Now that you have decided how much you want to spend on a trip and where you want to go, now you need to decide on what type of trip is it going to be. There is a lot to be said about tour groups especially if you are new to travel or you are single. There is an old saying that there is “safety in numbers“. We like to think that we live in a modern world and that international travel is safe everywhere but we all know that this is hardly the case. It is unfortunate that many of the most beautiful places in the world to see are also in the areas that are the least safe for tourists to visit. Tour groups may help to offset some of these dangers. Some feel that they also make an appealing and all too obvious target. Only you can decide.
Another reason for joining a tour group is that the trip planning is simplified because most of the trip is planned for you including all of the transportation and lodging even down to the main meals. Now just because it is structured it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a little flexibility. They do give you free time to explore at each location you stop at. Tour groups also come in handy if you are going to countries that you are not familiar with and also speak a different language. Translators are provided by these tour groups. Because they are usually large groups of people involved there is also an economy of scale involved, so in some cases you save money over solo traveling.
If you want a little more flexibility but don’t want to make all of the arrangements for your trip, travel companies offer other options. If you have a higher budget you can arrange for private tours for all or part of your trip. I call this a hybrid trip. We are going to do this for our trip to Egypt and Jordan. The major part of the trip will be with a tour group which allows for add-ons at each location. However, it is our responsibility to get to where the tour starts which is in Cairo. So we are going to spend a little time exploring some surrounding areas before we join the group.
Travel agencies or tour companies have changed over the years as people’s tastes have become more refined. Many people don’t want cookie cutter trips. I think that sites like YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest and travel blogs have all played a major part in this change. People are becoming more hungry for the eclectic and unusual. Some self-guided tours are arranged by a travel company, but they rely on the traveler to get themselves around. However, these tours can still include things like transfers and pre-arranged transport. Great examples of independent travel tours include popular trekking routes or self-guided drives.
There are also specialized tour groups that cater to particular interests, take for instance, diving trips. These groups usually take care of all your lodging needs and, of course, your diving needs as well. In my first dive trip even the flights were included in the trip package. Subsequent ones allowed more flexibility in that we made our own travel arrangements. In one particular case, my wife and I added three more days to the trip, and went off to explore other non-diving related interests. In these dive trips usually only the mornings are taken up for diving and maybe a couple of evenings for a few night dives. The rest of the time you are free to explore as you wish. The evening meals are usually spent with the group, so you can all exchange and discuss your experiences for that day. However, this is not mandatory and you are free to make your own arrangements.
Like I stated previously, I haven’t visited every country or even circumnavigated the globe, my travel experiences have been quite varied. As I work my way through this book, I will share my many experiences with you.
Of course, independent travel affords the most options in your travel plans. For instance you can make all your reservations ahead including hotels and events or shows that you want to see or participate in. This is advisable especially if it is in peak season or a show you want to see is quickly sold out. When you make plans like this you are kind of restricted, especially if something happens that alters your plans, for instance you or your partner becomes sick. In many cases, the money you put down is non-refundable. This is when travel insurance comes into play. I will discuss this in Chapter Six. I have had mixed results with making all the arrangements ahead, especially when it was to a place that I have never visited before. So I would like to make this caveat that really do your research before you put any of your hard-earned money down. What may be a great deal may end up not being so great in the long run, case in point, my trip to British Columbia. I will discuss this in depth in a later chapter mainly because it touches on so many subjects that I have just mentioned.
You can do the exact option and that is to “fly by the seat of your pants“. This type of travel is more conducive to road trips but it can also be employed in all types of travel. But be forewarned this type of travel requires the utmost in flexibility. If you travel this way, you should have two or three lists of things you want to do and see based on their importance to you so that you are not unduly disappointed if they are booked up when you get there. This type of travel is best done on the off season when there are fewer people competing for those coveted seats at your shows or events.
Like I said before there is no right or wrong way to travel. It all depends on what you want out of your excursions and what type of personality you have and your level of experience in travel. I find that the more experienced you become in traveling, the more adventurous you become. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as you continue to practice safe travel techniques. You after all only have one life and there is always another year to take that trip. I have been putting off my trip to Egypt and Jordan for several years mainly due to the highly volatile regions surrounding these countries. I frankly do not want to be mounted on some ISIS trophy hunters wall.
You probably have discerned from not only this book but my previous ones and my blogs is that I like to be thorough. So I am including not only my thoughts and experiences in this book but those of others as well. While researching websites on the subject of travel, I came across this wonderful website and article, traversejourneys.com, “THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GROUP TOURS, SELF-GUIDED TOURS, AND CUSTOM TOURS.”
GUIDED SMALL GROUP TRAVEL
Small group travel or small group trips is a subcategory of what might generally be called “packaged trips,” “all inclusive” or “group departures.” Trip dates are set, there is a specific itinerary that is followed, and you have a guide throughout the duration of the trip as well as a group of travel companions.
On our small group trips, the itinerary is structured for you, including transportation logistics, boutique B&Bs and hotels, curated culinary experience, plus tickets and entries for activities. We work hard to balance planned group activities with enough free time for explorations on your own that can lead to those spontaneous experiences – like stumbling in to an unexpected live music session at a local pub – that independent travelers typically love.
The “guided” portion means two things in our case: Every group departure has a Traverse Journeys host, someone who is with you throughout the whole trip ensuring logistics run smoothly and acting as your liaison as you navigate your travels. You’ll also have special local guides who offer a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, architecture, food, nature or whatever other topic we may be exploring on your adventure.
Another operative word here is “small” – for us this means groups of 8-12, sometimes less. Traveling with our expert hosts in small groups gives you access to unique experiences that are tricky to find on your own, and it also gives you the chance to travel with like-minded people in an intimate, personal setting. Because we keep our group sizes small, we still have the flexibility and independence that many solo travelers do and can enjoy off-the-beaten path routes and immersive local experiences. Sometimes travelers will join as a pair – like a couple or two friends – but often we’ll have individual travelers join our small group trips. And more often than not, everyone is friends by the end! In fact, meeting new travel buddies to share the incredible experiences of travel is often a favorite reason for folks to join our small group departures.
SMALL GROUP TRAVEL PROS:
- Logistics are taken care of for you, no planning to stress about
- Local guide and host to ensure your comfort throughout the trip and offer a deep understanding of the destination
- Great way to meet like-minded travelers and enjoy a fun, social atmosphere
- Mid-range pricing, not super cheap but not too expensive either
SMALL GROUP TRAVEL CONS:
- Dates are fixed and itinerary is set (with some free time to yourself throughout)
- Pricing is based on double occupancy (you share a room), or you can upgrade to have your own room
- Often a minimum number of travelers required (like 4) for the trip to be guaranteed
- Higher price point than self-guided trips
SMALL GROUP TRAVEL IS BEST FOR:
- Busy individuals who would rather not devote the time or energy to plan the details
- Solo travelers who want to join an experience with like-minded adventurers
- Travelers who seek a deeper understanding of the destination through expert guides
- First time travelers that are nervous to travel on their own
- Destinations that might feel intimidating or where you don’t speak the language
Our top picks for small group travel:
SELF-GUIDED OR SELF-DRIVE ITINERARIES
Self-guided itineraries give travelers more flexibility with dates than small group departures do. Does one of our group itineraries sound perfect for you but the dates don’t work for your schedule? Or perhaps you’d prefer to only travel with your partner, family or friend(s) and forego a dedicated guide. That’s where self-guided trips can shine! Another advantage of self-guided travel is increased independence and flexibility throughout your journey.
Each tour operator might work a little differently, but in our case here’s the deal: Our self-guided itineraries follow a somewhat similar format as the group tours. The route is set, taking you to all the iconic sites, hidden gems and our favorite spots.
Your accommodations are booked for you along with key meals and activities, such as a pachamanca farm lunch in Peru, a catamaran sunset sail in Costa Rica, a glacier hike in Iceland or a cooking class in Mexico. You just need to make sure to follow the step-by-step plan and get yourself from A to B! Transportation options vary: it may be arranged for you (either public transit options or private vehicles) or you may need to rent a car. In some cases, you can also opt for shared transportation which reduces costs.
You won’t have a Traverse host with you 24/7, but you will have the option to book local guides at the right time and place and you’ll benefit from the stress-free planning with a detailed itinerary at your fingertips. There are further add-ons and optional activities as well, allowing you to pick and choose aspects of your itinerary for a more customized experience.
SELF-GUIDED ITINERARY PROS:
- You can choose your own dates to travel and pick what works for you
- Minimize the hassle of booking accommodation, entry tickets, transportation logistics, and planning the route. It’s all taken care of for you!
- Travel solo, as a couple, or with a group of friends/family. No stranger danger 🙂
- Lower price point than small group or custom trips
- More independence and customization than small group tours
SELF-GUIDED ITINERARY CONS:
- Many destinations work best with a rental vehicle, so in those places you’ll need to be comfortable driving in a foreign country
- You’ll be need to be a bit more proactive, we provide the itinerary but you have to follow it! No Traverse host to wake you up in the morning 🙂
- It’s a bit less social, as you won’t be meeting as many other independent travelers
SELF-GUIDED ITINERARIES ARE BEST FOR:
- Busy individuals who want to pick their dates of travel and have most logistics planned for them
- Small family or friend groups that want a private itinerary together
- Independent adventurers who prefer more budget-friendly travels
- Travelers who are more concerned about social distancing and want to take extra precautions
Our self-guided itinerary top picks:
This is where travel planning gets super fun! Travel agents or tour operators like us use our expert knowledge, vetted vendor partners and local connections within destinations to create custom trips or bespoke itineraries that cater specifically to individual travel needs and tastes.
Interested in a regional wine and culinary customs in Italy, or an active cycling and hiking adventure in Patagonia ? Want to capture stunning photographs of the sunset at just the right time in the mountains of Morocco? This is where a custom itinerary shines, as it’s a curated experience designed just for you. These trips are also great for travelers who want a private experience and a stress-free bespoke experience. We’ve created custom trips for all kinds of travelers from families wanting to explore their ancestral roots, honeymooners eager for a bucket list adventure, and friends looking for a relaxing retreat.
In our case, we only offer custom trips to destinations we know super well like Italy, Costa Rica, Ireland, Morocco, New Zealand, Peru and Iceland. If you’re not sure of the exact route you want to follow then we may suggest basing the trip off our existing small group itinerary, and from there we can add in elements according to your wish list of experiences. Of course, we can also create a fully customized route based on your individual wants. To make your trip truly special we use our pool of fantastic partners, from cute little B&Bs to incredible local guides to artisan craft makers to cozy restaurants with farm-to-table cuisine.
The process for creating a custom trip involves reaching out to see if our services and offerings are a fit for your wants and needs as well as your budget, followed by a proposal outlining the projected itinerary and pricing, a deposit payment, followed by detailed planning for you.
CUSTOM TRIP PROS:
- Customize when, where, and what to your liking
- Pick your travel dates and travel partners
- Name your budget and we’ll do our best to match it
- Take part in the creative process of developing your trip just how you want it, while having a travel professional by your side through the process to handle the logistics and offer expert local insight
CUSTOM TRIP CONS:
- You’ll need to participate in the planning and think more about all the options you prefer
- Cost is higher than self-guided itineraries and potentially higher than small group trips, depending on your group size and travel goals
Our top custom trip picks:
Ireland, Costa Rica, Morocco, Spain, Iceland, Chile, Dominica
Note these definitions of the various types of tours were for a specific travel agency, they may vary slightly from agency to agency. However, the basics for each category will be the same.