published: 5/16/2023 | May 16, 2023
My first trip abroad was on an organized group tour. At the time, I didn’t know the first thing about traveling. I wasn’t alone anywhere, and my family wasn’t big travelers. My travel experience consisted of a cruise, spring break in Montreal while in college. You’re as green as they come. So, at 23, touring seemed like the best way to get around.
When I headed to Costa Rica for my first real trip, I was glad I signed up for a tour. I didn’t speak Spanish, didn’t know how to navigate a foreign country, and had no idea how to know what to do or how to organize my time.
I was scared and unsure and needed a lot of hand-holding.
Our guide really helped me learn how to “swim”. That tour gave me the confidence to travel on my own. In the end, I felt like I “got it” enough that I could find my way around and meet people.
After I got home, I started planning my next trip: a non-touristy trip to Thailand, and after that experience, I ended up bagging all over the world. The rest is history, as they say.
Over 15 years later, I still love (and use) group rides. They are appropriate for certain people, destinations, and activities for a variety of reasons.
I think tours are underrated by many travelers, because they think of those giant bus-sized groups of old people being herded around to take pictures before they are put back on the bus to be taken to the next tourist site.
And while these tours still exist, not all tours are like this. Many companies offer truly unique and interesting experiences in small group settings. Tour companies now come in all specialties and sizes. You just need to know how to choose the right tour for you.
I think tours are good for a number of reasons:
First, it’s great for people who are new to traveling or who don’t feel comfortable traveling alone. I have written before that the hardest part about traveling is not the act itself but finding the courage to go. It is not easy to walk out the door on your own. No matter where you are from, we all fear the “unknown”. When you don’t speak the language, don’t have much experience, or are just concerned about safety in a new place, you’re not always ready to grab your backpack and go.
Tours allow you to get your feet wet and overcome that fear.
Also, some travelers prefer tours when exploring a new area for the first time. Sure, you may have made your way through Europe or Australia, but the thought of doing the same in Central America or the Middle East might seem a little way out of your comfort zone.
Secondly, the tours are good if you are a solo traveler looking for company. People always ask me if I feel lonely as a solo female traveler, or what to do if I don’t meet anyone. Fortunately, I learned to meet people on the road.
But, as a natural introvert, it took me a long time to learn how to start conversations with strangers. It takes effort and a bit of courage to put yourself out there and make friends over and over again.
When you’re on tour, you have automatic travel buddies. Tours are designed so that you have a group of people to talk to, explore with, eat with, and spend time with. You won’t be alone, which takes a lot of the pressure off.
Often times, you will create stronger bonds than you ever expected with your fellow tour mates because of all of your shared travel experiences.
Third, tours are good if you don’t have much time. Could I see Jordan or Morocco or my Madagascar? Yes, sure, but I didn’t have much time, and I wanted to see a lot quickly. That’s why I visited those destinations on tour.
When your travel time is limited, tours are the perfect way to easily enjoy the highlights. They have unique experiences baked right in, so no matter how fast you tour, you’ll feel like you’ve seen something apart from the must-see attractions (at least in a good one).
Fourth, tours are great for busy people. It seems that these days, many people are doing a million things to do, so planning all the logistics of a trip to a foreign country may not make it to the top of the priority list. And if this is your life, then I think you need a vacation. After all, everyone needs a vacation now and then.
Joining a group tour is a great way to get a satisfying experience without having to lift a finger to plan. It is very convenient. Just show up and participate. Let someone else do the research, plan… and improvise when something goes wrong.
Fifth, some destinations are logistically challenging and best visited on the tour. Just try going to the Galapagos Islands, on safari, around India, or across a few African countries on your own. Sure, you can do it, but it’s not always easy and most people don’t have the time or energy to take this kind of trip together. Hiking for several days up Mount Kilimanjaro or around Patagonia is easier and safer with a group. The same goes for trekking through deserts, rainforests, jungles, and other areas that aren’t easy to navigate on your own.
Finally, tours can give you access to experiences you can’t get to on your own. This is especially true of small tour companies (like us!). By tapping into their insider knowledge and connections, you can gain access to people, places, and activities that you would not otherwise have.
For example, on our tour of Oaxaca, we go to my friend’s mezcalería, and he gives us a private tasting and talks about his family’s soul-making history.
In Romania, we get special permission to hang out in a gypsy village, thanks to our guide’s longtime friendship with the residents there.
In Jordan, we sleep in our Bedouin friend’s village next to Petra.
These experiences are difficult to replicate on your own and can contribute to greater understanding, depth, and a more satisfying travel experience.
Are tours for everyone? no. But they aren’t necessarily the large bus groups of the past, and I think they can offer today’s travelers truly unique experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. Even if you are an independent traveler, be sure to take this into account.
And if you are looking for a tour, consider taking a tour through our company, Bedouin Network. We offer amazing small group tours to destinations including Tanzania, Cuba, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Romania, Costa Rica, the Yucatan Peninsula, Jordan and more. We use our own personal travel experiences to create unique itineraries you won’t see anywhere else. We hang out with locals, get off the beaten track, connect with expert guides, take part in unique activities, and take you to tourist-free restaurants, bars, walking tours, swimming holes, backyard barbecues, and more!
Click here to check out our Fall 2023 offering and join us on the road!
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