That is the question. Probably not the question Shakespeare had in mind, but it’s a valid one all the same. During my first foray into the world of international solo travel, I made the choice to book myself onto two organised tours: first, the ‘Thailand Experience’ by RealGap and secondly, Contiki’s ‘The Big Walkabout’ in Australia. The experience of these two very different tours has undoubtedly influenced my decision to purchase a bus ticket with Kiwi Experience for my first two weeks in New Zealand, before venturing out into the world of independent backpacking on a working holiday visa. For anyone considering a gap year, a sabbatical, or a shorter chunk of time away from home and possibly on your own, it’s worth considering the pros and cons of organised tours. That way, you can decide what suits you and what sounds like your worst nightmare.
Check out my list of things to consider before deciding if a tour is for you:
REASONS TO GET YOUR SELF ON A TOUR
- Ready made group of mates that don’t change every few days – strong friendships are made & groups aren’t as transient as independent backpacking
- Less intimidating than facing all that organisation on your own
- A large tour will always provide you with some like-minded people
- You will cram SO MUCH in, itinerary-wise. Filtering of mediocre places and activities has already been done for you.
- You will get up and do stuff even if you don’t feel like it – some people need this push so they don’t waste their time just because they’re sleepy: EAT SOME CONCRETE & HARDEN UP.
- You feel very supported and safe on a good tour – this is especially important in more unfamiliar cultures if you need a local to help translate a problem. If youre going to do an organised tour as well as some independent travel, perhaps choose the less familiar country for your tour.
- Your tour manager will usually help with any extra activities you want to organise.
- You often get good deals on activities for ‘tour prices’.
- Most tours give you lots of free time and nightlife opportunities – as long as you’re back on the coach at the set time in the morning, you can stay out ’till whenever.
- You may well pay less without a tour, but you have to ask yourself the value of your time and how much your own organisation would stress you out.
REASONS TO BACKPACK INDEPENDENTLY
- You CAN get stuck with people you’re not keen on – or who grumble about everything. There WILL be at least one moaner in every group, they’ll be the one posting inspiring motivational quotes on Instagram about making the most of life and then bitching through the whole tour. Shout out, you know who you are. A good compromise here is a hop-on, hop-off style tour like Kiwi Ex or Greyhound – you can just hang around and wait for the next bus of new people.
- If you really love your flexibility, tours can be frustrating because you can’t always stay longer in a place that you like unexpectedly. Again, hop-on, hop-off is a great compromise.
- It’s nice to run off your own steam and make your own decisions. Some tours have extra rules – for example, we were not allowed to ride mopeds in Thailand even though legally we were able.
- There’s often a fair bit of waiting around for other people being late on tours – this can get REALLY annoying when you’ve made the effort to be ready at the right time.
- You make your own schedule – if you want a lie in, you can have one. If you wanna skip something, you can. However, this can also be a DISADVANTAGE – see above.
- Tours obviously come at a price – you are paying for the extra support and organisation. If you feel you don’t need or want this, there’s no point paying extra! If you’re going out with a friend, consider that your priorities may be different and you may feel less of a need for the support.
- Be wary of the quality of the tour – at points, it can feel very obvious that the tour company has made accommodation decisions to increase their profit margins rather than to maximise your enjoyment. Don’t always choose the cheapest tour…
THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER. One of the most irritating things about travelling and backpackers is the travel snobbery that you encounter on your journey. You’re bound to run into people who tell you that an organised tour isn’t proper backpacking, that if you don’t mastermind your own itinerary, you’re basically being babysat. Forget these people. Your choices and preferences are valid, you can go wherever you want in whatever manner you wish. With help or no help. You don’t need to make life more difficult for yourself just for the sake of placating these irritating people; travelling is about being happy with your own choices and having the strength to do things your way, whether that means you join a tour or you venture out on your own. You’ve got nothing to prove, there’s great things about both ways of travelling and nothing to stop you combining both types.
Review of Kiwi Experience to follow soon – my tour begins on January 26th!