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Organised Tours.......A great way to travel or simply for the lazy gringo?

Organised tours......do they take all the hassle away or provide you with too many disappointments?
11 years ago, May 30th 2008 No: 1 Msg: #36907  
B Posts: 104

*Have you taken any organised tours?
*What have been your experiences of tour companies?
*What has made your tour great or how did they got it so wrong?
*Would you take a tour again & in which countries?
*Which tour would you recommend as being the best?

Having taken various organised tours we would be interested in your thoughts!

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11 years ago, May 31st 2008 No: 2 Msg: #36945  
B Posts: 11.5K
I generally prefer traveling independently - I have been on a few organised tours though, either because independent travelers aren't permitted (such as the Inca Trail) or for the sake of convenience if I have only very limited time in an area and want to cram as much in as I can.

I haven't had the misfortune of striking a bad tour company, but if it's more than just a day tour I usually put in a reasonable amount of research. Reply to this

11 years ago, May 31st 2008 No: 3 Msg: #36968  
I have never taken a tour to travel. I dont like the idea of them. I like to pick and choose the things of interest to me in each country rather than have a tour agent plan and decide for me.
I have taken a tour now and again in places I was not allowed to enter without being on a tour such as a particular castle or whatever.

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11 years ago, May 31st 2008 No: 4 Msg: #36971  
There is a small scale and large scale aspect to this issue. Ill use New Zealand as an example to illustrate the extremes.

On a large scale, you can take a 2 week organized tour of say, New Zealand. you are herded on to a charter bus, which stops at predetermined locations, you all stay in the same hotel, and all the arrangements from lodging to entrance fees to transportation is taken care of. You meet lots of new people. You don't have to worry about any planning or reservations. You have structure and a full itinerary and don't have to worry about transportation.

On a small scale, you can take a guided canyoning tour of a remote gorge in the NZ Alps. You get an expert on ropes and belays, equipment and permission to enter the gorge. You get natural history from an expert, one on one time with a local who gives you a personal perspective on their country.

You can easily organize your own large scale tour of a country, but you cant exactly go canyoning on your own. Sure if you are experienced and can rent equipment and know a gorge you can... but the core issue here is local knowledge, local access and supporting the local economy by putting money into locals hands and promoting individuals to become guides.

I think the more remote a place is, the more you should lean towards getting a guide. I had my Torres del Paine trip all planned out, but when I got there I saw guided tours with a wealth of options I never even considered. I could have had all my gear transported for me, side trips to glaciers few gringos rarely see, and even squeezed in a trip to Perito Moreno.

One more example can be found in Chile as well, in the desert North. Its high and dry and the roads are dirt. Its fairly easy to figure out the national parks and develop a kick ass itinerary- so all you need to do is rent a car. A situation developed for my friends Ruth and Barry recently when they decided to climb Cerro Toco (5,640m): It takes your breath away: adventures in the Atacama Desert they could have paid a guide, instead they chose to rent their own truck and make the ascent on their own. Since they are serious trekkers in great shape, they had no problems making the summit and no doubt had a fantastic time. But perhaps if they paid the exorbitant price for a guide their experience would have been different. The guides might have given them 100 million years of geologic history, pointed out rare and unusual plants, made points about cultural history of the area or perhaps even stopped at a locals house for some tea.

My opinion is large scale tours are a waste of time for anyone under age 40, anyone without a family, or anyone who is not disabled. Planning your own adventure and researching a place is half the fun! However- when it comes to small scale tours of places you may or may not be able to visit on your own-local tour guides are like a golden ticket, a wealth of knowledge to experiences far beyond the reach of independent travellers reading history from a book and not meeting locals.
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11 years ago, June 1st 2008 No: 5 Msg: #36976  
Organised tours are a nail in the coffin to real travelling. Reply to this

11 years ago, June 1st 2008 No: 6 Msg: #36992  
we arranged organized tours for our time in kenya and in egypt before we started our trip because we were intimidated and thought these countries would be too much to handle on our own. that was before we'd ever travelled anywhere (except a week in jamaica), so it seemed like a good idea at the time. but ... after three months of backpacking, by the time we got to the two group tours, it was a disaster! we felt like we had all our independance taken away, and it was really difficult going from the backpacker mindset of adventure and freedom to the "organized tour" mindset of "i can't do anything myself, what does the guide think we should do???". the other issue for us was clashing with our group members. our egypt tour was wonderful and we really liked our travel buddies, but in kenya it was awful and a few people really ruined the trip for us. it would be nice to think that it doesn't matter who you're on the tour with ... but all day every day with the same group of people can make or break your trip.

the other problem we have with group tours is that they overcharge (compared to what it would cost you to do it yourself) and that they NEVER deliver what you think they will. we've also arranged a few of those 2 or 3 day tours in countries as we've gone along, but they almost always turn out to be dodgy. this seems to be especially bad in vietnam (where we are right now), but we've had bad experiences with it other countries as well.

we're almost done our trip now ... and looking back, there are only a few circumstances where we'd do organized tours in again. community based tours - where you stay with a family - are definitelly worth it. also, in dangerous countries. brazil wasn't very enjoyable for us because of safety concerns, and the same wtih south africa, so in countries where crime in rampant or it's unstable, i'd definitelly do a group tour ... or just wait until they figure themselves out and THEN backpack! Reply to this

11 years ago, June 1st 2008 No: 7 Msg: #36993  
B Posts: 38
Though I generally travel independantly, years ago I did an organised tour of Japan.
My reasons were;

1. As I was on annual leave, I only had 3 weeks, so was restricted in what I could see.

2. I had never been to Japan before.

3. Figured there might be some problem with language.

The guided part of the tour when very smoothly. In my own unguide side tours I was constantly getting lost, because not many people I met spoke fluent english and I couldnt read the Japanese signs.

About half way through the tour we met an independant traveller who wanted to join the tour. The poor chap didnt have a clue where he was.

So I think a guided tour can be a good option to consider if you are short on time and are having a first look.
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11 years ago, June 1st 2008 No: 8 Msg: #37020  
I think there's a time and place for both. Independant travel is great for doing exactly what you want, when you want. You have more opportunity to move off the beaten track and explore little known areas and perhaps the one great advantage is that you can change your plans as you go, spending more times in areas you like and even taking 'time off' for illness without missing the days prescibed itinerary.

However guided tours are perfect when you want to see a country in a very limited time. All the tours I've been on have been excellent at packing in so much. There's no time wasted for aclimatising, getting your bearings and trying to force your way past touters to find a reputable taxi rank. There's also the advantage of a trained tour guide.

I went on a package holiday to Egypt and I don't think I would have enjoyed it half as much without the tour guide. Standing in front of Abu Simbel with a guide book in hand or wandering around Edfu scanning a page of text for explanations would not have come close to the passion, enthusiasm and depth of knowledge provided by the tour guide. While the temples themselves were amazing the experience was better for the fact our guide could bring the history to life, detail why they were built one way and not another, compare them with the other temples we'd seen and explain the subtle differences. Best of all was having a trained Egyptologist who could translate any heiroglyph we asked about and explain the religious, cultural and political influences behind the text.

I think it depends what you want out of the trip. If I'm going to be visiting ancient sites I'd much rather have a professional guide. I don't see the point in visiting somewhere and not learning about it while I'm there and neither do I want to bring a huge history tomb along with me. However when it comes to experiencing the local culture and the every day life of a country then independant travel is the best way to immerse yourself and I've certainly had more success in meeting locals and particpating in festivals and so on when I'm not part of a large group.
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11 years ago, June 2nd 2008 No: 9 Msg: #37154  
I agree with both Anna and Paul... there are occasions for touring and occasions for independently travelling. Because my friends usually either can't get the same holidays, or don't want to go to the same places, I join small-group tours so I can not only see and experience the countries I'm visiting, but meet some new friends as well.

My first tour overseas was a 'run of the mill' tour where there were 45 people (!) on a huge coach swarming into places and almost taking over. I've matured as a traveller since then and only take small-group tours where there is a maximum of 12-15 people that usually catches the local transport and get more into experiencing the city rather than staying on the edges and looking in as such (you've no doubt heard of travellers vs tourists...)

The tours I go for have a mixture of group activities and lots of free time to go your independent way. Of course, you don't even have to join the group activites if you don't want to, but that's how you get to know your new friends, by spending time together. The tour also has accommodation usually central to the town or location and sometimes offer quirky or off-beat accommodation that an independent traveller may never think of. The tours have also figured out that the best way to get from A to B is by catching this subway to that station to catch the next train to such and such a place. The traveller gets the experience without having to figure out the schedules and ticketing. They also hire guides in locations so you can learn and ask questions instead of trying to find it in the guidebook.

I am all for small-group touring for my overseas journeys and tend to make my domestic journeys (in Australia) more independent, picking up any local activities as I go along (a-la Stephen, though canyon-ing is a tad extreme for me).

I have noticed on tours that there seems to be that 'one person' that is either always late or loud that seems to rub people the wrong way. Sometimes it can be a bonding thing for the rest of the group. Good leaders 'deal' with them appropriately and sensitively.

Enjoy your trip whichever way you choose to travel!
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11 years ago, June 3rd 2008 No: 10 Msg: #37218  
N Posts: 3
Depending on the country you are visiting obviously. It seems to me that the most spectacular places to visit are 8 times out of 10 dangerous. Dangerous in the sense of crime or location but I must agree though that traveling independantly does eliminate certain limitations to what you can see or do. On the other hand, traveling with a group and a seasoned travel guide does allow you access to information and things to see that you might not have known about without the travel guide so yes, I think it is a 50/50 call. Reply to this

11 years ago, June 3rd 2008 No: 11 Msg: #37236  
B Posts: 228
I personally love independent travel and do not take organized tours for an entire trip. I have done a guided half day, couple hour, even full day tour of various sites, museums, the Vatican, etc, but that's about as much of a group tour that I can handle. A lot of the reason for this is that when I travel, I'm not a big fan of doing all the "must sees". Of course I do generally try to see these things (e.g. I went to Paris recently and did see the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, etc) but it's not my main objective. I love to just wander around and find what I find, and am especially excited when I find hidden gems that others have not seen. This does not usually mesh well with most guided tours. I have hired a private guide/driver for my family during a trip, but it was just our family and we determined the itinerary. When I was in Australia and New Zealand in college, they had their version of a "hop on hop off" bus which ran a certain itinerary for several weeks. You had to stop where the bus stopped overnight, but could opt to stay however long you wanted and catch the next bus, or keep on your current itinerary. So it was organized in a way, but really we had the freedom to do our own itinerary for the most part. The only time I might consider doing a tour would be if it was a very small group and was a special interest tour (e.g. geared towards a specific activity, a gastronomy tour, an eco-tour, etc). Also, I plan to do an African Safari for several some time in the hopefully near future so I guess this would count as an organized tour. I think for me though, it would provide me with the best experience and I would certainly look for a small group.

That being said, I plan travel for a living and there are some people who will definitely get their money's worth out of a guided tour and I highly recommend it to them for that reason. Many times it's because it's their first trip abroad, it's a big group of them (so they'd make up most of the tour anyways) or they are concerned with not knowing the language, what to do, where to go, how to handle problems, etc. Often times all they want is to see the major sites and this is great for them. Plus I have found that on the half day tours, etc that I've done, I do learn some interesting facts that I may not have found otherwise so these tours do have that advantage. I find singles often like guided tours as well because it gives them the chance to meet and travel with others.

There is a good middle ground for people who want some guidance but do not want the "If it's Tuesday it must be belgium" thing. There are hosted/independent tours which basically are a package which includes your flights, hotel, transportation between cities if applicable and usually includes a half day or several hour tour in each city on the day you arrive. These are nice for a lot of people because they have some structure so people don't feel totally lost, but they allow a lot of flexibility as well, plus since it's technically a tour, they have the tour operator who can handle many questions/concerns/issues. Whew that was long sorry!! :-) Reply to this

11 years ago, June 18th 2008 No: 12 Msg: #39021  
B Posts: 104

Its great to hear all your views!

The reason for our question was due to us just finishing a GAP Adventures tour to Machu Picchu (The Inca Discovery). We have now done a couple of tours, (including one with Intrepid) & I would agree it depends on the person travelling and the situation. I think it narrowminded to right tours off as a nail in the coffin of travel & would agree with most of you that they do have a place, whether it is for a one day tour of ruins etc or a more extensive safari etc.

We think there are some fundamentals to getting a GREAT experience from a group tour:

* A knowledgable & fun guide
* A group of people you get on well with
* Clear itinery/dossier and understanding of what is involved with the tour.

This can provide you with something you may not have been able to get from travelling independently, whether this is a restaurant with cooking school or a visit to an orphanage or local person's home. At the end of the day it's all about individual informed choice & either way, travelling is still great for the soul. Right?? :-)

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11 years ago, June 18th 2008 No: 13 Msg: #39097  
Yeah, I've had my share of organised tours. And there are enormous differences. You get the quasi-institutionalised guides in some cities that have been making the same descriptions and comments for twenty years. But sometimes you discover young, idealistic and quite innovative tour organizers and guides, who will make even dry content very interesting.

You get things like the "Before Sunrise"-Tour in the Austrian Capital Vienna where you re-visit the scenes of the Film by Richard Linklater. And we aren't talking about churches or museums. You visit a cemetery, a traditional restaurant, the Danube channel and a punkrock-stage - all in a few hours. I think in this way you get to see the "real" city beyond the disneyfied tourist traps (that are all the same in Europe at least).

The greatest difference between organised tours and backpacking on your own initiative is the lack of freedom. You get a package. So you stick with that. As a more freeminded traveler I prefer making my own discoveries and getting to know people who will act as a type of guide on a more personal level. You can find them at state universities (that are usually open to visitors), libraries and of course pubs. Sometimes I met people on the train (I played 12 hours of card games with a couple of Scotts on a traintrip from Berlin to Prag, we got so used to each other that we spent three days in Prag - but were pretty fed up with cards), sometimes I met people just asking for directions.

Of course the greatest advantage of organized tours besides getting a nice complete package is the insurance. If something happens to the bus or the group, the organizer can be held viable. You can sue the dirt out of them if they haven't some kind of insurance. While backpacking a lot of things can happen, you can have an accident or your stuff can be stolen or (knock on wood) you can fall ill. Of course these are all very extreme cases. But when something like this happens you realize how alone you are and how very foreign the country actually is, in which you are traveling. So you either take the risk or you can get yourself a cheap backpacker travel insurance which isn't very expensive but can help put your mind at ease.

All things considered I still think that origanized tours are good but you can do better if you get yourself organize.


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