Group tour vs independent travel: Which is better for your trip?

Group tour vs independent travel

The eternal question for both travel newbies and travel pros. Group tour vs independent travel?

There are so many ways to go about international travel, and sometimes, it’s hard to know which style is going to be best for you.

While many budget travellers will jump to say independent travel is the better (and cheaper) option, I’m going out on a limb to say that isn’t always the case!

As someone who has completed five group tours, and also travelled independently for many months worth of travel, I’d like to give you my recommendations for both options. I’ve put together a list of FAQs about tours vs independent travel to assist you in making the right choice for your next trip.

Oaxaca, Mexico
Our tour group travelling through Mexico, 2015

Is one option cheaper than the other?

Group tours are usually going to be a tad more expensive than independent travel, however, there are certain things you should consider when comparing prices:

Tours will save you a lot (and I mean, a lot!) of time researching your destination. A tour will have your transport, accommodation, some of your sightseeing, and even restaurants lined up for you. If you don’t want to spend countless hours before and during your trip comparing options and booking all these things, then this might be worth paying a little extra for.

Hotel room hangs on a group tour through New Zealand, 2011

In what situations should you take a tour?

  • If you want to see a particular country but don’t know where exactly you should visit. Tour companies will have picked out all the best bits for you! This is what I did in Mexico, when I didn’t have much of an idea where to go or how to get between cities.
  • If you don’t speak the local language, and are nervous about making own your way around.
  • If you want to see loads of destinations in a short amount of time
  • If you’re travelling solo and are keen to make friends on your trip (I met some of my best friends while travelling on group tours).
  • If you’re intimidated by the thought of researching everything about your destination.

The best thing I find about group tours is that you can relax about things like booking buses and trains, accommodation, or finding public transport. Having someone else do all the hard work for you is super convenient.

Bruges, Belgium
Travelling independently through Bruges, Belgium, 2014

In what situations should you travel independently?

  • If you’re travelling through relatively ‘safe’ English-speaking countries (I really hate using that term but it’s kind of the best way to explain this!) such as England, USA, Singapore, Australia, etc.
  • If you’d like to travel at a slow pace.
  • If you want flexibility in the destinations you visit, or want to visit some places off the beaten track.
  • If you like having your own space and don’t like socialising every second of the day (hello, fellow introvert!).
  • If you’re really keen on researching everything there is to know about travelling to your destination.

What I enjoy most about independent travel is that there’s no pressure to do things too fast or to see things you don’t want to see. You’re in total control, so if you want a day of lazing about in the sun instead of sightseeing, no-one will stop you.

Contiki tour at Mt Rushmore, USA
Human pyramids on a Contiki tour through USA, 2011

If you go with a tour, which company do you choose?

Be careful to choose a tour company that’s the right fit for you. Many tour companies are geared towards specific age groups, so if you’re a young backpacker, then choosing a tour with a bunch of retirees is probably going to make you feel out of place.

And if you have a specific style of travel in mind (adventure, budget, luxury, active, etc), tour companies usually offer a range of travel styles. You can choose anything from the most basic of hostels with no included meals, to a life of luxury with every single extra included. The price of the tour will often reflect your inclusions.

The companies I have previously travelled with are Contiki, Intrepid Travel, and G Adventures.

Street food, Prague
Rob buying street food in Prague, 2013

Anything else to consider?

If you choose a budget tour, your daily spending money will probably be a little higher than you might expect. In Mexico we had no included meals on our tour, which was fine – except that everyone went out together to eat at restaurants most evenings and we felt obliged to join. If we were travelling by ourselves, we would probably eat more cheaply by purchasing street food or getting ingredients from grocery stores.

Independent travel requires a lot of patience. There will be times when you’re waiting on a seemingly non-existent bus to arrive, or trying to communicate that you want no egg in your meal only to have the waiter have no idea what you’re talking about. It can be frustrating, so keep an open mind!

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21 Responses to “Group tour vs independent travel: Which is better for your trip?”

  1. Katie @ Second-Hand Hedgehog

    Yes! I love independent travel, but I also do love group tours, for all the reasons you suggest. But the social aspect is a particularly strong one. I find it’s good to mix up tours with independent travel, to get a mix of socialising / solitude. I also find it’s useful when planning independent trips to look at tour itineraries – as a basis for planning my own destinations.

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Ooh that’s a great tip Katie, I often look at tour itineraries to get ideas on where I should go, even if I’m not going to do the tour 😉 I think you’re right, a mix of both tours and independent travel is a good choice as you get the best of both worlds!

  2. Madeleine - A Life Passport

    I tend to stick to mostly independent solo travel – in saying that I haven’t really been anywhere yet that I felt nervous about going it alone, and haven’t been familiar with the language. When I get to SE Asia, and South America (hopefully soon!!) I think I’ll look into the group tours 🙂

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      South America is probably a good place to start with tours. I did most of it independently but boy did it get confusing at times! I’m really glad I did the tour through Mexico, mostly so that we had a translator and someone to organise transport, which might have been difficult to organise ourselves!

  3. Jen

    We really just do tours when we “have” to – for example in Galapagos. I love trip planning but I get your point that time = money, and a lot of people get overwhelmed in making their own trip. I also totally use tour itineraries or Tripadvisor to get ideas. Group tours are great for socializing, but you also get a lot of confidence and skills (including improving language!) from “solo” travel. We spoke zero Spanish (seriously, zero!) before our 3 months backpacking South America. Got a lot of good skills on the way. Wasn’t always easy though and I know it’s not everyone’s preference!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I think it really just depends on how confident you are in researching and planning, so someone like you would have no trouble with organising independent travel! I’m often the same, except there have been instances where I just don’t have the time or patience for planning and it’s so much easier to just book yourself on a tour.

      I agree on your last point Jen, independent travel through difficult areas gives you some crucial survival skills for travel, and makes you confident to do more of it in the future!

  4. Erika

    I definitely had way better experiences on group tours when I was traveling solo than I did traveling independently. There are just certain travel experiences that are so much more fun with other people!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I agree, some of the best times I’ve had while travelling have been solo on group tours – the social aspect is something you can’t beat!

  5. Steph

    This is a great post idea! I often find myself wondering if I should do a tour and recently took the opportunity to do so in India. Definitely a good option as we probably would have missed out on some of our favourite sights! X

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s one of the best things about group tours I think – you do get to see a bunch of cool things that you might never have seen if travelling independently!

  6. The Common Wanderer

    This is such a subjective topic which you have explored brilliantly.

    We stick to solo travel, primarily due to the costs involved with tours, however in certain instances, like climbing Kilimanjaro, we made sure we were with a tour. Otherwise, i highly doubt we’d be writing this comment!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      There are definitely situations where group tours are the superior option, climbing Kilimanjaro would absolutely be one of them! We did the same for the Inca Trail, it just wouldn’t have been as good of an experience if we hadn’t have done it on a tour.

  7. Nikki Vargas

    Cool post! I am actually headed on my first group tour next week to Morocco with top deck travel. I usually travel solo or with a close friend or loved one, so am definitely excited to arrive in Morocco not knowing anyone and then travel in a group with other people for 10 days. Should be fun!


    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m sure you’ll love it, Nikki! Topdeck are supposed to be a great company to travel with, let me know what you thought of them after the tour (and what you thought of Morocco too)!

  8. Rebeca

    First off, such a pleasure to have met you last night Ashlea! It was really cool to talk share our stories and refreshing to talk about the time = money factor. Sometimes the time budget out weights the financial budget. As far as group/independent travel goes I like both! I enjoy traveling on my own and occasionally mixing in a small group tour as I like not only the social aspects of a group but also listening to passionate tour guide share their knowledge. Again pleasure meeting you!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It was a pleasure meeting you too, Rebeca! So glad we could have a deep chat about time = money, it’s not often that people in the travel industry have similar views to us in that regard!

      Seems like you and I have very similar travel styles, I also think a mix of both is a great way to travel as you get the best of both options 🙂

  9. Henry

    I am definitely a proponent of both! While I generally enjoy the feel of independent travel and exploring, I can certainly see the benefit to being part of a tour. One of the benefits, if one so prefers, is the probability of transportation being included, and perhaps food as well, as you’ve mentioned in this post. In my upcoming trip, I’ve booked a tour from Auckland to Matamata in New Zealand. (Hobbiton Tours) Matamata is a 2 hour drive, and I considered driving, but then the idea of relaxing and enjoying the views along the way appealed to me. As you suggested on my Instagram (generallysolotraveler), I shall be going to Mt Wellington in Hobart, and I shall be doing that by tour as well. You also brought a really good point about potential language barriers. This upcoming trip of mine ends also includes Beijing, so I would agree that booking a tour to The Great Wall of China can certainly alleviate the potential headache of not being able to communicate. Excellent post! Sorry for the long comment! 🙂

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m so glad you agree, Henry! There are definitely times when a tour would be better than independent travel, and it really depends on the person and what kind of experience they want to have. I’m fairly tired of people saying that independent travel is always better, because even though it is a great way to travel, that’s not always the case!

      • Henry

        Absolutely! You’ve perfectly made a case for both. They each have their merits. There’s always pros and cons to everything. It’s all situational really. It’s like when people debate about doing “touristy” activities versus exploring the “not so well known” activities and places. I think they’re both great. I loved seeing Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Stonehenge, and more in London, but certainly also enjoyed just walking the streets and exploring the local neighborhoods, their shops and their pubs. I couldn’t go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre (which I did ;-)), they’re amazing sights, and I can understand why they’re so sought after by travelers. That being said, just walking around and eating escargot at a cafe across the street from my hotel was an equally enjoyable, and relaxing, experience. Keep the awesome posts coming!!

        • Ashlea Wheeler

          You hit the nail on the head with your comment, Henry! There is not one way to travel that is better than the other, it really all depends on the person, the situation, the climate, everything. You can have a good experience on a tour and you can have a good experience travelling independently, just like you can have fun seeing the major attractions vs wandering off the beaten path.

          Glad you’re enjoying the posts! 😀

  10. Sleeper Scarf

    Great post! I used to travel with my friends or travel in a group. However, I haven’t tried travel alone. I am not kind of person. However, I should try once in my life. Thanks for sharing!

    Be sure to check out Sleeper Scarf for your next trip


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