Every place is different, and while I’ve happily traveled as a solo female across the globe, there have been times when I’ve acknowledged that I’d have been better off on a group tour. Aside from the social aspect, there are certain situations when booking a group tour can be immensely beneficial. Here are some examples of destinations – and situations – where group tours are actually worth it.
When There's a Language Barrier
Solo travelers can feel isolated and lost when a language barrier rears its ugly head. Doubly so when you’re trying to cope with a different alphabet as well. For those wishing to travel to Russia, Bulgaria, Georgia, China, Japan and more, the need to rely on a phrase book and painstakingly work out street signs and restaurant menus word by word can be tiresome. Ditch the stress and let a tour guide do the hard work for you.
When a Lack of Infrastructure Will Hinder Your Plans
In parts of the world where travelers are a scarce commodity – yes, they do still exist – it can be difficult to get around independently without risking your personal safety in a vehicle that hasn’t been roadworthy by Western standards for decades. Traveling for hours across Senegal in a rust bucket of a Peugeot was memorable, but probably not the smartest travel decision I ever made given the state of the roads and the quality of the driving. If the fallback option is an expensive car and driver rental, group tours can make financial sense. Choose a specialist company with plenty of experience in intrepid destinations and you’ll increase the chance of sharing the ride with likeminded travelers.
When You Need an Expert to Explain a Complicated History
A tour with a well-qualified and knowledgeable local guide can open up a place in a way it’s rarely possible when you go it alone. Sure, it’s possible to sightsee in Cambodia without the need for an organized tour, but a guide can provide the insight and local perspective which helps the casual visitor understand the country’s recent and very troubled past.
When Visiting a Highly-Regulated Society
In countries such as North Korea, it’s a condition of the tourist visa to be booked on a pre-planned tour with two North Korean guides for company. Even then, the rules on who’s issued a visa can change without warning, as the temporary freeze on applications demonstrated in mid-2018. Book with an international tour operator and you’ll have back up from a company that knows the system as well as the option of rebooking or rerouting your trip if circumstances dictate. The same goes for visitors to Antarctica. Unless you're a scientist working one of the research stations, you'll need to join a tour operator to gain access to this icy land.
When Time Is Short But There’s a Lot to See
Whether you’re on a rushed Boston weekender or trying to eke out the dregs of an inadequate annual holiday allowance to cover half of Europe in a week, there are times when we all find ourselves short of time during a trip. It makes sense, when there’s too much to fit in, to engage the services of someone who can sort the wheat from the chaff. You’ll avoid wasting time on public transport too, freeing up some precious minutes for extra sightseeing.
When You’ll Gain Access You Couldn’t Get on Your Own
Credit: Joel Carillet/iStock
Even the most resourceful of independent travelers will recognize that sometimes, it’s not what you know but who. If you’re trying to get a handle on an intimate occasion such as Mexico’s Day of the Dead, for instance, you can easily find yourself more of a voyeur than a participant if you don’t have the right connections. Join a group tour and piggyback on someone else’s valuable networking.
When There’s a Good Chance You’ll Get Lost
The days of trying to read a disintegrating paper map in the pouring rain are fortunately behind us, but despite advances in technology, it’s still possible to get well and truly lost. You might be deep in a North African souk or out of range in the Great Caucasus Mountains, but wherever you are, a loss of signal can be disconcerting, if not downright frightening. Book a tour and let the guide lead you so you can concentrate on enjoying the stimulation of your surroundings without fearing you’ll be there forever.