Solo Travel or Tour Travel? Which Adventure is Right For You?

by Gray Cargill on March 13, 2012

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At the Seine

Going Solo in Paris

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:

Cost

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.

Tulum, Mexico

Tour Group in Tulum, Mexico

Companions

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.

Montmartre Signs

When you travel solo, you have to get from Point A to Point B on your own

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.

Fall hazard sign

Be safe when you travel

Safety

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.

Tour Guide

Your tour guide is likely an expert on the destination

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.

Mountains

Where do you want to go?

Conclusion

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?

Lee February 5, 2013 at 8:46 am

I have to see this is a truly brilliant, objective post. I’ve read many posts/articles which compare independent and tour travel and, though some of them are very good at weighing up both sides of the argument, they do tend to overlook some of the positives of tours, but you’ve highlighted them all!

Gray February 5, 2013 at 11:45 am

Thank you so much for saying so, Lee. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

Gray June 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm

True enough, Jonathan. Sometimes those tiny off the beaten path places are the ones we remember the most from our trips.

Jonathan Look, Jr. June 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Nice post. I am definitely not one for tour travel. My primary reason is that there are so many wonderful places you can’t go because they aren’t large enough to accommodate a tour. The four table restaurants, the tiny museums, places without parking for the big buses. Also, I generally find that places where tours go are generally … more touristy.

A tour with someone else doing the arranging may make some people more comfortable but to me it is like watching TV and giving up total control of the remote. You never know what is going to be presented to you for watching.

SoloMate Travel May 15, 2012 at 9:32 am

I think traveling with a small group of people who are also traveling alone is the best way to travel. This way you can see the world with a group of like-minded people and enjoy the benefits of solo traveling.

Gray March 18, 2012 at 11:55 am

That’s an interesting strategy, Dave. I hadn’t thought about trying it that way before. Thanks for sharing!

Dave March 18, 2012 at 11:53 am

The first time I visit a new place, I tend to prefer going as part of a group, mainly so that I don’t need to worry about all the logistics — how to get from one place to another, where to eat, and so on. That lets me get my bearings well enough so that if I decide I want to return, I’m more comfortable going solo.

Tracy Antonioli March 16, 2012 at 1:00 am

Gray–I DO feel like going to Egypt! ;-)

Gray March 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Thank you, Christine.

Christine March 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Another good read, Gray and perfectly put! I agree with Sabina- this should be a must read for solo travelers. I’m always one foot in, one foot out with the tours and I use them for all the main reasons you’ve listed!

Gray March 15, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Which demonstrates perfectly, Kirstin, that as solo travelers, we have that flexibility to travel alone when we’re comfortable doing so and with a group when that would serve our purposes better. It doesn’t have to be one or the other forever.

Kirstin March 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm

The last time I was away it was mostly solo… I had four weeks travelling alone in Europe and North American and one week on a group tour of Morocco.

For me personally I was happy to travel alone in most countries but felt I need the higher level of safety provided in a group for travelling in Morocco.

Gray March 15, 2012 at 11:15 am

Thank you, Sabina. I wouldn’t object to that! :-)

Sabina March 15, 2012 at 7:07 am

This is such a well-thought-out and well-written post, Gray, like all of your posts. You make excellent points here. I hope this will become well known as a must-read for women and men considering solo travel. :)

Gray March 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm

I hear you, Jeff. I often take the day tours in lieu of renting a car myself, too. The cost usually isn’t that much more, but you have an experienced driver and guide in addition to the ride. Yes, the group tours are almost always going to be more expensive. So the solo traveler has to decide if they’re getting something in return that’s worth the extra cost (expertise, safety, companionship, not having to plan or deal with logistics, etc.). Can’t say I’ve come to that yet myself, but I can see why someone would.

Jeff B March 13, 2012 at 8:18 pm

I always ask myself the question of weather or not I should try a planned tour and the answer is always no. I have been on one group tour to Israel and it was probably better that I was on a tour and not solo. The problem was that they packed so much stuff into everyday that I did not have time to really enjoy what I was seeing.

I just booked a trip to Ireland and will be going solo. I do however have 4 different day bus tours that I plan on taking. I usually do not do these type of tours but in Ireland you really need a car to get to many places and am not going to rent a car.

I do find that group tours usually cost 50%+ more than if you travel solo. I enjoy the planning process of finding hotels and transportation so I do not think I have to pay extra for someone to do that for me.

Gray March 13, 2012 at 5:01 pm

@Bronson – I’m unfortunately a “type A” planner when it comes to travel, LOL. I wish I could learn to “let go” a bit and “wing it.” Haven’t gotten there yet.

@Melissa – Yes! I love walking tours in cities where I’m traveling to. I just took a great day tour in Hawaii, too. I can’t say I made any lifelong friends on it, but everything we do is a crap shoot. It was enjoyable, nonetheless.

@Suzanne – Not yet, and it probably wouldn’t be a truly solo trip even if/when I do go, since I actually know someone there. But San Antonio is definitely on my list. Maybe next year….

@Tracy – Neither have I, but I’ve definitely thought that if and when I go to Egypt, that’s probably the way I’ll go. I can see what you mean; I feel like in order for me to really know and understand what long-term tour group travel is really like, I need to at least try it once. You feel like going to Egypt? ;-)

@Kate Convissor – I’ve been struggling in the past 2 years to get more comfortable taking touristy photos of myself using the “arm-stretch method”. It’s not ideal, but if you take enough photos, eventually you’ll get some that you can live with. Or I ask someone to take my picture for me. Ha! I think you’ve got a great strategy there–I should start looking for cute guys to take my picture for me! :-)

Kate Convissor March 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm

…and how do you get photos of yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower when you travel by yourself? I’m always looking around for someone to ask. Is that a good line for finding a companion? “Will you take my picture?”

Tracy Antonioli March 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm

I just scrolled down to leave a comment and then realized that I was about to write almost EXACTLY what Melissa (above) wrote! I’ve never done a whole-trip tour–like you are describing, where everything is taken care of for you. But I have recently become open to shorter tours while traveling–like my recent cruise excursion to Tulum (we clearly have very similar travel preferences) or the photography and bar tours I did in New Orleans.

Honestly, I think I do some day need to do a whole-trip tour. I’ve really never considered it because, well, I’m a solo traveler that likes to have control. To me, that’s the best part of solo travel. But the other best part is the opportunity to meet new people. And where better to do that than in a group? I imagine that if I booked a whole-trip tour that really, truly appealed to me, I’d meet people that I would enjoy spending time with. Because after all, we must have something in common if we booked the same trip, right?

Maybe I’ll see you on a group tour some day–our destination choices being so similar and all. We could be two solos together–how ironic!

Suzanne from VA March 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Gray, have you been to San Antonio solo? Rates are low from IAD so thinking of doing a long weekend solo end of April~ Why not????

Melissa March 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm

I tend to walk the line between the two. I book my own hotels, flights, etc. but if I’m visiting a new city or country I’ll look for group activities that I can participate in. I can still choose my own schedule but I can also learn from some local experts and meet new people.

Bronson March 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Thanks for the great and informative post.

I’m a firm believer in the philosophy that a little planning goes a long way… but that’s the bonus with flying solo, you only need a rough budget and a direction to to get cracking.

That said, sometimes tours are a great way to connect with a diverse range of people in some interesting places – which in my experience is a recipe for a fantastic time.

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