B and I are travel junkies; there are few places we really don’t want to visit (hello, Moldova), but overall we’re pretty much open to whatever. This is helpful when we come across a good travel deal, like we found a few years ago for a guided tour of Morocco. Tour groups are a whole other breed of traveling; you have to think carefully about the pros and cons before heading out with a group of strangers for a length of time. Here are eight tour group advantages and some things to think about if you are considering booking a guided trip.
Tour Group Advantage #1: Getting sick
In the Getting sick on the road post, I mentioned that it was in Morocco that a few poor souls got really sick and even B was stricken for a short time. Our tour guide, Rahid, was able to explain their symptoms to a pharmacist who gave them some miracle pills that made them feel better. In Costa Rica, I woke up one night to find my legs twitching uncontrollably. I was (I feel) justifiably concerned. I made it through the night and it hasn’t happened since, but I remember how scared I felt because I didn’t know how to handle the situation. Tour guides are usually local to the country you are in and they know where to go for help and the steps to take in a health-challenged situation.
Tour Group Advantage #2: Cultural norms
It’s always a good idea to learn a little about the culture before visiting a country. For example, prior to visiting Morocco we read up on the country’s dress code. Since it is a conservative, predominantly Muslim culture, we made sure to pack clothes that weren’t too revealing or immodest. Beyond this though, we didn’t know very much. Morocco isn’t as strict as other Muslim nations, but a tour guide would have been able to instruct us when we needed to cover up, etc.
Tour Group Advantage #3: Language barriers
This one is a no-brainer. In a country where you don’t speak the language, it is useful to have an interpreter.
A few of us ladies in the tour group decided we wanted to get henna tattoos. We mentioned it to Rahid and in about ten seconds, he had found a lady who did henna and negotiated a good price for us. Just darn handy.
Tour Group Advantage #4: Complicated red tape
Some countries have confusing entry/exit processes. With a tour group, you don’t usually have to worry about any of this as the tour company takes care of it. It can also be useful when purchasing tickets for admission to places; the tour company purchases them in advance and so you don’t have to wait in lines. In Casablanca, we jumped right into a guided tour of the Hassan II mosque with very minimal effort on our part.
Tour Group Advantage #5: Expanded cultural opportunities
When traveling by a guide book you will see most of the highlights that you would in a tour group. But tour groups provide for experiences that would be more challenging or impossible because you didn’t know about them. In Morocco, we stopped off at a home of a local. We were shown in and the daughter, Fatima, prepared tea for us and showed us how they cook with their clay oven. Rahid explained that in most families in Morocco a daughter is named Fatima, after Muhammad’s favorite daughter.
Later on the trip, we visited a co-op where women made products out of argan oil. These women were ‘unprotected’ for different reasons; they either left their husbands or chose not to get married, and they found safety and a home at the collective. We never would have learned this much about the lives of Moroccan women on our own.
Tour Group Advantage #6: Compressed amount of time
Tour companies have finely honed their guided tours to fit the most in as comfortably as possible. On our tour, called ‘Kasbahs and Deserts,’ we covered over a thousand miles in our coach bus, stopping at seven different towns. This was a very tight schedule, planned to maximize the time in Morocco. You’d be hard pressed to fit in more than a tour group does. *Tip: to get an idea of an itinerary for a trip you are taking without a tour group, you should check out a few tour companies’ websites to see where they take their groups. You don’t have to follow it exactly, but you’ll get some ideas of what to see.
Tour Group Advantage #7: Ease
One of the most stressful parts about travel is having to make so many decisions. Where you are going, what you are eating, how you are getting there, etc. Everything takes effort. On a guided tour, however, you just have to show up. If you prefer having people telling you when to be somewhere and taking care of all of the details, a tour might be a dream come true. I think it can be a bit stifling, but sometimes it is really nice to not have to think too much.
Tour Group Advantage #8: Cost
Every week I get an email from Travelzoo that lists the top 20 travel deals they have found for that week. At least one of these is usually a guided tour, and it boggles the mind how affordable these can be. Just this week I saw a seven-night trip to China with airfare for $700. That’s insane. You wouldn’t even be able to buy a plane ticket for that much. Our tour to Morocco cost us about $2000 and included airfare, lodging, transportation and some activities. Tour guides can be super good deals.
Unless it is super cheap, I probably won’t be buying a tour to most countries. I felt very comfortable making my way around Germany. And even if it was not as comfortable, we did just fine touring Indonesia on our own. However, in countries that are very different or remote, I would probably take another tour if I wanted to go there. In Morocco, I felt more harassed by men than I ever have in any other country. (Not in the ‘ooooh baby’ way but more in the ‘buy this crappy necklace from me’ way.) I felt much better knowing Rahid was there to help. And I am very glad we got to see the parts of Morocco that we wouldn’t have had we not been on a tour.