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"Group Tour" Myths

One of the things people debate about when planning a trip abroad is whether to go “ON YOUR OWN (OYO)” or “WITH A BIG TOUR COMPANY (WABTC)”. I felt like writing about this particular topic because I’ve encountered so many people who’ve dissed and talked badly about traveling on a group tour because of supposed “myths” they’ve heard around the grapevine, when actually, traveling WABTC is not that bad at all.

As a preamble, here are some of the myths I’ve gathered from said skeptics:

  1. "Westerners" are rude and leave us "Asians" behind
  2. Your tourmates are unfriendly and smelly
  3. Discrimination against us (“Asians”)
  4. It’s cheaper to go on your own
  5. Wake up calls are too early
  6. You won’t be able to do what you want
  7. And worst of all, there’s no bathroom onboard

Now mind you, these are just some of what I’ve been hearing from friends, acquaintances, random people in travel expos, and so on. I may be no expert, but I think I’ve been on enough of each kind of travel (OYO and WABTC) to have some sort of say on the matter.

In my years of mild jetsettedness (Around 15 years give or take—I don’t think you can count the first few years because I barely remember any travel from when I was very young), I’ve been on four multi-day group tours (Insight in the US, twice Trafalgar in Europe, and Trafalgar in Turkey), a handful or so of group day tours (Local companies in Australia, and a guided visit in Cambodia), and loads of travel OOO (ON OUR OWN) too.

So just to insert my two cents out there, here’s my reply to those myths:

"Westerners" are rude and leave us "Asians" behind

Not true. A lot of our tourmates come from different parts of the world, and not just the typical “Westerner” you may picture in your head. Although majority of our tourmates often come from Canada, the US and Australia, we also get to travel with people from India, South Africa, Ireland, and more! And while it does take a while to get acclimated to the mix of different cultures and personalities, we’ve never encountered a single “rude” person, and they most certainly have never left “Asians” behind. You have to understand that in a group tour, everyone has to be considerate of everyone else, and the tour operates on a tight schedule. You might get left behind if you’ve shown up shamelessly late at meeting points, but they always have someone wait for you to escort you to the bus or to the next “pitstop”, and this sort of policy most certainly does not apply to just “Asians”—only to “inconsiderate douches”.

Your tourmates are unfriendly and smelly

Again, we have never encountered anyone unfriendly/rude. In fact, we have never encountered anyone “smelly” either—and odor is so subjective, is it not? Our tour coaches (buses) were always in tiptop shape and smelling perfectly neutral (unless food’s onboard, of course). But odor aside, what you’ll be surprised to discover is that most people try to learn as much as they can about other people’s cultures. Depending on how you take it, it could come off as nosy or pesky, but really with good intentions at heart. I myself am a pretty reserved person, especially with a group of strangers who are more outgoing and openly chatty than me. But you also have to remember that you are in a group of curious minds, and they have probably never met anyone from where you’re from, and vise versa. So if you embrace that, you’ll find that their curiosity is really coming from a place of genuine interest.

Discrimination against us (“Asians”)

Bollocks. There is always the unwritten rule that we should be considerate of everyone and be open to embracing other cultures—otherwise, why travel?

It’s cheaper to go on your own

Not necessarily. Most tours run at about USD75-150 a day, which includes accommodations, all breakfasts, some lunches, some dinners, fees for the included attractions, porterage fees, etc. Which is not expensive at all compared to what you would be paying for accommodations on your own.

*Some first class tours or tours to certain destinations like South America can run up to around USD500 a day

Now, as with everything, price is dependent on the situation/nature of your travel. Some people opt to go full on budget travel mode—staying in hostels or friends’ apartments, going sparse on the most basic food, and so forth. Whereas some people turn their noses up at “group tours” and would rather chill out al fresco in a cafe than go walking around all day. If you are either of these, then group touring is most likely not for you.

Wake up calls are too early

Early, most of the time, yes, but not unreasonably so. Wake up calls are usually around 6-9am, with time alloted for breakfast. This may be too early for some people, but you have to remember that in a tour, they are also trying to give you more bang for your buck, so getting an early start is really more cost efficient for you.

You won’t be able to do what you want

Contrary to what people think, touring actually is more flexible than it seems. Apart from the included excursions and sights on your tour itinerary, there are several optional tours you can take on your own volition. And if you choose not to go on them, the time is yours to do whatever. Also, there are hardly any touring things done at night, so going for a nighttime stroll and such is definitely a possibility. Sure, you won’t have as much leisure time as you would if you were on your own, but it is a bit of a compromise to be able to go to more places in a shorter amount of time. Again, it’s sort of like a condensed, “introductory” visit, with an option for you to extend your stay on your own afterward, or for you to plan your next visit to whichever place you wish to return to.

And worst of all, there’s no bathroom onboard

Major tour companies (Insight, Trafalfar, Globus) have facilities onboard. This is pretty much a must because you’re traveling by bus for hours at a time. If you’re iffy about using the onboard restroom though, there are  scheduled pitstops every 2-3 hours in gas stations or restaurants, but be prepared to pay up because most of them charge for use of the facilities.

Personally, we usually combine a tour with some time OOO—for example, when we went to Italy in 2010, we took a 13-day tour around Italy, and then another 10 days in Rome on our own. Touring can help open up locations and towns that you may never choose to visit OYO, but they can turn out to be some of the most beautiful places to visit. Going with a group has its benefits, but it also requires a bit of compromise.

On the plus side, you will be relieved of the headache of looking for accommodations for each city you visit, and you’ll have a go-to guide and translator with you onboard. You often skip the lines for busy sights like the Colosseo or museums, and there are added perks of having local tour guides share their insider knowledge with you. No need to pore over pages and pages of text online to try to plan out what to do and how you get there, because you’ll have your trusty tour bus all day, and you can leave your stuff onboard, like extra bottles of water or an extra coat.

Downsides of course include having to make nice and be cheery with a bunch of strangers, which, to one as antisocial as myself, is really a chore, but in the end, you learn a lot from them and their respective countries too. The early days and late nights of course can be tiresome, but when you think about all that you were able to see and accomplish that day, the wee bit of tiredness is really worth it.

Touring is not for everyone, but as I’ve said, it can be a great introduction for future reference or trips you plan on taking. It’s not always the cheapest option, but you have to do the costing and weigh the cost against the benefits you get as well as the headache you save yourself from. You also have to take into consideration where you’re going, if you even need a tour at all (tours are especially helpful for visiting non-English-speaking countries), and when you’re going (there are usually big discounts if you book at an expo, or in the low season).

Also check among the different tour companies. Usually traveling with a major one like Insight (which also owns Trafalgar), Globus (which also owns Cosmos), Brendan (an affiliate of Trafalgar I think), and the like, will be safer, as they are more established and also are more professional and organized. I’m not too much a fan of joining local tours going abroad, because part of the group tour experience is getting to know people from other countries and their cultures too. Also, local tours’ fees are not cheaper, and in fact a lot of the time are more expensive than major companies.

Look through brochures for touring styles and routes that appeal to you and go to where you want to go. The major companies usually have the exact same tours in their arsenal, but with slight differences in hotels, meals, order of visits, etc. They also differ in price—Insight is usually the most expensive, as well as Globus. Trafalgar falls in the upper mid-range, while the low-cost Trafalgar brochure is a bit cheaper. Cosmos is the low cost version of Globus. Don’t be fooled by the price, though, because sometimes a Trafalgar tour can come out cheaper than a Cosmos one, depending on what sights they’ve included, how much their optional tours are, what meals are included, what hotels they stay at, etc. It helps to do a table of sorts (this is what my OC sister does, btw. hahaha) to be able to compare similar tours across different tour companies.

In short, do your research! :)

Photos of our tour itinerary & bus from our Trafalgar tours to Italy, and Turkey: Canon 450D + 10-22mm

If you have questions/comments, please do drop a line! I’m no pro, but I’m glad to share my own experiences from traveling and to learn what you know as well :)

Filed under group tour group tours tour companies travel traveling traveler tour trafalgar cosmos globus insight topdeck contiki