where you were going to eat or how to get from place to place. It was all taken care of. No stress needed. They even gave you explicit directions on how to get from either airport in London to the hotel Contiki is based out of. This was essential for a first time traveller like me.
5. Places You Never Dreamed Of
When I chose my Contiki tour I did so based on the length of time – I wasn’t flying all the way to Europe for less than a month (it turned out to be 42 days). I found a tour that encompassed all the places I wanted to go without feeling too rushed – London, Paris, Spain, Italy, Greece, the Alps. And yet, my favourite place on that trip (and so far anywhere) was Croatia. I hadn’t even considered it and yet it stands out to me as one of the most beautiful and amazing places I’ve ever been to. It’s only because the rest of the tour fit what I wanted that I was able to go there at all.
6. The Unique “Bonuses”
Travelling with a well established company and large group of people lets you do things you wouldn’t otherwise been able to do on your own. From private Cabaret and Flamenco shows to staying in privately owned Chateau’s in France and 6 course Italian feasts, the extras you get from the experience behind the company makes it worth it. Plus the information and history you get from travelling with a guide brings the places you go and the things you see to life in a way that is impossible while aimlessly wandering on your own.
7. It’s Always a Party
One of my favourite memories of the tour was one that was repeated in many cities. As Contiki caters to young people there was an emphasis on the night life in every city. I was on a full tour bus with 52 people. That means that no matter what day of the week it is or how empty the bar is, as soon as we showed up it was a party. On a weekday in Barcelona we walked into an empty bar and ended up drawing in all the locals. Plus, the bonus of cheap drinks because the bartender wanted us to be there to fill up his club. You never had to sit around wondering if the party was somewhere else because you brought the party.
8. An Array of Companions
It’s hard to chose who to travel with, especially for long periods of time. Who can you stand for that long? Can our friendship stand the test? Do we share the same interests? Will we fight? These are very real fears. There were two sisters on our tour and by the end they could barely talk to each other… but that was all right because they’d both made other friends and could take a break from each other.
I started the trip as one of the few solo travellers. Mostly people came with friend (or two or three). By the end I was able to hang out with a variety of people dependent on my mood and what I wanted to do. If I didn’t like what someone was planning for the day that was fine, someone else was bound to have a similar idea as me for the day. There was no arguing or disappointment.
9. Personal Growth
I’m initially a very shy person. It takes me ages to warm up to people. And that’s after I went on this trip – I was worse before. Yet this trip forced me to open up in ways I wouldn’t have if I’d done it any other way. If I’d gone with a friend we would have done the tourist thing but not interacted much with others… because we had each other. If I’d gone completely solo I would have hid in myself, seen the touristy things but not done much beyond that. I wouldn’t have wanted to eat alone, go to shows alone, and as a single woman I wouldn’t have thought to step foot outside at night alone. But alone in a group? Best decision I ever made.
10. Memories to Last a Lifetime
From what I understand, the majority of Australians take a Contiki tour at one point or another in their lives (it is an Australian company after all). It’s a coming of age thing. And I can really see the value in that. I’ll always look back at those six weeks as some of the best times of my life. I was able to see so much of the world. I grew. I made friends from all over the world and even if we don’t stay in touch, I’ll always remember them. I banished my fears of travelling solo and know that I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I ignited a wanderlust that will never be fully satisfied.
That’s why I did it. Some of those reasons weren’t clear before I started. Some things you can only see from looking back on the experience. I will never regret choosing a tour and would recommend it to anyone travelling, whether alone or with others.