Imagine being herded around Indochina in a fleet of tour buses, amongst scores of other tourists in their socks and sandals, sun hats and bum bags. Imagine shuffling around historic sights behind a megaphone-wielding tour guide intent on reciting a pre-learned script, while locals shoot you dirty looks for blocking the pathways.
Sounds horrid, doesn’t it? This is the reason that many people (I’d even go so far as to say most people) think of group travel with a shudder – and who can blame them?
So you’ve travelled widely, independently, with friends or family and on your own – and perhaps you’ve even lived abroad for extended periods of time. You’re comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings, and you enjoy making your own discoveries. Why would you need, or want, to be hand-held? Why would you choose to tie yourself to an unknown group of utter randoms?
If you have never been on a group tour and never considered going on one, these are the questions that I expect will be going through your head – and here are the responses, courtesy of InsideAsia tour leader Mark Fujishige:
1. Firsts are better when shared
If you’re travelling to a new and completely unknown country, your trip is bound to be filled with firsts. Your first bowl of pho, your first ride on the back of a Vespa, your first experience scuba diving amongst the reefs of the South China Sea – all of which are much better when shared.
2. Food tastes better with friends
As Mark points out (and as any former solo traveller, including myself, would agree), mealtimes are often the loneliest part of travelling alone. Yes – you’ll often end up chatting with a stranger or perhaps sharing dinner with another solo traveller, both of which are good experiences in themselves, but there’s nothing quite like sitting down to a meal with a group of friends.
3. You won’t waste time
Even if you’re the kind of person who loves spending hours planning routes, getting lost, poring over maps and guidebooks and having unforeseen adventures, the chances are that you don’t actually have all the time in the world. With just a week, ten days, or two weeks to spare – wouldn’t it be better not to leave logistics to chance? On a group tour you’ll be able to pack so much more in, and enjoy actually being there – not worrying about how to get there.
4. Your tour leaders and local guides are worth their weight in gold
There are so many ways in which tour leaders and local guides enrich your enjoyment of travel. Besides taking care of logistics as mentioned, they are there to make recommendations, cater to last-minute requests, deal with unforeseen circumstances, and (most importantly) to give you an expert insight into the culture and society of the destination you are visiting.
5. You never know… you might actually like your tour companions
Group tour nay-sayers always imagine the worst – but in actual fact, it’s pretty likely that there’ll be somebody on your tour that you get along with. If not more! Many more InsideAsia group tours end with the swapping of phone numbers and email addresses than end in a cool farewell, and some groups have even decided to tour with each other a second time. Meeting the other people on your tour and hearing their stories really is one of the great unsung benefits of group travel.
InsideAsia Tours runs tours throughout Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. With a maximum group size of 14, you’ll leave the “tour bus bubble” behind as you stay in lovely independent accommodation, eat at fantastic local restaurants, and enjoy a crop of the very best cultural experiences. To find out more, check out the group tours section of our website.