Which is Better: Guided Tour or Independent Travel

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?

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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

crowded street with cars passing by
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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

backlit dawn foggy friendship
Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

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

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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

liveloveran coron 2016 palawan philippines
One of my favorite shots from my Coron trip!

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.

Less adventurous

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Photo by Chiara Caldarola on Pexels.com

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

woman wearing black and white blouse and white short standing on forest
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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

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Photo by Vlad Alexandru Popa on Pexels.com

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.

liveloveran citizenm taipei north gate room
CitizenM Taipei North Gate, a 4-star-hotel we stayed in during our Taiwan trip.

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

two buses on the road
Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

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).

Final Thoughts

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.

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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,

ran travels liveloveran

41 comments

  1. Independent Travel for me! haha
    i love to going everywhere i want, and having a free time (that is what i love to travel alone)
    but now i can’t wait for travel with you! i am so happy x love this post so much

    1. Haha, thank you for the support Jess! 💕 You’re as sweet as ever. And yeah, we’ll definitely make our own itinerary ourselves! ✨

  2. I lean more towards independent travel but I do like to mix it up and do both. Sometimes it’s easier for me to do a guided tour rather than come up with my own ideas lol

    1. I’m pretty much the same! 😂 That’s the reason why I’ve done so many guided tours even though I like independent travel more!

  3. I would for sure say independant travel, never enjoyed being told by someone else what I want to see or experience. My attetude has brought me all over the world.

    Nice post btw

    1. That’s an awesome mindset to have! And yeah, independent travellers are totally the adventurous type. Cheers to more travels in the future! 😄

  4. This is a terrific article…my wife and I usually avoid guided outings unless the location demands it…your “cons” are the reasons in a nutshell!

    1. Thank you, John! Haha, yes, I’m more of an independent traveller myself! My partner likes the convenience that comes with guided tours but we prefer to travel on our own as much as we can. 😄

        1. Exactly! That’s why I personally prefer independent travel. It’s much easier to be creative with your travels when you’re actually free to do so!

  5. For me, independent travel is really my preference. My husband and I are too independent and also would look for more affordable options; plus, we’re introverts, so being alone most of the time is a major plus, haha. To make up for it, we’ve scheduled one or two small tours on our trips, dedicating a specific day to go out and be guided and meet others. This has worked really well for us in the past, and is a nice balance. Thanks for sharing!

    1. That’s very true!

      I’m mainly a budget traveller myself so I always look for the cheapest (but still quality) option in all my travels. I also understand wanting to be alone most of the time too, as K and I are both introverts as well!

      That’s a very good strategy! Come to think of it, I think we’ve been unknowingly doing that for some of our travels too! It definitely works like a charm! 🙂

  6. I like to plan my own trip and then choose some guided day tours to take. I learn so much more about the country and culture because I find most guides extremely knowledgeable.

  7. Tough choice! I like the convenience of guided tours because they save me from doing too much planning and the guides provide inside knowledge that I may not have otherwise known. But I also hate being rushed to stick to schedules so I think a few free days to explore independently is completely necessary.

  8. I’ve always done independent travel but I am sure I could learn quite a bit from a tour as well.

  9. Guided tour has its pros but I personally prefer independent tour as you get to roam around like a free man 😀 plus in todays world I don’t think you need a guide there is your smartphone and internet which are enough to guide you. Great post!

  10. This is a great post! I think I would like to see a guided tour, it has a lot of great options. It’s nice to have somebody with you who knows the area and can help make sure you get to see all the best stuff

  11. I prefer both depending on time and comfort. If there is no time to plan then guided tours or best. Own trips are good when there is good transport and time.

  12. I’ve tried both and I like to do it independent so I have time to do and explore more on the things that I like.

  13. Hi Ran,
    I think I love to go alone.. but I agree with both sides as you wrote.
    Thanks for the ideas.. Happy blogging 🙂

  14. This was so informative! I’ve never really considered the differences in a guided tour vs independent travel.
    My aunt is also a travel agent, I had no idea how much work it is either!

  15. I love the guided tour, maybe because I usually travel with my family. It’s nice to keep a tour guide because we come to learn the culture and practices of the place and we learn new factual things! However, we can go with the independent when we crave for some serenity or soul searching.

  16. I love travel alone because it is great adventure and experience but if you are first time traveler tour guide is a good option for traveling safe.

  17. I’ve experienced guided tours (back in years of school field trips) and it was good. But as I grow independently, I prefer an independently tour and allow myself to discover my own adventure that many doesn’t see and experience.

  18. I think Guided tour for certain countries like Israel and Nepal and DIY for the others.

  19. I’ve never have experience with much of either. I can say that I think I’d feel too restricted on a guided tour, but would probably choose that option as it’s often cheaper.

  20. You read my mind.. whenever I plan a trip that’s what I face. Guided tour is nice but it’s not what I want it to be and solo is all fun but then we have to arrange for transportation, food and everything and things then get expensive.
    What I do now is plan half trip with a guide and other half wander on my own 👍🏻

    1. I’m pretty much the same, though I do prefer one over the other. ☺️ Oh well, they both have their pros and cons!

  21. This is a great post and so helpful in evaluating the pros and cons of both independant and guided travel! I personally often do a lot of independant travel only doing a guided tour once out of all of my trips. I love independant travel but there is something about guided tours that give you a quick and accurate understanding of a place so maybe I should take part in more of them.

    Jess x
    http://www.secretdiaryofjess.com

  22. Great post – I can definitely see both sides of the argument here! I like the idea of group travel knowing that it’s safer and cheaper, but I’m most definitely not a people person so I think I’d struggle with the social side of it all! It’s for that reason independent travel appeals to me, but I think I’d get a bit stressed out planning my own itinerary! Xx

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