One dilemma a lot of backpackers face is whether they should join group tours or truly go at it on their own. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. Group tours are like having built-in friends, while solo travel can get lonely in some cities. Group tours also save you a lot of the hassle of planning. On the other hand, group tours are generally more expensive than traveling on your own and don’t give you the same flexibility. Ultimately, I think it comes down to where you’re going. Here’s a guide based on my personal experience.
When to Use Group Tours
- Traveling in unsafe countries, such as the Middle East. I don’t think this one requires further explanation
- Traveling in countries with limited or confusing public transport, such as most of Africa. Some choose to rent cars, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this on your own as the roads and laws are much different than what you’re used to.
- Covering a large amount of ground in a short time. Tour guides are experts at making sure you maximize your time in each spot. Plus, trying to plan this on your own can be a real headache.
- Traveling somewhere expensive, such as Japan. I know this sounds contradictory. Didn’t I say that group tours are more expensive? Yes and they usually are, especially for cheap countries. But for more expensive countries you save money since, again, the tour guides know where to stay and the cheapest ways to get from Point A to Point B. Plus, they are often able to get deals since they are booking for such a large group of people.
- When you’re nervous or a first time solo traveler. I did a group tour my first time traveling by myself. While it was definitely more expensive than it would have been to explore Thailand on my own, it gave me peace of mind and the confidence to travel by myself going forward. Plus, I was way too shy at that point to make friends on my own.
- Visiting areas with language barriers. Towns where the tourism industry is less developed may be less likely to speak English. This can be a real struggle if you’re on your own and aren’t fluent in the local language.
- Visiting major cities. This one is more of personal preference and you may have a different experience. But I find that major cities, especially in Europe, are so fast-paced that it’s difficult to make friends. Backpackers tend to rush from site to site and stay in one place for a shorter period of time, as opposed to small towns where people linger and explore.
When to Travel Solo
I’m of the mindset that everyone should travel on their own at least once. It’s a life-changing experience and really causes you to grow as an individual. In fact, I would recommend solo travel in more situations than not. This is especially true in the following cases.
- Visiting well-traveled areas, like Thailand or Vietnam. They’re so popular that you don’t have to worry as much about safety. You can also read almost everything you need to know about getting around online.
- Visiting famously cheap countries. Countries in Southeast Asia, Central America, and South America belong in this category. You’ll spend so much more by doing a tour. I recently received a newsletter advertising tours for Cambodia that were nearly double what I paid traveling solo.
- Notoriously friendly regions. Although I think it can be more difficult to make friends in the hostels in many European cities, it’s so easy to make friends with locals in places like Ireland that it doesn’t matter. Wouldn’t you rather hang out with locals anyway?