I’ve been getting admittedly cranky lately with some of the bashing I’ve seen from travel bloggers regarding organized tours. I get it, not all tours are for every traveler, and I’ll be the first (and have been the first) to complain about the annoying throngs of rude tourists who push you out of their way. I’ll also be the first to say that taking a tour with 60 or 100 people is pretty much my worst nightmare, as I’m not a people person, and I hate being treated like a sheep (unless it’s the black sheep…).That said, the general bashing of tours, of the people going on the tours, and constant repeating of how independent travel is the only “right” way to travel is really frustrating to me.When I say organized tours, I’m talking about multi-day tours with transport, guides, food included.
1. Tours can be a highly efficient and more relaxing way of seeing things in a short period of time. There are certain places and things that are really hard to see efficiently and are easier to tour. An organized tour means that you don’t have to be constantly planning, plotting, and scheduling. You don’t have to worry that your transfer isn’t showing up and that you have to get to the next location today because you only have 10 days and have activities scheduled at the next location. Moreover, sometimes on vacation I don’t want to have to worry about the details!
2. All tours are not made equal. Repeat: All organized tours ARE NOT made equal. This echoes what I said above. Come on–the big bus tours with 60 people in Kruger going on safari are light years away from tours with well-known, good operators and 10-12 people. Yes, I realize much of this has to do with what you can afford, but I really dislike that these tours get lumped together and crapped on together. Perhaps most importantly, tour companies vary widely on their treatment of employees, approach to conservation and environment issues, cultural learning, etc. This also relates directly to the next three points…
3. You can be just as isolated/un-immersed in a ritzy hotel, traveling independently, as you can be in an organized tour (YOUR CHOICE!) This is one of my pet peeves–those who stress independent travel, then go to a resort and don’t leave, or leave to go see the popular sights, go to a nice restaurant, and return to the hotel and claim that their experience was more “authentic” than someone who went on a tour. What a load of crap. A trip is what you make of it, and who and how you choose to engage, regardless of how you travel. While big box tours may not offer such opportunities, smaller tours most definitely do.
4. Tours are NOT just for people that haven’t traveled, or are uncomfortable traveling independently. Again, seriously? Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met were on tours. Incredible, inspiring, people. People with amazing careers. Fun life stories. Most have traveled independently quite extensively, and are at ease in different cultures. Yes, we’ve had some real doozies on tours too (people that required apologizing for…never fun). But this has truly been the exception, not the rule. Again, depends on the type of tour–please see #2!
5. Not all tours are “bad deals” when you add up the cost of all the hotels, meals, and services. The constant implication (or explicit complaint) that all tours are rip-offs is just silly. Yup, there are rip-offs, but if you aren’t paying attention, you can be ripped off whether you spend $800 on a sh*tty Groupon deal or $10,000 on a tour that should have been $5,000. Price out how much services and hotels would be separately, to avoid paying a “luxury” tour company $1000 a night for a room that is selling for $150 online. Be an educated consumer and be sure that you are paying for what you get; but avoid falling into the trap of thinking that just because it says tour that it just has to be overpriced.
Do you think there is a time and a place for organized tours? What has your experience been?