More than a decade ago, in my very first out of the country tour, I decided to do a guided one because I had no idea what to do. I was with my whole family and I wanted things to go smoothly. I never did it again but I also don't regret it. That first guided tour gave me an idea on how to do things and my succeeding trips were better because of what I've learned there.
This article is dedicated in helping you decide whether you would rather go on a guided tour or an independent one.
1) Guaranteed Transportation
When you are going to popular city, bad traffic almost always follow and when there is bad traffic, bad public transportation system is almost automatic. If you have ever been to Bangkok or Manila, you know that negotiating with cab drivers is like negotiating with a kidnapper. You can always take the train, but that's like battling a bull by the horn. It is just as bad in New York or London. It might be illegal for cab drivers to say no to passengers but the problem lies in actually finding cabs to hire.
A guided tour will relieve you off that headache. They should provide you a transportation between places and if something goes wrong with your vehicle, it's their responsibility to find a replacement. You just sit back and wait. Let them find a way to get you to your destination.
2) Guaranteed hotels
I was in Bangkok when the public demonstration broke out. We had to evacuate the hotel where we were. Bangkok is my favorite city
3) A more accurate calculation of budget
When you go on a guided tour, you are required to pay for everything even before you travel. Often, even tips are figured in. That means you already know what you will be spending for. It is common for guided tours to include breakfasts and there are certain places where you will be served lunch or dinner. You will be informed of all these ahead of time.
You will know in advance what else you need to spend on and you can ask the travel specialist how much your need to prepare for other things that you need to spend for but are not included on the package.
4) Save Time
If you have ever been to Rome, you know that going in the Sistine Chapel, museum and library is like waiting for the new Ipad release. You need to fall in line and it can take you up to 5 hours just waiting. Then, there is the 2 mile walk. You cannot be dropped off near the entrance. You need to walk miles (literally) because of the line and the sheer distance between the dropped off point to the entrance. There are also multiple lines. You need to fall in line to enter the gallery/museum and another line to enter the chapel.
Tour companies USUALLY have special privileges. You will be able to the enter the museum and chapel an hour before it officially opens. You will be dropped off right on front of museum and chapel.
If you are traveling on your own, you will have to devote the entire day to the Sistine Chapel and more than half of that is devoted falling in line.
Sistinie chapel is not alone. There are many attractions that can eat your time away just as much. A tour company should make it easier for you and save you time. That's part of what you are paying them.
5) A handy expert in the area
The tour guide is usually a local, someone who actually lives in the are. Thus, he should be able to provide you with insider knowledge of the place, culture and history. He should also be able to be helpful when you need simple but important assistance such as looking for a restroom, places to buy stuff, internet connection and others.
6) In case of emergency
One of the biggest benefits of going on a guided tour is the security of knowing that if there are medical emergencies, you have someone who knows what to do, where to go and that you will be attended to without further delays. It is recommended you go and get insurance, of course.
7) Better security
One of the most common problems in going in an independent tour is security. Passports get lost, bags get forgotten and you are forever at loss as where you can leave your stuff or questioning if the place you are in is safe. In a guided tour, the bus coach is secure. You have a place where you know you can leave your stuff and you will be taken to places where it is safe.
8) You might meet other people from other countries
Friendships, life long frienship have been formed on travels. Come and think of it, you usually become friends with people that have the same interest as you. The added bonus is that you get to spend time with the same people for several days and you go through the same wonderful experiences. It's a bond, a beautiful one at that.
9) It's comfortable
It is undoubtedly more comfortable. You wake up and a coach is waiting for you to take you to your destination. You don't need to plan, no need to stress about where to get a cab or how to get to a place or what time you will get there. Someone else already planned everything for you. All you need to think about is yourself.
10) It comes up cheaper... most of the time
Below is a sample computation of how much you can save when you go on a guided tour courtesy of Coast Travel Services, Inc. Tour companies are able to get lower rates because they do bulk buys. The savings is passed on to you. When you do independent travels, you will be given the retail rate in everything.
1) You get to adventure
The one great benefit of doing everything on your own is that you get to freestyle everything and that's half the fun for some people. You can really adventure and, most of the time, it's in those adventures that you get a real taste of the local culture because you will be put in a situation where you don't have a choice but interact with the locals in their most unguarded moments.
2) You can take your time
Guided travels follow a strict timetable. This is to make sure people get to the places they need to go and maximize the day. That means they tell you what time to wake up, when to go, where to go and how much time you can spend at a certain place. If you end up wanting to spend a bit more time somewhere, you can't. In an independent travel, you can take your time. You can wake up as late as you want. If you end up needing or wanting to get around a certain place more, then you can do it.
3) You are free
- You can change your itinerary
- You can wake up anytime, sleep anytime
- You can do what you want, in your own phase, to your own liking.
If you are the kind who really doesn't feel like adjusting to someone else's time, an independent tour would fit you better.
4) With the proper research, you can actually experience more of a city or a country
A guided tour would naturally take you to the best tourist attractions and that can be artificial for some. You see the best part, not necessarily the everyday reality. If you want to know a city in its strictest sense, you need to immerse yourself in their everyday life, go to local pubs, parks, see what people do in their lazy afternoons. You need to meet the neighborhood tattle tale, their favorite newspaper boy, their church and the kind owner of the neighborhood convenience store. You will not get that in a guided tour but you will find those information on forum, blogs and social networks. Get on an intense online research session and you should know what to do.
5) With proper research, you can get cheaper hotels
There are lots of hotels that are cheaper. Tour companies get friendly deals with nice hotels because they buy in bulk but if you are willing to settle for boutique hotels or those that may not necessarily be in the center of the city but just as clean and comfortable, you might get cheaper hotels. Again, it's all a matter doing proper research.
6) As close to authentic as you can get
As we've mentioned, you won't get the authentic culture of a city in a guided tour. You will get the best side of it. If you want to know a city in its barest form, shed the tourist spots and go to "everyday places".
7) It's Your Tour
If you do a tour by yourself, it will be about what you want and not what the tour company is offering. You design it according to your whim, phase, and wants. You set the itinerary and change it anytime.
Since you have the freedom to change itinerary anytime, you gain the flexibility to accommodate last minute discoveries or new recommendations.
9) Highly Customized
It's you who make the plans and you don't need to take anything else in consideration but what you want.
10)Learn How to Freestyle Which You May Use for Future Travels
You may not always have the opportunity to get a guide and you may get in an emergency situation where you will have to travel on your own. The lessons you will learn from doing things on your own will prove to be valuable. You need to know what to do when you are lost and you don't speak the language of the place you are in.
If you are a first-time traveler, I would still recommend trying out a guided tour when going to certain destinations like Europe.
A guided tour will let you get to certain places and attractions of a place with ease. That means you get to tick off the "must see" attractions in the city. The next time you travel, you can take your time and be a bit more in depth in your experience.
Choose a guided tour with "free days"
You can always choose a guided tour that gives you some free time to explore the city or place on your own. There are some guided tours that gives you several afternoons or days to explore the place on your own. That means you enjoy the benefits of not having to fall in line to see some of the city's attraction, having a comfortable vehicle to drive you from one attraction to another and still have the chance to explore the city on your own.
If you are an adventurer, go independent
If, however, you are more of an adventurer and likes the experience of getting lost, approaching strangers to ask for directions and all the joys that come with being a stranger in a city, then going on an independent tour is for you.
Blogs AND Forums
Before you book a tour and flight, research the place. Know what are the must-see places in your destinatin. You can easily get that from official websites and blogs of some of the more famous travel bloggers. However, if you want to know what are the places and things to do that would give you a more authentic feel of the culture of the city or place, go into forums and social networking sites.
There are social networks that are devoted to travelers. Look for locals in the are and ask them what you should see, where you should go and other tips to make your vacation more memorable. You will be surprised at how many people will actually respond. Some of these forumers also offer help like recommending affordable but nice hotels, giving you phone numbers of people that you could call to make reserving to restaurants, hotels and other things easier and cheaper.