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So you’ve taken the first step – you’ve decided to travel. Congrats! If no one is available to go with you, you’re probably wondering about the pros and cons of solo travel vs group tours.
What do I mean by these terms?
Group travel: This usually refers to travelling in an organised tour with a guide, other travellers and a set itinerary and schedule that you’ll have seen before booking.
Solo travel: While travelling independently, you’ll likely travel between destinations alone. What you do there is up to you. You’ll make up your own schedule in advance or as you go along.
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So, let’s answer the question, is it better to travel solo or in a group?
Group travel vs solo travel – my story
My first big trip aged 19 was with a gap year company and, at that age, it was perfect for me. I wouldn’t have had the experience, the understanding nor the confidence to go it alone.
While I now prefer travelling by myself and have plenty of solo female travel tips to share, I recognise the advantages of group tours. Some people travel on them exclusively.
Let’s run through the pros and cons of group tours vs solo travel to help you make an educated decision…
Group tour WIN – instant friends
An undeniable benefit of group tours compared to solo travel is you automatically have a bunch of like-minded friends.
While there are plenty of ways to meet people travelling solo, you have to work that bit harder and often the people you meet are headed off in different directions by the time you’ve bonded. There’s always that odd occasion you stay in an empty dorm or just don’t click with anyone.
I enjoy time to myself but it’s not for everyone.
Some of the best friends I’ve made travelling were through group tours. I’ve taken three: a 10-day trek of the Great Wall of China in 2012, an eight-day tour of Cambodia in 2015, and a 40-day tour of East and South Africa with G Adventures in 2017.
I made lasting friends each time and can’t compare the relationships to friendly but fleeting hostel companionships.
Don’t get me wrong, you could meet your soulmate or future best friend in a hostel but the opportunities are increased in a tour. You get past the pleasantries and have so many shared experiences that it would be impossible not to bond.
Solo travel WIN – cost
I won’t beat around the bush here: independent travel is always cheaper!
There are group tours you’ll need to sell a kidney to join. I’d never have made it on my Africa trip if I hadn’t been able to save up whilst living with family.
The tour I took in Cambodia cost over £400 for eight days and only included accommodation and bus travel. When travelling independently in the same region, eight day’s accommodation and bus journeys never set me back more than £100 (granted the tour included hotels rather than hostels but this wasn’t something I necessarily needed). This is still considered a budget tour; higher-end trips will be vastly more expensive.
For those travelling on a budget, solo travel beats group tours and lets you travel for longer.
Group tour WIN – security
Travelling independently is better value in terms of cold hard cash, but the advantage of group tours provide a different kind of value: security and comfort.
For locations where safety is an issue, a tour can be a valuable investment. Making it through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia by bus might have been a challenging experience alone (especially as a solo female) but thanks to my tour leader and organisation of the company, I’ve never felt safer or more relaxed.
I’m not a nervous traveller and most destinations don’t phase me. But if you’ve never travelled independently or at all, the unknown is understandably daunting.
Organised group travel beat solo travel for new, hesitant travellers. You travel with a guide on private transport and follow their advice on what to eat and where to wander. Not only does it feel more secure, but it can put your mind (and the minds’ of your loved ones) at rest.
Solo travel WIN – control
I like to spend days wandering a city while travelling alone. I love getting to know the people and culture. I could spend hours reading, writing, drinking coffee and watching the world go by. For independence and control, you can’t beat solo travel!
On a tour, you’ll arrive and leave a city or region at the mercy of your schedule, regardless of how much you like or dislike that place. Time is restricted and sometimes you don’t catch all a city’s highlights let alone its hidden gems. I’ve definitely wished I could stay longer in a place but not had any control over the group itinerary.
Group tour WIN – ease and convenience
Travelling solo means making decisions, navigating yourself and booking accommodation and transport.
While I like being in control of my plans, sometimes it gets tiring especially when it’s hot, you can’t speak the language and you’re carrying all your possessions.
Organised tours are better than solo travel for taking away that stress. It’s fun to know you’ll be doing something exciting the next day and you don’t have to sort it out.
When things go wrong on a tour, someone’s got you. We arrived at a flooded campsite in Botswana and G Adventures paid to upgrade us to $100 rooms. I’d have had to splash out from my own pocket if I’d been travelling solo which wouldn’t have been ideal.
Solo travel WIN – being able to ditch people
Solo travel means never getting stuck with people you don’t like. You can bond with people in hostels but if the mood changes, you can move on and spend time alone or meet new people instead.
While they can introduce you to kindred spirits, a disadvantage of groups tours vs solo travel is they can lumber you with annoying sorts. This can apply to your tour guide too; the quality of your leader can make or break a trip.
Many people take tours as they worry they won’t make friends otherwise which, for me, is a solo travel myth. Keep in mind that it’s really easy to meet people travelling independently and easier to shake annoying people compared to a tour!
Group tour WIN – pay off for your trip in advance
Paying your trip off before you travel is good if you like to keep track of your finances. Setting off for Africa on my tour, I knew I didn’t need to worry about accommodation, food or travel for the entire 40-day trip. If you’ve never budgeted for travelling before, a tour is a good way to ease you in.
Solo travel WIN – no hidden costs
When travelling solo, you can budget your own way. There’s no pressure to pay for things unless you want to.
Group tours are expensive to start with, and you might also experience hidden costs or feel pressured to pay for extras. On the first day of my tour in Cambodia, we were presented with a list of add-ons that almost everyone signed up for. Many of the things were boat cruises or cocktail classes which weren’t essentials yet I’d have been sat around by myself otherwise whilst the rest of the group bonded, so I felt the pressure to join in and cough up.
Our tour then journeyed to Siem Reap but didn’t include the Angkor Wat temples, the main sight in Cambodia, meaning we still had lots of pay for.
Then, there are tips. The recommended amount per person for our two tour guides over the 40-day Africa trip was $300. As you can imagine, this really ate into my budget. While it’s great to support locals, ask yourself if you need to be travelling with a guided tour.
Solo travel vs group tour – cultural immersion
This is something I’ve thought about a lot.
Occasionally during group tours I’ve felt rushed on a tight itinerary and not had the chance to meet locals and explore a city by myself: things I think help you get to know a place.
Am I qualified to say I really know the Cambodian people, their ethics and customs, after a flying eight days in country, with barely a night per place? I’d say probably not.
On the flip side, as a backpacker you’re often restricted to tourist activities and places that can be reached by public transport. Taking a group tour that employs local staff and has links with local businesses and sustainable enterprises can give you a better insight into the destination while also supporting local livelihoods.
For example, during my gap year in Ecuador, we were based in a remote rainforest village. Never in a million years would I have found myself there as a backpacker since there was no public transport, tourist infrastructure or English spoken.
Similarly, on my G Adventures tour of Africa, we were taken to a small village in Malawi where we cooked dinner with the locals. This experience wouldn’t have been possible without G Adventure’s local links and connections.
Best group tour companies
If this comparison of group travel and solo travel has made you want to take a tour, check out:
G Adventures: After my adventure of a lifetime across East and Southern Africa, of course I would recommend G! Their tours are adventurous and culturally immersive. There’s no age limit but the YOLO camping-style tours are for 18-39-year-olds (the average age on mine was late 20s-early 30s). They focus on responsible travel and supporting local communities. No solo surcharge. Browse G Adventure tours here.
Contiki: These tours for 18-35-year-olds are social, fun and party-focused. The average age is 19-23. They’re great for island-hopping in Croatia, Thailand etc. Contiki reviews suggest 50% of guests are solo travellers. No solo surcharge.
Intrepid travel: These are similar to G Adventures – adventurous, off-the-beaten-track tours. Group sizes tend to be smaller than G Adventures and I’ve heard the quality of the guides can be better as they don’t subcontract to other companies. Better yet, they carbon offset all their tours. They have 18-29 tours as well as ‘all ages’ tours (Note this means if you’re 30-39, you can’t join the ‘young’ tours like you can with G). There are some solo surcharges; check the individual tour.
Check out this comparison of G Adventures and Intrepid Travel.
How to get the best out of a group tour?
If you’ve decided to take a group tour rather than travel solo, here’s how to get the best out of it!
It sounds obvious, but read, read, read. Check out reviews online. Talk to tour consultants. Find out exactly what you’re signing up for before booking.
On my camping tour of Africa, there were members of the group who didn’t realise we’d be camping and showed up with giant suitcases and no sleeping bag. How they didn’t realise I just don’t understand!
Questions to ask before taking a tour:
- Will you be in a hotel, hostel or a tent?
- Are you going to be cooking your own meals and mucking in with the washing up or being served dinner in a restaurant each night?
- Will it be local or Western food? I love trying the local cuisine so would be disappointed with a tour that served things I could eat at home.
- Will you be spending time mainly in cities or rural locations?
- How much time will you spend in each destination?
How to get the best out of solo travel
Be open-minded and embrace the trials and tribulations. Get ready to adapt, be flexible and understand you may change a little as a person!
Tips for solo travel:
- For a social trip, stay in hostels with shared dorms and social areas
- Be friendly and approachable. Don’t sit in a hostel common room with a book!
- Take walking tours, cooking classes etc to meet people
- Send a copy of your travel itinerary to loved ones back home for security
- Identify your ‘happy spaces’ and activities to cheer you up if you’re feeling low
- Set aside enough time to do admin activities like booking flights and accommodation
- Download apps for security like Uber, social apps like Meetup, and navigation apps like Wave and Maps.me
Solo travel vs group travel – compromises
In two minds? If you can’t decide between group travel and solo travel, why not consider…
If a fast schedule seems like a disadvantage of group tours, these can be a good option.
South Africa’s Baz Bus and New Zealand’s Kiwi Experience both allow you to make up your schedule as you go along. They pick up and drop off at recommended hostels so you’ve got a high level of security but the freedom to do what you like and spend as long as you want (depending on what kind of ticket you’ve purchased).
You’ll likely make friends on the buses but won’t necessarily see the same people all along the route if they spend more or less time in the stops than you.
Hop-on-hop-offs are more expensive than local transport but way cheaper than full tours.
Short introductory tours
Another compromise if you can’t decide between group travel or solo travel is taking a short introductory tour in a country or continent to ease you in.
Alternatively, start alone and have one booked as a break: my eight-day Cambodia was a nice respite from backpacker life and allowed me to let someone else do the planning for a bit.
Find a travel buddy
If none of your existing friends or family travel are available, consider finding a travel buddy. There are plenty of websites and apps to do this. Check out my guide to picking the right travel buddy so you don’t end up with a nightmare traveller!
I’ve always found this a good way to make friends, learn about the country and ease into the culture. I did this in the Philippines, setting up social media channels for a hostel in exchange for board and food. It provided security and social opportunities without the fast pace and costs of a tour.
Check out Workaway for volunteer positions. For other companies, I’d recommend doing thorough research to ensure you’re not supporting voluntourism.
Solo travel vs group tours – the verdict
Let’s run through what we learnt to wrap up!
PRO: No hassle or self-organisation
CON: No control / can feel rushed
PRO: Instant friends
CON: Getting stuck with people
CON: Higher cost
PRO: Full control of plans
CON: Can be lonely / harder to meet people
CON: Less security if something goes wrong
PRO: Don’t get stuck with people
I’m definitely poorer for having taken some of the tours I have, but the memories, experiences and friendships have been worth the money. The convenience and security of group tours helped build my confidence until I became a confident traveller. Nowadays, I prefer solo travel for the freedom and control it brings.
My general rule nowadays is that I’ll take a tour somewhere I feel I couldn’t visit alone, but not in safer places to travel solo (like Southeast Asia or Australia).
Bottom line: travel’s always a good idea. You’ve just got to work out what’s important to you and where you compromise in doing it. You’ll have the time of your life whether you take a group tour or travel solo!
Thanks for reading my solo travel vs group travel comparison!
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See you next time for more adventures,
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