Along with the rise of tourism came the rise of all types of travel. In order to cater to as many people as possible, the tourism industry as a whole has been coming up with various ways and gimmicks to make travelling more attractive.
It’s true that when it comes to travelling, we all have different preferences. Some people enjoy exploring on their own. Others like the convenience that comes with packaged tours. These days, it’s almost impossible not to find something that will suit you, be it a guided tour or an independent travel.
But come to think of it, what’s the difference between these types of travel anyway?
Guided Tour or Independent Travel
I’ve been to countless tours over the years, some of which are guided tours, while others can be described as independent travel. I even went backpacking solo for 10 days in 2017, something that I definitely recommend to everyone. And I’ve had plenty of memorable experiences on guided tours throughout the years.
But in order to see which one is better than the other, perhaps we should first explore the pros and cons of each one.
Pros and Cons of Guided Tour
Pros of Guided Tour
Guided tours come with plenty of upsides. There’s a reason why 52% of surveyed solo travellers in 2018 said that they wanted to try going on one.
You can meet new friends
If you’re a seasoned solo traveler who would like to have the perfect travel buddy, guided tours are the perfect way to meet new traveler friends.
Especially if you go on a guided tour overseas, you’ll be able to encounter people from different countries and from all walks of life. Many young people enjoy going on guided tours for the chance to mingle and get to know other people who share the same passion for travel and adventure.
I can’t count on two hands how many friends I’ve made after going on guided tours with my friends. When you’re travelling with other people, it’s like you’re sharing a special bond with them that can’t be replaced no matter how many years go by.
Convenient and safe
Most people go on guided tours for two main reasons: convenience and safety.
With guided tours, there’s no longer any need to worry about anything during your trip. You can sleep soundly in your bed knowing that your tour group will pick you up at your hotel in the morning, and you can enjoy the sunset on the beach knowing that your tour package will cover your transportation back home.
You also don’t have to worry about getting mugged on the train or getting off the wrong bus stop. And if you book a tour package with a reputable tour agency, you also won’t have to worry about scams like the tea ceremony scam in China or the elaborate Jade scam also in China.
Considering how rampant scams can be in the tourism industry, you might want to go on a guided tour instead if you’re going to a well-known scam capital. After all, going with a legitimate tour guide and an entire travel crew is much safer than independent travelling since you’ll know that there’s always someone looking after your back.
Usually less pricey
One of the major upsides of join-in guided tours is that many of them are usually less pricey than if you’re going on a private tour or a solo trip.
This is especially true for tours to destinations that require a special kind of transportation, as you’ll get the benefit of pooling the transportation cost with many other people. It’s also the exact same reason why a join-in guided tour usually costs less the more people join you on the trip. If more people join the trip, the transportation, accommodation, and sometimes even the food costs will be divided between a higher number of people, therefore translating to lower costs for each individual.
For my El Nido trip with Mimi, we rode on a private van with about 10 other people from Puerto Princesa Airport to El Nido. If we had rented the van on our own, we would’ve spent thousands of pesos alone on transportation costs. But since we had pooled with other people, we only had to pay about 600 ($12) each.
Cons of Guided Tour
Guided tours are convenient and all, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. In fact, guided tours are only good for a specific type of person. If you don’t fit this type, you’re probably better off going on a private tour or an independent travel.
There’s no room for creativity
Guided tours are convenient for a reason – because they’ve already been pre-prepared before your trip. That’s an amazing upside for sure, but that almost means that it comes with a huge downside: there’s little no to room for creativity.
Your itinerary will dictate where you want to go and what time you’ll be going there, so if you want to take a special side trip, say, if you want to go snorkelling to find Nemo’s home, you’ll have to do it outside of the itinerary’s regular schedule. Some itineraries do keep this in mind and leave some free time for joiners to spend on their own. If you’re thinking of going on a guided tour but you also want to check out something else, search for tours that have space for ‘free time’ included in the itinerary.
Unfortunately–and this may come as a surprise–many people who join guided tours actually don’t enjoy seeing ‘free time’ on their itinerary, as they think more activities = more bang for the buck. This means that tours like this can be pretty rare, but they do exist so just keep searching!
You’re forced to socialize
If you’re a shy or introverted person, you might not warm up to the idea of guided tours.
In guided tours, you usually have to socialize with the other people on your trip. This may be in the form of having to share a small boat with them, a car, or some other type of ride. You may also be forced to share a table with them, in case your guided tour includes meals.
When K and I went on our Ilocos trip, we had to socialize with our fellow travellers multiple times. We rode a 4×4 vehicle with three fun-loving ladies at the Paoay Sand Dunes. We spent 25 minutes chatting with four older women that we shared a hut with at Hannah’s Beach Resort. These aren’t bad experiences by any means, but it’s understandable if not everyone likes the idea of sharing spaces with people they barely know.
Part of what makes travelling so exciting is getting out of your comfort zone and discovering new experiences out there.
When you’re in a guided tour though, there’s hardly any reason for you to call out your adventurous side. For many people, this is a plus, since that means they won’t have to exert a lot of effort. After all, there’s no need, since the tour agency already arranged everything for you.
But for people who are looking for something exciting, a guided tour is likely to be less than stimulating. It may even be boring to those who like exploring by themselves, since even information about the sites and attractions will be spoonfed to you by the tour guide.
Pros and Cons of Independent Travel
Pros of Independent Travel
Travelling independently certainly has a lot of upsides. I personally prefer it to guided tours and would choose it over a guided tour most of the time.
You can visit all the places you want
I’m not that into mainstream tourist areas. Weird as it may sound (since I’m probably the most talkative person I know), I’m really awkward around people, so I try to avoid areas teeming with tourists and large crowds. The thing is, many guided tours include these touristy areas into their itineraries and there’s just no way around it.
Also, have you ever wanted to visit an out-of-the-way place, but unfortunately, it’s not offered in any guided tour you can find? This happens all the time with me and K, and I won’t be surprised if it has already happened to you too.
If you’re going on an independent travel, you won’t get this problem at all. You can visit all the places that you want (and reversely, not visit all the places you don’t want) since you’re not sticking to an itinerary created by a travel agency.
Spend your time the way you want it
Remember how I just said I’m not that into mainstream touristy areas? When I go on guided tours, most of them usually reserve a period of time for each tourist area, so that joiners will have time to explore and have fun.
That’s good, of course, if you like the place. If you don’t, then that’s too bad. Joining a guided tour means that if your tour guide says you have to stay for 40 minutes in this area, but you want to leave after 10 minutes, you’ve got no choice but to hang around anyway.
When I’m travelling independently, I can spend my time exactly the way I want it, without having to wait or adjust for someone else. That means that if I want to move on to the next tourist area, or skip that one altogether, I’m free to do so.
No need to stick to a certain budget class
One of the things that I hate the most about guided tours is that you’re forced to choose a certain budget ‘class’ type depending on how much you can afford.
For example, if you choose a budget trip, that means you’ll get cheap accommodations, cheap food, and maybe even cheap tours. If you choose a luxury trip, you’ll get the best of the best of course, but for a very pretty price. Sometimes, this can mean the difference between riding an airconditioned ferry or a rickety boat in the middle of the ocean!
Whenever I go on an independent travel, I always tend to go for a combination for both. For example, during my 10-day solo backpacking trip, I stayed in budget accommodations for the whole trip before moving to a 4-star hotel on the last night.
Even when K and I travel together, we always leave a day or two of our trip reserved for a little taste of ‘luxury’. Usually, this means staying in 4 or 5-star hotels for at least a night and eating buffets all day long.
Obviously, this is something that you can’t just do with join-in guided tours, since they usually stick to just one type of budget all throughout the trip.
Cons of Independent Travel
Although you have all the time and freedom in the world when you’re travelling independently, it does come with some downsides too.
You have to make your own itinerary
As a tourism major, I’m supposed to know how to create a ‘perfect’ itinerary. We actually had an entire 5-unit-course about how to run our own travel agency, and creating itineraries is a huge part of the job.
But if there’s one thing I learned about creating itineraries in that class, it’s this: creating amazing itineraries that most people would enjoy is definitely no easy feat.
It may seem easy to some people, but believe me, it’s not. There are so many rules to creating itineraries (no backtracking, leave time allowances for unexpected situations, etc.) that making sure your itinerary checks all the boxes is one hell of a job.
When you’re going on an independent travel, you’re forced to make your own itinerary. And again, creating one is a really grueling task. I literally spent weeks creating our itinerary for Taiwan but we still made a lot of mistakes during the trip.
Transportation can be a hassle
Another thing that I dislike about independent travel is that you have to worry about your own transportation. It’s easier if you’re just going to a city like Seoul or Taipei, where the transportation is, hands down, the best I’ve ever seen, but if you’re going to a rural countryside, you might want to reconsider your choice of going on an independent travel.
Why, you may ask? Well, it’s a lot easier to join a guided tour that will bring you to wherever your destination is than to fumble around the area waiting for some form of transportation to pass by.
This is especially true for areas where public transportation can be scarce, as you run the risk of getting stranded in an area if you’re travelling independently. This is also the reason why K and I chose a guided tour for our Ilocos trip, since it’s a rural area with many tourist sites that are far away from the city center.
Can be more expensive
Lastly, independent travel can be really expensive. If you’re backpacking solo, most of your money will go towards transportation and accommodation, unless you’re willing to go Couchsurfing or check into dorm-type hostels, which I tend to avoid when I’m alone since I’m an overly nervous worrywart (likely the result of my dad feeding me bad stories about dormitories so that I wouldn’t want to live in one when I was in college).
As you can see, both guided tours and independent travel have their own pros and cons. It’s impossible to say which one is better, as it really depends on your destination, your personality, and even your mood at the moment.
I hope this post helped you decide between the two! Ultimately though, whether you should go on a guided tour or an independent travel depends on nobody else but you. Regardless of your choice, don’t forget to have fun!
til our next adventure,