For those who have never joined a small-group, guided tour, there are often a lot of questions about what to expect and what benefits there are over planning a trip independently. For one thing, traveling with a reputable company (ask for past guest referrals) ensures that the hotels have been checked, activities have been vetted, and the itinerary has been crafted to see the very best in the area for the time allowed. Instead of taking a few weeks to plan a trip amidst work and life, the planning is already done. And if there is something you really want to do or see that is not on the itinerary, it is usually very easy to add a few days of independent travel before or after the tour. A good tour operator should be able to make some suggestions about what to do in the area because staff members will have been on the ground at the destination.
The biggest unknown is whether all the guests will get along with each other. Keep in mind that a tour to a specific place or with a specific theme (hiking, food, wildlife, etc) will understandably attract like-minded travelers. Although strangers initially, everyone will have at least two things in common at the onset—an interest in the same area of the world and an interest in the activity or subject of the tour. In addition, those who travel the globe are typically open-minded and excited to meet new people, be they fellow travelers or residents local to the destination.
Sometimes, those new to traveling as a part of a group tour are apprehensive about potential awkwardness. In fact, traveling with strangers isn’t awkward, regardless if you’re joining the tour as a solo traveler, with your significant other, or with a friend. The first few minutes of meeting everyone is a flurry of introductions; by the second day, group members are always engaged in friendly conversation; and upon departure, many hug good-bye vowing to stay in touch. The immersive, shared experience of traveling together creates a unique bond, especially on a challenging trek, in a remote location, or having witnessed something truly extraordinary.
For active tours with hiking, walking, and any other activity that isn’t sightseeing in a bus, the group doesn’t participate in a bunched up mass—everyone walks, hikes, and paddles at their own pace. People naturally stop for pictures, to take a break and enjoy the views, and to keep hydrated. While everyone stays within the immediate area, the group naturally spreads out—sometimes sub-groups form, or a couple people will partner off, and sometimes people want to have some alone time to take in the experience. The guides make sure that no one is too far behind or ahead, and everyone congregates again for snacks and certainly for lunch!
Speaking of guides, having one provides valuable insider knowledge and expertise on the culture, environment, trails, and cuisine. Certainly, there are many travelers who manage just fine on their own with a creased map and dog-eared guidebook. However, even the best guidebook can’t have every piece of information someone might come across on a trip. With a personal guide, he or she is at the group’s disposal for any question that might come up. As useful as guidebooks are, nothing compares to having a real life, experienced person by your side to point out something that may have gone unnoticed or provide insight about a little-known cultural quirk, or even to help arrange special activities thanks to their local connections.
Finally, perhaps one of the best things about joining a tour is that the pressure is off! The two biggest decisions of the day will be what to wear in the morning and whether to eat dessert in the evening. Everything is taken care of, from transportation to restaurant reservations to activities for the day. It’s refreshing to wake up in the morning, check that your day pack is ready, and just go. Instead of worrying about logistics, safety, or a language barrier, guests can simply enjoy exploring a new and wonderful place.
Matt Holmes is the Founder & President of Boundless Journeys. Boundless Journeys is an award-winning tour operator that goes off the beaten path for immersive and authentic travel experiences.
By Matt Holmes
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