Open Mic – Organized Tours: Do or Don’t?

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Organised Tours?

Let me first say: there are tours and there are tours.

And then there are more tours.

This is not an attempt to bulk all tours under one same big umbrella.

That being said: I always had mixed feelings towards traveling in organized tours. They can be a great way to see the world, or they can lead to utter failure. And I’ve experienced both.

Part of my love hate relationship with tours is that the definition of what’s an organized tour can be very broad. Organized tours can be anything from a zip-line day trip in the jungle to being stuck in a multi-day coach with 60 other people.

They can be niche & off the beaten experiences, or best of.. tours, good for checking things off a bucket list – but not merely able to scratch the surface of your destination.

Which is why I’ve decided this will be my first Open Mic topic:

Organized tours: Do or Don’t?

Fellow travel bloggers Andrea, Ingrid, Madalina and Izabella will join the conversation to share their personal experience, address some biases and probably create some others in the process 😛

Andrea @Citizen of the World

Tell us about your blog in one sentence.

Citizen of the World is a blog I made because I believe that every time you travel, you belong to the whole world.

What’s your travel style?

Active. Most of the time with city breaks & friendly budget – hey, I’m still a student. 😉 During trips I do check out the highlights, but I also like wander the streets, stumbling across nice restaurants or bars.

Organized tours: Do or Don’t 

It depends. For me, organized tours are & aren’t a good idea.

They’ re a good idea when you’re short on time and they offer transport, as well as a chance to try out different experiences and activities that give you a taste of the city. Also, they’ re a good idea if you want to learn things in an entertaining way.

Now, why aren’t tours a good idea? Well, I must say – and we’ve all been there – that you’re always in a rush. Maybe at some point, you don’t like something or you don’t need to stay there for exactly one hour. With a standard tour, you’ll mostly have an unbudging schedule.

Advantages of an organized tour?

Like I said before, and to add to that: in a nutshell, it’s easier access, entertainment, information provided by guides, and of course: no stressing out with transportation, confusing maps and so on.

Best experience with a tour?

The best tour I ever had was in the Netherlands  and it was actually an organized trip to Rotterdam, Delft, Volendam and the Windmills. I saw the cheese factory and the factory of sabots. Also, we visited the Madurodam, a place with miniature buildings from Netherlands.

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Maurodam, the Netherlands

I loved Netherlands and all its diverse beauty & the tour was amazing! We had a lot of time and flexibility, the guide was super nice and told us so many details about their country and history which I was oblivious to before.

Worst tour experience?

Fortunately, none. So far:P

Tell us about your next travels

At the end of the month I will be heading to Poland where I’ll study for one semester. So this fall will be all about travelling in Poland. With insider’s tips! So follow me in Poland 😉

 

Ingrid @IngridZenMoments

Tell us about your blog in one sentence.

IngridZenMoments is about the relentless search for happiness, about discovering new places while discovering yourself, about cool, calm, zen locations and so much more.

What’s your travel style?

Oh wow, I have so many styles I’m basically a chameleon! But if you’d ask my friends they’ll say I love exotic destinations & basically any place that has a beach close by. I love to mix things up, making my own vacations but sometimes also relying on travel companies to do what they know best: guide me & give me good value for money.

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I’ll try mixing up at least 3-4 city trips a year (these are usually very active, walking more than 20 km a day) with 2 longer and slower vacations – where else but on an island?

I like being in the middle of locals, learning about their traditions, history, practices, religion. I enjoy feeling part of the places I visit, but I’ll also hit the spa wherever I go 😛 or sit by the pool in a fancy hotel. I know this might sound a bit unrelated, but that’s travel for me!

Organized tours: Do or Don’t

Definitely both! Doing my own itinerary, getting lost with purpose, but also relying on organized tours. I usually get a tour in the places where I don’t feel safe to walk around without a guide or whenever I feel the effort for making my own trip would exceed the money I could save by doing so.

I chose tours for going on a safari in Tanzania – because I don’t think there is any other way around that! – or for the Mekong Delta in Vietnam because of the lack of time.

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Zen in Tanzania

Advantages of an organized tour?

My top of the list would be the comfort :). Yes, I like getting down & dirty and into the details of planning a trip, but sometimes I just don’t feel like it! I want to sit back, enjoy the ride, the view, don’t have to worry about the timing of trains, buses, boats or anything else. Does this mean I won’t get the full real experience? It might, but that’s always a personal choice, isn’t it?

Best experience with a tour?

The safari tour we took in Selous Game Resort in Tanzania this January. It was amazing and I just loved everything about it!

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Imagine driving around in the largest reserve of Tanzania in an open Jeep Safari (yep, no windows, no doors, no nada), stopping by for cookies & coffee next to a lake and sipping coffee, while on the other side of the lake zebras and giraffes were drinking water.. But the best part of it all was when the driver drove in the middle of a group of lions and just stopped the engine. I don’t have to say how my heart was beating.

What’s your worst tour experience?

Looking for dolphins in Zanzibar. I wouldn’t recommend it mostly because I found it as being a total waste of time & money, but also because I don’t think that bothering dolphins in their natural habitat is something that should be acceptable.

Where’s your next travel?

Santorini! I am looking forward to spending one amazing week on one of the most romantic islands in the world and discovering for myself why people have rated it as that (I am a bit skeptical, to be honest). Be sure to check out my blog and see if the island manages to win my heart or not!

Madalina @AroundMyDream

Tell us about your blog in one sentence.

I launched AroundMyDream because I dream my destinations before I go. Seriously!

What’s your travel style?

I am a backpacker when I search an adventure, a seeker when I want to discover special things or sometimes I just need to go and let the path lead me.

Actually, last time when I did this was a few days ago in Switzerland where I live until October. I went to the train station, checked the board and chose one of the destinations. It was the most beautiful day!

Organized tours: Do or Don’t / When & Why

Hm, organized tours. Let me tell you about my experience in a a beautiful island in Greece called Chrissi – aka the second Carribean of the world. And let me also tell you about Santorini.

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I picked a tour out of curiosity, really. It’s OK to have information and details about everything, but the issue is that every other second you are in a rush. It was stressful to visit these beautiful islands, knowing that I have to fit in a schedule.

 

For places like these, you might as well google it, or pick up a map and go to explore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good way to travel for those who like to have everything settled and enjoy the vibe of a group. For me, it’s just more appealing to play explorer and enjoy my time as I see fit.

Advantages of an organized tour?

If it’s a good tour, then the guide has charisma and brings good vibes in the middle of a group of basically strangers. An upside to my tour in Santorini is precisely the fact that we had an amazing guide,  great storyteller, who really brought an intimate, fun feeling to the experience.

Best experience with a tour?

The tour around the island in Chrissi was a real nice experience, but you can’t help but enjoy it when the place looks like paradise!

Worst tour experience?

Not necessarily have one, because I’m personally not a fan of organized trips.

Where’s your next travel?

Honestly, I do not know, I haven’t dreamed it yet! What I do know for sure is that Switzerland has a lot more to offer. So visit my blog for upcoming Swiss gems to inspire your wanderlust 😉

 

Izabella @BeFreeBeZen

Tell us about your blog in one sentence.

Be FREE. Be ZEN is a personal travel & spiritual blog that invites you to travel around the world at the speed of love.

What’s your travel style?

I love to travel around the world. I love the beach, watching the sun rise and set. I love to experience nature, and build albums with beautiful memories. That’s for me the most amazing thing that travel has to offer.

Organized tours: Do or Don’t

I personally think organizing your trip is better than get a package where you depend on the tour operator – where to go, what to eat, who you travel with..

Tours are a good idea though, when you’re with a group of friends or travel with family, since you can spend the road time and have fun with them.

Advantages of an organized tour?

There’s the comfort of not having to do everything yourself, of course, which at times can be tiring. And there’s also the expert guides, who not only show you places  but tell you stories about them; you learn about the culture,  cuisines and other lovely things.

Best experience with a tour?

Shopping in Istanbul by night. This was a five-day trip to Istanbul,  a city I urge you to go see at least once in your life. Turkey may be in some turmoil now, but the city is scattered with glorious remnants of its long and illustrious history, and the sightseeing here will impress even the most weary traveler.

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I traveled with my mom and a group of her friends and we had 2 guides – one of them living in Istanbul – who took us through the history of Istanbul.

We have seen the most important orthodox churches, as well as the big four (Aya Sofya, Topkapı Palace, Blue Mosque, and Grand Bazaar), and the Dolmabahce Palace, leave enough time to explore the other sights.

Although many tourist attractions are located in, or near, the old city district of Sultanahmet, there is a dazzling array of other things to do throughout the further reaches of the city. I loved the boat trip from the Prince Island – Buyurkada.

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Worst tour experience?

The same city break, figure that!  The main risk with a tour is you end up spending a lot (or too much) time in the bus, especially when the bus was an old one, and even had a broken window! Also, the traffic was simply horrific; so yes we say the city by night, but we saw it from a bus window..

Where’s your next travel?

Surprise! I’m traveling at the speed of love, choosing to live in a frequency of unconditional love. Check your luggage & fly around the world with me. See you there!  www.befreebezen.com

 

My Pros & Cons

Now, to add my own humble opinion (did you really thing I’d let my guests do all the talking?! 😉 ) I think tours are a great idea for:

  • visiting a less developed country where language or safety may be a challenge
  • some activities, like adventure sports or specific theme tours
  • when you want expert knowledge: for example birdwatching, or an astronomy tour
  • a country with poor infrastructure / or when renting a car is not an option
  • when you’re short on time. Organized tours often have special entry passes available, so you can skip the line.
  • in major cities, free walking tours are fairly common. So you can take advantage of some fairly original city walks, and maybe also make some friends.
  • Another pro: You won’t ever get lost

For all of the above, I’d always recommend going for a private/small group tour. Our 24 hours in Cairo were thoroughly used and we were the happiest of customers, even though we paid the little premium for a private custom tour.

the UpsideDown Sphynx
the UpsideDown Sphynx

Not such a great idea when:

  • there’s little added value, like in very popular destinations such as Thailand. Yes, you may try a one day tour for something very specific such as diving/snorkeling, but a 14 days Best of Thailand tour will not be worth your money. Trust me on this.
  • choosing big groups. Because you will lack flexibility in adjusting your visiting. Spend an extra 30 minutes photographing the Tegalalang rice terraces? Skip attraction x so you can go see attraction y ? Or pull over for that beautiful sunset over the lavender fields? No can do, we’ve got a schedule to follow.
  • Also: You won’t ever get lost

My Take? Make It All About You

The future of organized tours is ever changing & evolving around consumer needs. More and more businesses that are catering to niche interests flourish. And, as apps like Sidewalk grow to widespread adoption, the future of tours will see more shifts and innovations.

So no matter if you want a fully customized trekking adventure in Georgia of a standard city tour of Paris, it’s all about you. Think about the kind of experience you want from your trip.

Guided tours have pros and cons, but you don’t have to be neither a camera-toting tourist, nor all alone in a new country. Choose whatever experience sounds good to you, and will make you feel at home wherever you roam.

My guests & I would love to hear your thoughts!

What are your personal tour experiences ? 

Share your best and worst with us here!

Comments

comments


5 thoughts on “Open Mic – Organized Tours: Do or Don’t?

  1. Love it! I have fond memories with two organized tours: one in France, to the Loire Valley – castle hopping: the guide was incredible! So many great stories, giving you the ability to actually picture history just right in front of your eyes. The second one was from Rome to Pompeii, Sorrento and Capri Island. The guides were real storytellers, taking incredible care of their groups. They went far and beyond to offer us two amazing days.

  2. I had similar experiences with Ingrid.
    There are wild places where you really need a tour, and there the easy places to trave where you should experience like a local.

  3. It’s such a nice combination of ideas and experiences. It’s a really great article and after reading this article, one should form an opinion about whether an organized tour is suitable or not.

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