Should I book a tour or travel alone?

by Mary Ellen Dingley

Travel planning calls for many decisions. Where to go, what to do, how much money to save? Another question you should not neglect to ask yourself is: Should I book a tour or travel alone? Booking tours, especially for adventure travel, can take the stress out of planning (and give you instant access to far-out places). It increases your safety net and support, and gives you immediate community. But is it the experience you want?

On the flipside, traveling alone is its own wonderful and challenging experience. It can be a great way to get to know yourself and be fully immersed in wherever you travel to (just make sure you are savvy about it!). It also means you get to do what you want, when you want, all the time, with no travel partner to worry about. 

People hiking

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Traveling

There are advantages to both choices, and it comes down to your travel style, the circumstances of your trip, and what you want to get out of it. And of course, you can always combine booking a tour and branching out solo! 

Before you decide, ask yourself a few questions: 

1. What is your main goal for the trip?

Are you traveling to learn about a new culture? To push your comfort zone? To meet people? To relax in nature? Narrowing down what you want to get out of your travels will help you know if a tour is right for you. If you are looking to experience adventure trekking, a tour group could make that process smoother. A tour group can also help you explore the history, architecture or even the food of a new place! But if you would rather relax on the beach with a book for most of your travel time, then maybe you should give a “no” to the tour group.

2. What relaxes you? What energizes you? 

If you’re an extrovert, being in a tour group should fill you with energy and leave you ready to take on any adventure! New friends, new place, new adventure? Long days backpacking or snorkeling or wandering in a city, and long nights dancing, eating or telling life stories is your cup of tea (or glass of sangria or stein of chicha)! 

But if you’re an introvert, you might find the interaction more draining. Small talk isn’t your thing. You would rather take in the natural or architectural beauty in silence, with time to sit and soak in the sun. Maybe you’d rather wander a city alone, people watching in parks. Since handling the hoo-hah of travel logistics can already be draining, be careful to guard your energy and either book a tour that allows for ample alone time, or think about solo travel. 

People on top of a mountain

3. Where are you going?

If you’re heading to a city where you speak the language with great public transportation, you might not feel much need for a tour. A self-guided tour could do you just fine! But if you are going somewhere that’s hard to reach, such as a remote region of the Amazon, a tour group could make it a lot easier. If you don’t speak the language, a tour group could make sure there are no misunderstandings about prices or schedules. And if where you are headed is dangerous in any way, a tour group could be the safest bet. 

Popular destinations for group travel for young adults include Peru, South Africa, and Australia. Not that there aren’t adventures elsewhere (Hellloooo, Tiger Leaping Gorge!), but these can be good launch points. Different companies will offer different types of group travel, and it’s up to you to discern if that company has the right travel vibe for you. For instance, GapForce is geared toward the college-age crowd, whereas the Bamboo Project and Twin Work & Volunteer are open to college-age AND twenty-something travel.

4. What sort of activities do you want to do?

If you are looking for fun adventures like trekking to see apes in Africa or hiking part of Mount Everest a tour group would be pretty useful. There are tons of amazing experiences to be had in the eco-adventure realm! On the other hand, if this is more of a museum wandering, cafe sitting, theater going adventure, then solo could be a better idea. Unless you hate being in museums without a group because Night at the Museum actually freaked you out. (We all have our things, ok?)

5. How much expertise are you able to bring to the table?

Are you an expert scuba diver, with months of training and specialized gear with your initials monogrammed on it? Then you probably don’t need a tour to show you how to go about diving safely. If you can climb mountains in your sleep and are a certified emergency medic, hiking by yourself in unknown territory could be fine. But for the rest of us, a tour group might be more helpful (so we know where we are going and what we are doing).

But even if you’re an expert, having a tour guide can bring so much more knowledge to enrich your experience. No matter how experienced you are as a traveler, it’s the tour guide who can tell you the interesting facts and not-on-Google-secrets about a place. 

A woman sitting on a field

6. How much time do you have?

If you are limited on your travel time, it could be stressful to try to cram in everything you want to see and do. A tour group can streamline your schedule so you don’t have to worry about missing buses or trains. And if you have limited time to prepare for your trip, a tour can help with that too! Instead of having to spend hours creating your schedule, checking the prices and opening times, and wondering how long it will take to get from point A to point B and what happens if you sprain an ankle and what if it rains and…… Well, you know. A tour can do the heavy lifting for you, so you breath easier. 

Maybe after asking yourself these question  all your answers have led you to want to go off and adventure solo! Great! Plan well, pack carefully and go forth, fearless explorer! 

More Food for Adventure-Thought

If your answers have convinced you that a tour would be a good idea, then here are a few more things to think about:

Make sure it’s authentic. Where do the tour operators get their expertise from? Do they utilize local knowledge and local guides? How many years have they been in operation? Read some reviews and ask around. Is this more of a party tour or something that’s emphasizing meaningful travel? You would hate to pay for a tour that isn’t giving you a full experience. 

Make sure it’s responsible. Do some research here! Ask the tour operators about their responsibility to the communities they work in. Do they respect local traditions? Are they environmentally friendly? Do they pay fair wages? Traveling ethically means a bit of extra research but it’s worth it to know that you are not inadvertently harming the local economy or environment. Read reviews of adventure travel and eco-tour programs prior to booking.

A woman watching the sunset

And you can always do a combination! Find a flexible tour that will allow you some alone time on the beach or browsing shops, as well as some fun social time hiking, dancing, exploring history, or whatever else you want out of your trip! 

Wherever you might be headed, consider the pros and cons of tours versus solo travel. You could go meditate alone on a mountain or sing hiking songs on that same mountain with new friends (two sides to the same-mountain-coin!). You could bungee jump in New Zealand and face that fear bravely solo, or you can do it with an entire group of well-wishers and adventurers! Either way, go out and explore the wonderful, beautiful world we’re lucky enough to live in.