If you’ve ever seen the 2009 film My Life in Ruins starring Nia Vardalos, you’ll know exactly why I tend to steer clear of group travel-the potential for obnoxious fellow travelers in your group, mediocre (read: nightmare) hotels, too little time spent at the actual sites, too much time spent shopping at stores where your tour group company most likely gets a commission. Although the film is a highly embellished comedy, Hollywood screenwriting at its best, it still touches on a lot of the problems that exist when participating in group travel. And so here are my main two reasons why for the most part, I avoid group travel.
Reason #1-I the traveler make the decision on everything when it comes to my trip
If there’s one thing I hate when traveling, it’s having to miss out on seeing a particular attraction or site that I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to see again. On my first trip to London I was on a group tour and desperately wanted to go on the London Eye. Well the famous Ferris wheel was not part of the itinerary and I never got to go on it. I returned to London two years later, but naturally the London Eye was not in operation then as it was undergoing yearly routine maintenance work. I’m still mad over the fact that I literally walked right by it and wasn’t able to go on it. Of course had I been in London on my own, I naturally would have ridden it because I would have been the one setting the itinerary.
Reason #2-Group travel involves too many “commission” stops
I love to shop, I’m the first to admit that. But if I’ve traveled somewhere for the sole purpose of climbing ancient Mesoamerican ruins or visiting an area that has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, I don’t want the majority of my trip spent in an artisan shop that most likely has paid my tour group’s company a sizable commission for bringing a busload of tourists to shop and unload their wallets there. When my dad and I visited Toledo, Spain, we went as part of a group on a day trip from Madrid. Although we did get to see many of the key sites in the old city (the Alcazar, the cathedral, and one of Greco’s most famous paintings, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz), we had no time to independently walk the streets of what is a charming medieval Spanish city. While on our walking tour we passed by several small shops that looked like they contained many stunning artisan wares but we weren’t allowed to stop. Instead we were herded back on to the bus so that we could “leisurely” take our time at a workshop where of course there was a “discount” offered. It was much the same way on the day trip my family and I took to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and the Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan outside of Mexico City. By the time we finally got to the ruins portion of the trip, so much time had been spent at “select shops” that we literally walked away from the guide’s talk just so that we could climb the pyramids. As it was, we only were able to make it to the first landing on the Pyramid of the Sun before we had to return to the van.
However, there are a few merits to group travel.
1.) If you’re traveling somewhere that you don’t speak the language and don’t feel many people speak would speak much English to at least get by. While I was in Korea, I often had a difficult time with the language, but in Seoul I could always find someone who spoke at least a few words of English to assist me. However, I know that if I had traveled to more rural areas of the country, I would have had an entirely different experience. There are definitely benefits to traveling in a group in which you’d always have the assistance of a native speaker.
2.) You simply would feel safer, more relaxed traveling in a group. I would have no problems whatsoever traveling to Europe or Latin America with D or even just by myself. However, I know that countries in the Middle East or India have entirely different cultures and mindsets, and different ways of doing things. It would be nice to have all travel details taken care of for you from start to finish. It certainly would help in lessening any culture shock.
I’m not entirely opposed to group travel, especially if it’s a tour with the Adventures by Disney or Abercrombie & Kent, two luxury tour outfitters. But for now, I’ll be sticking with me as the planner and tour guide.
For anyone reading this, do you have a preference when it comes to travel? Do you prefer traveling in a group or doing it alone and arranging the details yourself?