Independent travel vs escorted small group travel: Top 12 Benefits to help you choose

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Travel is about exploring the world; it is about getting to know new places, experiencing new things, and meeting new people. Whether you do that on a cruise, on a rail pass, on a bike trip or for a two week vacation on a tour, how you choose to travel is entirely up to you.

One of the biggest benefits of escorted travel is the ability to experience a destination without worrying about the travel details such as transfers, hotels and much more. You will have plenty of free time to explore on your own but you will also benefit from the expert knowledge of your tour manager and local guides.  When most people think of tours, they think of big buses, large groups, hurried itineraries, and little time to visit sights. The biggest mistake one can make about escorted tours is to assume they are all the same. But they are not! Just like every cruise line has its own personality and style, so does every tour operator.

A small group tour carries with it a certain personal intimacy that’s hard to duplicate in a larger group setting. That intimacy is achieved in several ways. Here are some of the benefits of escorted small group tours, what makes them different, and what you can expect on one.

Benefits of traveling with an escorted small group tour:

  • Provides comfort
  • Reduces stress
  • Provides local experts
  • Reduces planning
  • Offers convenience
  • Meet new friends

1.Small Group Tour Operators

First, having a small group will make it easier to meet and bond with everyone in your group. A small group size also makes it easier to have a personal relationship with your tour guides and tour manager. In large groups, it’s too easy to feel like another face in the crowd. A smaller group size will allow for tour managers to meet your needs with a personal touch.

2.Enjoy Less-Visited Places/Culturally immersive 

A small group tour is one of the best options for a vacation that focuses on local culture. When offering small group tours, travel providers often strike up relationships with locals that can be very beneficial to you, offering you a more authentic experience of the places you visit. Local tour guides can be a wealth of information about your destination, and local farmers, artisans, and other residents can provide you with a chance to experience their craft firsthand and someone to talk to about life in the country/region you are visiting.

A small group tour can offer peace of mind beyond the level of intimacy involved. Since so many activities are pre-planned and unique to the small group tour, the costs for these activities are included in your tour– in fact, in most cases all expenses are included and the common costs are divided up between the number of travelers, thus making it more affordable while offering you many included activities from private guides, transportation, to unique culinary tastings and visits. You can travel knowing that all your needs will be provided for, and that if they aren’t, you will have your tour manager with you who is there to assist you.

3.Less Stress

Traveling on a tour means you do not have to worry about the logistics that come with planning a major trip. You will have more time to enjoy the fun side of travel because your hotels, transportation and logistics are taken care of for you.

Anyone can plan their own vacation, but it takes a lot of time and research to be able to put together unique itineraries, and then of course you need to be constantly adapting and changing these plans as you are going along. Many special unique places worth visiting are not always mentioned in guide books. Taking an escorted tour means removing all the hassle of the planning stage.

You have to decide how to get there, how to get around, where to stay, what to eat, what to see, how to change money and who to talk to for help. The list of tasks never ends, it can be tiresome, cumbersome and just plain irritating.

Your tour manager takes care of the details while you concentrate on the only thing you want to concentrate on: exploring, discovering, learning, eating, drinking, shopping and having fun.

4.Worry-Free Experience

Traveling with a local expert means that your investment is safe. You know you will be staying in excellent and unique accommodations, experiencing enjoyable dining and visiting worthwhile sites and attractions. You also do not have to worry about trying to find your way around in an unfamiliar situation when it comes to driving a car, hoping your GPS will not send you down the wrong roads.

5.Experienced and knowledgeable Tour Managers

Tour Managers serve as liaisons between travelers and local personnel, such as museum staff, bus drivers, hotel managers and local tour company representatives. They coordinate travel arrangements such as ground transportation, local guides, hotel and restaurant reservations. They help guests who encounter medical or personal difficulties during their trip. They may act as translator for guests who do not speak the local language. The tour manager’s most important role is to help travelers have a memorable and educational vacation, sharing their wealth of knowledge and expertise.

6.Time

Some travelers just do not have the time for independent travel.

Let’s face it catching local transport often takes a whole day or more to get from one destination to another. If you consider the fact that most Americans get on average only 2 weeks paid holidays, independent travel may not work. This is where guided tours with a tour operator can prove to be a great choice for those who want to see as much as they can in a short period of time or simply really get to see a country with expert guidance.  Small group travel makes these things easy and allows you to maximize your precious vacation time. Instead of worrying about logistics, you can focus all your energy on having the experience of a lifetime.

Itineraries developed by local experts will help you maximize your time and take in the very best sights and attractions.

Note: Try to limit the number of countries you visit so you can experience more of the culture of your destination.

7.Comfort Levels

Independent travel is not easy. Not everyone is comfortable with just picking up and going to an unknown place on their own. Traveling alone requires a lot of skills and some just are not ready to dive into it, so traveling with a group can be a great way to ease into the unfamiliar world.

8.Meeting People-making New Friends

Traveling as a group provides many opportunities to meet new people and form lasting friendships.

This can be very reassuring to those shy folks who might not be so great at getting out there and meeting people on their own.

9.Information

Even when I am traveling independently, there will be many times I will take a guided tour of an historical site or cultural experience.

This is because I want to learn more about the place I am visiting. And I don’t want to be walking around trying to read it from a guide book while I am there. Guides can really deepen your knowledge of a place.

I want someone to point out certain features, tell me stories about the area and relay the important information. Guided tours are a great way to sit back, absorb the area you are in and allow someone else to tell you all about it.

10.Know what the Locals know

A friendly and experienced local guide/tour manager is the key to get the most from your travel. A guide is your intimate link to everyday life. Through their insight and vast knowledge, you will be rewarded with a fascinating glimpse into local culture. They also can share the little known secrets about a place that other travelers might just walk by.

11.Reduce Language Barriers

Traveling in a foreign country can be easier in a group environment. You can practice a new language with fellow travelers or locals and rely on your tour manager when needing help to order dinner for example.

12.Safety

Many people fear travel as they believe the world is unsafe.

A guided tour may offer this person the opportunity to travel, making them feel safer. There is always someone watching their back and people who they can turn to for comfort when feeling afraid.

Tips for choosing tour operators:

·         Be very clear on your travel wishes: What are your absolute must see sights? What sort of experience are you looking for? Purely cultural, adventurous, photographic?
The more you know what you are looking for, the easier it will be to find a tour operator whom you wish to work with and travel with.

·         Check the Age Group and Vibe: Contiki is well known for its 18-35 year old party type atmosphere. And on the flip side, one of my friends will never forget unknowingly ending up on a guided tour of Europe that was full of pensioners. Not really the experience his 25 year old self was looking for.

·         Don’t try to fit too much in: Do you really want to have a 5 minute ‘I was here’ experience, or do you want a more enriching experience? Less is more. 15 European countries in 15 days is going to leave you exhausted and you will not remember Italy from France.

·         Responsible Travel and tourism: Choose a company that not only respects the local environment, but the local culture as well. You want to make sure you are leaving a positive impact wherever you are going.

·         Costs: Make sure you know what your costs include. Certain activities on tour may cost extra and you need to know what those are before booking your vacation. Know what meals are included, what accommodation is covered by the tour, entrance fees, guides, transportation, transfers, unique activities and total number of days. When shopping around, please compare apples to apples and not apples to oranges, as we like to say in the travel business. The choices on the internet are infinite, so one way to compare costs is to see how many people are in a tour group offered (average is between 16 and 24) which means the common costs are divided among more travelers, hence the tour price will be lower, but the tour itself and the company might not resonate with your personal wishes and preferences. The best way to compare tour costs is to divide the cost of the tour by the number of days on tour.

·         Guides: As mentioned above, a benefit of an escorted tour is the knowledgeable tour manager and tour guide who will be showing you the area and teaching you more about it. Part of your research should be to find out what sort of guides/tour managers the tours use and how knowledgeable they are.

You may be considering traveling this year or next and be in the process of debating between Travels with Audrey and another tour company that charges less for  their services. We understand that cost can be a factor but the relationship you will develop and the truly unique and authentic experiences you will enjoy at Travels with Audrey are truly priceless.

I appreciate your visiting the website and if I have not had a chance to meet you yet, I look forward to the opportunity!