International travel is great but it can also be stressful. Whether you are an experienced traveler or just starting your international adventures, planning your trip can be a daunting task. The best place to start is undoubtedly picking a date and buying your tickets, but what happens then? Before you go any further, I recommend you ask yourself a question: “What kind of trip do I want?”
“A good one” is probably the most immediate thing that comes to mind, but what is going to make this trip ‘good’? There are many ways to experience a place and a number of factors can influence which would be best for you. So how do you choose? If you have hesitated to plan this trip in the past, then assessing what gave you pause might be a good place to start. Was the trip too expensive? Were you overwhelmed by the planning process? Were you nervous about going so far away? Being honest with yourself about these concerns will help you find options that can help put them to rest and ultimately make your trip more enjoyable.
There are a number of trip ‘styles’ to choose from that can help you achieve your travel goals. In this series of posts, I will be breaking down a few of these options and share my experiences with them so you will be better equipped to prepare for your next international adventure!
Cruises/Riverboats **Coming Soon**
Solo Travel **Coming Soon**
When I look at travel blogs, I feel like group excursions are often snubbed. Though it certainly seems glorifying to ‘do it on your own’, it’s not always the best option for all travelers and group excursions can be just as if not more rewarding. Group excursions are where you sign up with a company or organization and travel with a group of people to and around your destination. The company or organization sets the primary itinerary and, most of the time, arranges accommodations. The size and composition of these groups can vary according to the program.
- They take care of most if not all of the planning. Group excursions are a good option for any first time travelers, those overwhelmed by planning, and/or people who simply don’t want to go it alone. What is probably one of the most valuable things is that they take care of the logistics in a way that even experienced travelers can appreciate. This ensures that your trip is safe, efficient, and fulfilling. Trips, particularly trips abroad, are hard to plan for and when one has not traveled, it is difficult to anticipate and plan for some of the finer challenges that can make or break a trip. Experiencing a well organized trip without having the weight of it on your shoulders can be informative as well as enjoyable and can make for better solo trips in the future.
- There are a wide variety of groups/programs available to ensure you get the experiences you want. Each trip usually has a focus of some kind and there are so many out there that with some research, you should be able to find one that meets your travel goals. For example, one group might be focused on hiking while another might bus you from sight to sight. Once you have a general idea of the type of experience you want, the perfect group is only a click away.
- Safety in numbers. Though your experiences might seem a little less ‘personal’, there is a lot to be said about experiencing things with a group. Your fellow group members can push you to try new things or simply provide a safety net of familiarity that can boost your confidence when experiencing a foreign culture. It also guarantees that there are others close by who are looking out for your safety, which can be reassuring to the solo traveler. Though it is likely you will not know many of your group members before you leave, your attraction to the same program provides a base of commonality on which strong bonds can be built.
- The connections you make during your group excursions can help you make the most of an extended stay. Many don’t realize that a ‘future’ trip might not be so far away. It is a common misconception that if you choose to participate in a group excursion, you must start and end your trip when the program starts and ends. However, in almost all of the group excursions I have been on, there have been individuals that have decided to stay a week or two after the program. It is so popular in fact that many programs have begun offering trip extension packages when you sign up. In my opinion, extending your stay can be a great way to get your feet wet in solo travel without making it your entire vacation. Though it is also possible to start your travel earlier than the start of your program, I would highly recommend you wait until the end. The group organizers, tour guides, bus drivers, and even your fellow group members can all contribute useful information if you ask and can recommend unique experiences, provide information about where you are staying (including safety and transportation tips), and even get you in touch with other locals who can be a resource. If you know you want to extend your trip prior to leaving, discuss your plans with your group organizers to ensure proper pricing for your trip.
- It can be cheaper. Depending on the type, a group excursion can be a cheaper way to travel. If you are willing to work, there are many sponsored charity or scholarly trips that offer unique, local experiences on top of what one would expect to find out of a touring group. You may not get to travel for free, but having your trip subsidized can lift a lot of the financial burden. Even without pursuing a subsidized program, the companies/organizations that manage group excursions often gain access to places at a cheaper ‘group’ rate, making the ‘overall package’ a better value.
Things to Consider
- During the program, you are on the group schedule. This is probably the biggest challenge when traveling with a group. Though different trips offer different levels of autonomy, it is hard to know when signing up how much that will actually be and I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s never enough. Inevitably you will want to spend more time at a location or explore something not on the itinerary, but you have to stay with your group if you plan on making it back. On the same note, you may have to do or see things you have no interest in at all (though it doesn’t hurt to try). Of course, you could be ‘sick’ for a day and do your own thing, but that also means you are paying for something you are not experiencing. Many travelers will dedicate their extension on the trip to revisiting places they felt they were unable to properly experience.
- Group excursions pack in as many activities as possible, and it’s exhausting. Closely related to #1 is the fact that the goal of most group excursions is to fit in as many experiences as possible in the time given. Time is strictly limited at each location in order to make it to the next one. Where the first couple of days may seem great, the fast pace can become a little overwhelming.
- You have to deal with other people, constantly. Though group excursions are a great opportunity to meet new, like-minded people, you don’t get to choose who you travel with and not everyone will be a good traveling companion. In addition, people are generally easily stressed by both travel and intense activity, making them difficult to be around. Having to deal with these things all day every day might not be your cup of tea and even in the best of groups, constantly being with the same people can be irritating.
- Not the best choice for family travel. I should note that in talking about group excursions, I am not talking about a day trip, I am talking about multiple days with the same group. In these longer group trips, I have never been with a family and there’s good reason. There are a number of unique challenges that come with traveling with a family, particularly when children are involved. These challenges are often difficult to resolve when everyone is being held to the group schedule. In addition, the intensity of the programs can be hard on children though there are some ‘child friendly’ adventures available.