How To Decide If A Group Tour Is Right For Your Next Vacation

To solo, or not to solo, that is the question: Whether 'tis easier on the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of fixed itineraries, or to take planning into thine own hands. While the question of traveling solo or with a group isn't exactly Shakespearean, this specific question is a pretty important (and popular) query for travelers and the travel industry in general, as trends help form the industry. 

Let's first define "group tour" for the purposes of this article. We're focusing on taking a pre-planned trip with a group of other people, whether you know anyone else or not. This type of group tour begins from departure to return, and shouldn't be confused with a group sightseeing tour or day excursion while already traveling.

According to The New York Times, pre-planned group tours began to increase in popularity during the pandemic. Over the last few years, various countries and destinations implemented their own specific safety rules, and these ever-changing travel regulations created hesitancy among typical solo travelers. In addition, many travelers appreciated the relative safety of a tour company's own regulations, such as proof of vaccination among the group.

Pandemic or not, group travel can still provide the benefits of safety and navigating travel regulations of particular destinations. But these aren't the only considerations when deciding if a group tour is right for your next vacation. 

Problems with a slow-rolling crew

According to a survey by Statista, the top reason given by individuals motivated to travel solo was: "I want to see the world, and I don't want to wait for others." Other top choices in the survey included meeting other people (42%) and having different interests than friends (36%).

It's probably safe to say that many solo travelers, especially in the fledging stages of leaving the nest, shared these exact motivations. It's an interesting dichotomy.

On one hand, traveling is the best method to becoming a savvier traveler. When solo, this definitely means making mistakes, thinking on your feet, adapting, and problem-solving. However, without safety nets, you can get into a bind. It just happens. It's a shame to see people completely turn away from traveling due to one misadventure on their first or second trip.

On the other hand, if completely new to traveling, you can learn to avoid travel pitfalls with a bit of sherpa-ing by taking a group tour. For a first-time adventure, a group tour can split the uprights of the same motivations given for traveling solo. You won't need to wait for friends, and you will meet other people.

There's nothing wrong with traveling solo for a first-time trip. But for those who may be a bit anxious, there's also nothing wrong with learning on the road, from both the tour company and others, while meeting like-minded people along the way.

Finding expertise in a foreign land

For many of us, a large part of traveling concerns learning. We travel to learn (through experience) about different cultures, geographies, histories, and — at the risk of sounding too mushy — ourselves. When you travel to a specific place for a specific reason as an outsider, you're stepping into a classroom. Per USA Today, no guidebook will be better than a quality tour guide. (Thanks, USA Today?)

In a group tour, you're traveling with classmates and a teacher. When traveling solo, you'll wander the halls for a bit until you figure out what to do. Again, there's nothing wrong with that, but if time is of the essence, then you may want to prioritize efficiency over self-reliance.

For example, you want to plan a trip to Jerusalem to tour the city, the Dead Sea, Petra, and Masada. Awesome! You can allot seven days to do it. Hmm. While not exactly impossible to do solo, you'd be piecemeal-ing a lot of different excursions in a limited timeframe. Scoffing at fixed itineraries is easy until that fixed itinerary is, well, just easier.

When expertise and sightseeing efficiency are vital to the success of a specific adventure, a group tour can facilitate an immersive, informative experience. You won't spend time planning steps ahead. Rather, you can just walk.

Safety in numbers and regulatory guidance

To travel to some destinations, you'll either need to travel with a group, or it's very wise to travel with a group. Without the assistance of local insiders and the relative safety of a group, you can find yourself in a pretty serious predicament — alone. That's not to be intimidating; it's just a fact.

Even when visiting places that welcome visitors, customs and other officials stick to (or strongly prefer) a regimented program that typically includes access by approved group tours. Eyebrows may be raised when you find yourself outside this program.

We won't list any particular country because improvements have been made to make traditionally "closed-off" countries more accessible. That said, a lot of hassle can be avoided by accessing certain countries through the channels that the country prefers. Also, your tour guide will still serve as your teacher, helping to ensure you don't commit any faux pas (or unwittingly break laws) while exploring.

And to visit some places, it's just a straight regulatory headache. For instance, Americans can still visit Cuba — just not as "tourists." According to Tour Radar, there are 12 approved categories an American can visit Cuba. Overall, it's just paperwork and hoops. By taking a group tour, the process is typically simpler and expedited.

Considering solo versus group tour costs

Price is always an interesting issue when considering taking a group tour versus a solo trip. Generally speaking, people assume group tours will always be more expensive. Generally speaking, this can be very true. After all, outside of accommodations, activities, and transportation, you're paying for the expertise, planning, and whatever other perks the tour company offers.

However, given all that, it's really going to depend on the person's preferences, the company, and the tour. Hostel World offered an interesting take, suggesting that group tours will definitely be more expensive at the onset, but these planned tours can actually save the would-be solo traveler money.

When everything's included, the tour company has received better rates — better rates on the block accommodations, large meals at the go-to Italian restaurant, local activities, etc. It's how tour companies make money. If you were to do the exact same itinerary by yourself, you'd pay a whole lot more. More so, if you budget-traveled and cobbled together your own itinerary with less expensive food, accommodations, and tours, you still may pay more.

So, again, when it comes to comparing costs between solo travel and group tours, let's just say it's going to depend on the person's preferences, the company, and the tour.

Finding the best of both worlds

So, what if the idea of a group tour is still likened to a vacation straight jacket, while a solo trip seems impractical and intimidating? Let's try to find the best of both worlds. Remember, not all solo trips end with you in the Serengeti with a stick, nor do all group tours end up at roadside restaurants with 10 selfie-sticked champions. There's always a middle ground.

If you plan a solo trip, plan it and plan it well. Do your research, then book the mainstay accommodations or legs of the trip in advance to provide built-in contingencies. If you like the idea of a group tour but not the lack of freedom, then find a tour that provides big gaps of free time or days with activity options to take or leave.

According to the previously mentioned The New York Times article, some group tour companies are now experiencing a 300% increase in solo travelers joining group tours over bookings made by couples or friends. It's not impossible to find the best of both worlds. You'll just need to look outside first.