Group Tours: Pros and Cons

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For the most part, I really dislike group travel.

It’s loud, slow and has a way of always making me feel like I’m on a high school field trip. If I’m not alone, I tend to travel and explore with just one or two people, usually well-traveled, independent friends.

But this weekend I decided to try out my first voluntary group travel experience since moving to Korea.

Based off recommendations from friends who’ve been here longer, I joined a few Facebook groups aimed at helping foreigners explore Korea. With absolutely no cost or effort on my part, I joined the group and received almost daily invites to various trips, before finally deciding on a hiking trip on the Southern coast of Korea last weekend.

Based on my (sometimes anti-social) opinion, here are the pros and cons of the group excursion.

The good:

Little (to no) planning

While I love traveling, I really do despise the planning and organizing that it takes. The beauty of these groups is that someone is paid to plan everything for you: transportation, activities, food, lodging, etc. You just pay, pack, and get yourself to the designated spot.

Your group will probably hit up some well-known tourist spots along the way, but you’ll also have the opportunity to go places you might not otherwise have found. The head of our particular tour group was a Korean man, so he has the inside scoop into what the locals are actually doing.

Meeting people

This is a no-brainer. If you pack a bunch of foreigners into a charter bus and send them off for the weekend, they are going to make new friends. Especially if all of these foreigners have one glaringly obvious character trait: they are the type of people who packed up and moved to Korea for an adventure.

The easiest and most common ice breaker heard all weekend? “So why did you move to Korea?”

Even if you go with a group of friends, it’s fun and easy to meet new people. And a lot of the people on our trip were flying solo, and they left Sunday night with about 30 new people to hang out with.

And now for the bad:

You’re stuck

Unlike solo travel where you have the opportunity to change your mind at any time, group travel is definitely more structured.

You relinquished all control when you let someone else plan the trip, so now you’re stuck with whatever activities and accommodations they chose.

That’s why it’s important to do research and figure out which groups/tours/packages are right for you.

Our trip was only a weekend, which was a perfect amount of time for me. It was long enough to explore a small part of Korea and meet people, but short enough that I wasn’t going crazy.

There’s no alone time

You travel as a group. You eat as a group. You shop as a group. You sleep as a group. And you wait in line for a shower as a group.

While this is all part of the fun, and definitely helps you get to know people, it can always cause a bit of stress or frustration. And let’s be honest, you’re not going to like everybody on the trip.

My suggestion: an iPod.

And lastly, I always feel a bit self-conscious when traveling with a huge group of foreigners. Mainly because we stick out and we are loud.

I feel like we often annoy and/or inconvenience the locals. But at the same time, we bring business to any place we go, due to our sheer volume. And in that situation all you can do is suck it up, and try to be the most respectful traveler that you can be.

After all, most people understand that you don’t represent the whole group.

So overall, the group tour was a perfect weekend trip that allowed me to explore a part of Korea I never would have known about on my own.

I would try it again, but probably just for another weekend trek – I’ll probably never be the type of traveler who enjoys the extended group tour.

What have your experiences been with group tours/ packaged getaways? Would you rather travel as a pack or solo?

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About Author

Claire is a recent college grad turned expat, who is currently teaching English in South Korea. When she's not exploring Korea and writing about it, Claire enjoys fantasizing about future trips, shopping, dancing, and drinking dangerous amounts of caffeine. She plans to move to Buenos Aires in 2012. You can follow her adventures at www.sokogigglygirl.wordpress.com.

7 Comments

  1. I have done both, and enjoy both for various reasons.

    As you mentioned, I like planning my own travel and even travelling solo because it affords me to do what I want and I have the freedom to change my itinerary. I have organized a lot of my own trips, especially in Europe.

    However, I have done some package tours and I think they are helpful when you are travelling to places that are more difficult to navigate on your own, or where you don’t speak the local language. I did a group tour to Kenya and Tanzania and it was fantastic! I don’t think that I ever could have arranged a safari tour on my own. I am also looking into doing a group tour in India- I’ll probably be travelling on my own and going with a group takes the guess work out of everything.

    A good compromise would be to organize a trip to a destination on your own and then do the drop-in walking/sight-seeing tours!

    • Good post Claire and it’s so cool to see you all out sharing your travel stories! Awesome!! I agree Oneika I don’t think you could do a safari on your own, and there are some places (like Bhutan) where you can only enter the country if you’ve booked a tour group. I traveled only once with a group, in New Zealand, on my first ever abroad trip because I thought it’d be a good way to meet people. It was, and I had a lot of fun, but by the end of it I was dying to get out on my own because it was sort of clicky and weird. That was my last group tour!

  2. I’m an alone traveller, definitly !

    As everyone, I think, I tryed a group tour last year through India & Nepal.

    We had the advantage that the group was really small (We were 9), but it didn’t change the aspect you just discribed. Moving as a group, eating as a group,…ect.
    We ended up in some touristic shops and restaurants with bad food and very expensive souvenirs…
    Also, as you say, you can’t like everybody, so I had a conflict with one of the group. I tryed not to for a week, but when you spend so much time with them, at one point you have to say what’s on your mind (especially me with my big mouth)
    So, I took the best of this trip, but really regret doing those countries like that. I went back this year to travelling on my own to Sri Lanka and this is definitly the way that I love to do it !

  3. I do both. Sometimes it is more economical to join a group tour but if I can travel solo I prefer to do it. Because you are right a group tour just scream tourist! You also tend isolate yourself from the local scene.

  4. I like to do a little of both. For the most part when I was in Australia a few years ago, I traveled and lived alone, but I would jump on tours for a day or a weekend, usually to get me from one place to another without the hassle of backtracking and having to find a ride and dealing with people I didn’t know and decisions I didn’t want to argue over. I liked knowing what was going to happen ahead of time.

    The longer you travel and stay in one place, the less need for a tour. But if you want to jam a lot into a short period of time, I don’t look down on them as much as I used to!

  5. Rebecca, I agree. They are definitely helpful when you want to do a lot of activities in a short period of time. And I need that push sometimes – I’m not nearly as motivated to see and do so many things on my own in a short time.

  6. We’re ‘alone’ travellers (if 2 can be counted as alone) but contemplating a group trip soon just to sample it. I guess we’re antisocial – in a nice way, of course 🙂 – and like Claire, we’re also conscious of being part of a large group of conspicuous foreigners, annoying the locals. We’ll see when we do our group trip!
    Julia

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