In response to my last two posts, I thought it would be best to write about the pros and cons of travelling in tour versus travelling alone. I, for one, struggled with this very recently. I wanted to see Europe (it has always been the ultimate destination, in my mind) but I’d never been there and had no idea what to expect. You know everyone has their own misconceptions about other countries. Mine was that there was no way I would be able to travel around Europe without being able to communicate with a local, should I need help. I admit, not everyone speaks English in the major cities (and in many ways it’s wrong to expect them to) but there were many who were well versed in English that I could turn to for help.
Based on my own experience, here is my pros and cons list for travelling alone vs tours.
The best thing about doing a tour is that your tour leader and driver (if it’s a coach tour) are in charge of all your transportation between destinations. On my tour, many people would sleep on the travel days. Now, you may be thinking, why sleep when you’re travelling through an amazing country? I must admit, I was the same way at first. I was stunned that everyone was snoring their heads off while I was watching the glorious scenery glide past. However, when that countryside turns to factories and highways, there is nothing of interest to see. It quite literally puts you to sleep.
Another bonus of a tour is there’s no need to stress about all the nitty gritty details of travelling. Your accommodation, tours, maps, etc are all taken care of. Of course, sometimes it’s best to buy a city map on arrival as the ones I received were the size of a A4 piece of paper. For cities such as Rome and Paris, this won’t cut it. I recommend purchasing a proper size map from the nearest souvenir shop as this will have all the major sights on it, as well as a lot more detail (which is super helpful when you get lost. When, not if. Trust me.)
My next plus is the guided tours that are generally supplied on tours. In each city I visited with Topdeck, we did a city tour. This was so, so helpful. The tour was either a walking or driving tour and it took us to all the main sights. This is perfect if you want to get the touristy shots but weren’t overly thrilled at the prospect of wasting the day finding them all. Paris, especially, has them all spread across the city, which would take most of the day to reach each one.
The major issue I found with a tour is the people. Like I mentioned in my Topdeck review, I am not very outgoing and therefore, when I didn’t click with the people on tour, I found myself feeling lonely through most of the trip. If you are a very friendly and bubbly person, I strongly recommend taking a tour. However, if you find it hard to get along with strangers, maybe rethink a tour at this point.
The next problem with a tour is the destinations. Many tours only take you to the tourist destinations, which is understandable, as you are a tourist. However, it can be disappointing when you are looking for a tour with a difference or you want to see a country through a local’s perspective. Tours also generally use chain hotels that show none of the regions cultural flavour.
You can choose your destinations! This is my favourite part of independent travel. I can choose to visit that obscure village that only interests me. I can create my own itinerary, with my own choice of hotels, hostels or B+Bs. I can choose how long to stay in each place. Travelling independently is best for those travellers who love the freedom of choice.
There’s more chance to explore and live like a local. Because you have already considered what you want out of this holiday, you know what type of atmosphere you want. I found on my tour that having only one free day to explore limited the amount of things I could do. I was always choosing which sights I would have time to see.
You aren’t stuck with a group of strangers that you may or may not get along with. Travelling alone may sound lonely, but would you want to be miserable and surrounded by strangers who just don’t know how to take you? This is what I found on my tour and it made me dread every time I had to meet up with my group.
The biggest pro for travelling independently is the freedom to do what you want to do, without any mandatory group dinners or events.
Ok, ok. I know travelling independently is not perfect. There are problems that can occur. Mainly getting lost. You have no one to contact if you get lost. You have to struggle through those awkward conversations with broken languages. I personally found I had the most fun when I got lost. I found spots that were not on the tourist path and, looking back, I would happily get lost all over again as it was the most fun I had on tour.
You have to work out all the travel details yourself. I’m not going to lie; it’s stressful planning the trains you have to catch and knowing what sights are open, how much they’ll cost, etc. However, sometimes too much planning can put a damper on a trip. Try having a few spontaneous days, where you just wander and explore without knowing you have to be at the train station to catch the 6:17 train from platform 12. It’s a holiday so don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself.
Travelling alone, you are forced to orientate yourself with your destination. You don’t get an included city tour that comes with being in a tour group. This is why I highly recommend buying a map. Whilst in your hotel room, you can mark where you are and where you want to go. You can become acquainted with your destination easily with a proper map.
There is always going to be a debate about what is the best way to travel. Everyone has their own opinion about it. It really just depends on your own preferences and needs. I have shared my own experiences and advice in the hopes of making the decision easier, not because I have all the answers. I sincerely hope this helps!