At some point in time, every solo traveler will be faced with a choice: Should I go with a tour, or should I travel alone? It’s a good question; if only the answer were simple. Just because I normally travel independently (the truest sense of solo travel), I would never presume to tell someone else that they must. In fact, I can think of several situations in which I would choose tour travel over solo travel. I can see the benefits–and disadvantages–of both.
How do you know which type of travel is right for you? Here are some things to consider as you try to make your decision:
How much would your trip cost if you purchased each piece separately versus a tour package? Roommate matching on a tour might save you money, but in most cases, the tour will be more expensive than traveling independently. As a solo traveler, you can always save money by choosing less expensive hotel, food, and transportation options. The question then becomes: Are you getting something for the extra cost that makes it worth it to you? If so, then cheapest may not be best.
Are you good at sticking to a budget when you travel? Some people like knowing in advance exactly how much their vacation will cost, no surprises. This is easier for them than paying as they go and hoping they can stay within budget. For them, a tour might provide that level of certainty they crave.
Probably the #1 reason most solo travelers consider tour travel is because they don’t really want to be alone. On a tour, you will have a built-in group to socialize with, though you have no choice over who is part of the group. If you want to be alone, you may or may not have the opportunity for that. Sometimes, there will be people around when you don’t want them to be.
Solo travel provides you with more time for self-reflection and solitude. If you want to be alone, you can be. If you want to socialize, you can do that too–though it requires more effort on your part. You have to seek out companions; no one’s going to hand them to you. On the bright side, you get to choose who you socialize with. But sometimes, you’ll be alone when you don’t want to be.
Level of Difficulty
When I travel alone, I have to research hotels, restaurants, activities, attractions, and transportation options. I have to book whatever needs to be booked in advance. I have to get myself from Point A to Point B repeatedly throughout the trip. If something goes wrong, I have to deal with it. It’s not always fun, but I like challenging myself this way.
Other than that, I have to admit, tour travel is just easier. Someone else does all the planning, all the booking, and transports you everywhere you need to go. You don’t even need to speak the language of the country you’re visiting. You just need to show up.
I have felt safe 99% of the time during my solo travels. Still, I understand the concerns of new solo travelers who ask “Is it safe?” Most of the time, the answer is “Yes!” But I do have to think about it all the time. Research ahead of time the “dos” and “don’ts” of your destination and pack your street smarts. There may be things you can’t do (especially if you’re a solo female traveler), such as walk back to your hotel late at night. There may be places you avoid traveling to because you don’t feel safe going alone.
Safety is less of a concern when you go with a tour group. There’s some truth to the saying “There’s safety in numbers.” If there’s a trip you want to take and no amount of research or preparation is going to make you feel safe doing it alone, then by all means, go with a tour group. Better that than not going at all.
Breadth and Depth of Experience
When you travel independently, you are in control of your schedule. You can choose what to do and what not to do. That freedom is very appealing to solo travelers. Your interactions with a place are unfiltered by anyone else. If you want to know more about what you’re seeing, though, in order to make it a richer experience, you need to seek out that information. There may be places that you neglect to visit because you just don’t know about them (until after you get home, which is really maddening!).
With a tour group, you might feel rushed through some activities you’d like to spend more time on. Other activities you’re interested in might not be included on the tour at all. On the other hand, your tour guide is likely an expert on your destination and will be able to offer more in-depth information and colorful background than what you can find on your own. And you may see more things in a shorter period of time because transportation is taken care of for you.
So which is right for you? Solo travel or tour travel? No matter which type of travel you choose, I imagine you will come home having seen and experienced some amazing things. You may come home with contact information and travel photos of new friends you made during your travels. And you’ll have lots of great stories to tell your friends about your trip. The greatest difference I see is that with one form of travel, you give up control–and the burden of responsibility–to someone else. With the other, you come home with a greater sense of self-confidence, because you’ve navigated another part of the world on your own.
Just remember, whichever form of travel you choose for your next trip, you are not locking yourself into that type of travel for the rest of your life. You can decide, from trip to trip, which is best for you. Isn’t that the beauty of being a solo traveler in the first place—having choices?