It seems that every other traveller these days has either embarked on, or are planning on, doing a tour group, the popular two amongst the twenty-somethings being Contiki and Topdeck. But is this the best way to travel? Is it more about party-ing than experiencing another culture? Here is my pros and cons list on tour group travel based on my experiences of travelling both independently and as part of a Topdeck tour through Europe.
- It is exhausting. You have to get up early do a full day of touring the city or to get onto the bus to leave for your next destination. And if you, like a lot of the crew, are eager to experience the night life and more social aspects of travelling you will be in bed late- most nights only catching a few hours of sleep.
- The social dynamic is very similar to highschool. I didn’t really see this as a con but I’m sure there are a lot of people that are glad to leave cliques and a fast moving rumour mill in highschool. But, like I said, I didn’t really see this as a con- it was never exclusive groups nor was there any maliciousness. I think in most social situations the formations of cliques is natural, but I have to wonder if I would of enjoyed the tour experience as much if I hadn’t found a group I meshed with so easily.
- The food. In some of these tour options the majority of your meals are provided for you. In the tour I did, every breakfast and dinner, bar one, was included. Having breakfast provided was excellent, after a week of independent travel prior to the tour we really appreciated that we no longer waking up starving and having to organise where to get food or having to make do with what we had. However, having dinner provided was a little annoying because they usually weren’t amazing and so in countries such as Paris and Switzerland we really felt like we missed out on trying delicious, genuine, local cuisine. That being said, you aren’t forced to have dinner with the tour but I think we all saw it as a waste to skip the meals since we had already paid for it.
- Time restrictions. This wasn’t a huge deal for me, going into an organised tour I knew this was to be expected but there were times where having to meet the group at a certain time meant certain experiences were rushed.
- You are typically limited to only seeing the touristy perspective of a city. Because you really have one day to explore each city you are obviously going to go see all the major attractions (e.g. Eiffel Tower, Lourve etc in Paris) which means you only really encounter tourists and don’t really get exposed much to the culture. When doing independent travel we had much more time to interact with locals and just observe cultural difference and such.
- Travel friends! The tour ensures you are meeting a group of people you have something in common with- a love of travel. Everyone is in high spirits and having the time of their lives. I loved sharing the travel experience with a group of people that were sharing the same emotions as me- whether it be the disbelief at what we were doing (for example on the first day of the tour we all shared that feeling of “Cannot believe I’m here, in Paris, and there is the Eiffel Tower, an icon we have grown up hearing about”). And, aside from having some more people to travel around with, it was the best feeling to meet a fairly random group of people and bond so instantly with them. We were all amazed at how quickly we grew close. It’s been almost 6 months now since I finished the tour and I still miss my Topdeck family like crazy and am in regular contact with the ones I was closest with.
- Safety. This was especially evident the night we went out in Florence- it was a great advantage to have the Topdeck boys present to ward off any unwanted advances of Italian men. And just in our everyday travels we all had an eye out for each other and people were always keeping tabs on everyone’s whereabouts.
- Easy. By choosing to do a tour a lot of organising and planning is out of your hands and you are able to just relax and go with the flow. This was not so possible when independently travelling, everything was a decision to be made- what and where to eat, where to go, when to go, where to stay, how to get to places etc. Tour group travel takes care of all the boring details such as transport and accommodation so you are free to just explore and socialise. This really is a big draw to the tour travelling. It was the biggest hassle and time consuming task to find somewhere available, cheap and safe to stay when we were independently travelling.
- Having breakfast provided. I know I said food was a con but after a week of having to source breakfast it was so nice to wake up hungry and just walk over to the dining area and have a wide range to choose from.
So, at the end of the day would I recommend doing a tour group? Yes! I loved it but I would say supplement it with independent travelling. If you plan on covering places that are part of the tour independently as well I would say do it as part of the tour first, gives you a vibe for the place and get to tick off the major sites.