I always push independent travel and backpacking. As a traveller, i believe that this is the best way to immerse yourself in the experience of travel. However, I know there are many more ways to travel. In fact, I participate in a lot of different forms of travel, including organised group tours.
People are usually shocked to hear that I enjoy organized tours. After all, this preconceived notion of being shuttled from one place to another, often being shepherded as some form of farm animal to the next destination is not everyones idea of fun. Many tour companies are quite enjoyable since they let you explore places, and they don’t overcharge and they have a real connection with the communities that are visited. I have come to appreciate the value of tours beyond the set itinerary. Travel is about exploring the world. It’s about getting to know new places, placing yourself in environments that are so foreign to your 'normal', testing your limits, experiencing new things, and meeting new people. It is that last point that makes me appreciate group travel the most. Whether you are on a cruise, volunteering in an remote location, on a bike trip, or on a Chicken Bus somewhere in Central America, on a tour you are doing it with a new group of friends.
When most people think of tours, they recall images of coaches filled with tourists who hop out of a bus like a swarm of bees, all wearing matching hats or t-shirts, snap a photo while their guide offers a brief explanation of a site’s importance, and then hop back on the bus and go on their merry way leaving behind a footprint of bewildered locals. But not all tours are like this; there are many different kinds. My trip through Central America was through Gadventures , a unique organisation that uses the resources of tourism to explore lesser known villages and locally owned and run businesses and restaurants. When I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, i went with an organisation call Inspired Adventures who use locally serviced businesses and assist with raising money for charity. The fact of the matter is that tours come in all shapes and sizes, and although most don't care to admit it, we all take them. Even if they are a quick day tour to a famous brewery. But even the little ones count. Regardless of what we consider a tour, it’s important to recognize that they play an important role in travel. Do I think there are bad tours? Yes. What makes a tour bad in my books? Well a number of things. Tours that just shuffle travelers from destination to destination, leaving behind a wave of destruction, are a form of travel that I don’t agree with. Where the emphasis is on reckless abandonment of decency, and the majority of the trip is spent 'hungover'. They work for some people, just not me — so I do not recommend them. You gain very little from that kind of travel, just a whole lot of regret and an empty wallet. People can also make a tour bad. I can't emphasise this enough - read the briefs of the tour you are signing up for! There is nothing worse than starting a tour and people start complaining about the itinerary, when it is written in black and white, clear as day. 'What do you mean we are on a public bus?' 'We don't have private rooms?!' It makes the uninformed persons trip miserable and it brings down the mood of everyone else in the group as well. Traveling alone requires a lot of skills and resilience, and some people just aren’t equipped to dive head first into that, so traveling with a group can be a great way to ease into this new world. Tours can minimise the stress and anxiety that comes with going on your first adventure, which can make people more willing to travel. After a great tour, a natural second step for some travelers might be to attempt a solo journey.
Moreover, the tour guides that accompany a tour can really deepen your knowledge of a place and solidify the whole experience. My CEO (Chief Experience Officer) in Central America got out of our way, and allowed us the independence to write our own adventure. He provided us with the essential local knowledge and then the opportunity to be as involved with activities as we wanted. Where specialist knowledge was required he would arrange the best 'based on his experience' local guides to impart their wisdom. And it made all the difference.
In my opinion, tours have a lot to offer beyond the itinerary. I encourage people to consider taking them, particularly ones that support sustainable travel and give back to the community. Remember, all forms of travel have their place and tours can be a wonderful way to see the world.