Travel by Tour or Un-Tour?
Updated: Aug 20, 2018
When I graduated from college my parents offered a choice: A down-payment for a car (yay, no more bus!) Or a European student tour. I really wanted a car, but chose the trip, one that apparently inspired the phrase “if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium.”
That first tour taught me three things:
Cities and sites all look the same through the window of a bus. (That bus bugaboo again.).
I am not a morning person. Wake-up calls to have luggage in a lobby at 7 a.m. are not my cup of coffee.
I don’t like being herded. If we actually get to stroll, albeit following a guide, through a charming Belgian village, I want to stop at that chocolate shop!
Full disclosure: I don’t take package tours. Many friends have, however, and I am becoming more open-minded. Not much, just more. I thought about when I might recommend a package tour—and when to avoid it like the plague.
A few considerations:
Tour: You are sociable and play well with others. You are just beginning to travel and going it alone scares you silly. You have a hectic life with desire to plan details. You want to simply pack and show up.
Un-Tour: You are an explorer by nature; this is probably not your very first trip. You are willing to put in the time to plan the where, when and how—in fact, you look forward to planning as part of the trip.
Tour: If money is no object, you can enjoy a smaller group and luxury. If you go low-end, the group will be larger and guides may lead you to shops and restaurants that profit them instead of your adventure.
Un-Tour: Money saved is great. It also buys time by giving you the means to extend the trip--especially if you share costs such as car rental and accommodations with a fellow traveler.
Tour: I’m able to lug that carry-on bag but most tours handle luggage. Also, if health is a concern, having a local guide can be reassuring, especially if you don’t speak the language.
Un-Tour: You tackle your own luggage, down cobble-stone streets, up escalators, stairs, through train compartments. Not always fun…OK, never fun. But if you miss a plane connection your bag is with you for a quick transfer to another one.
Tour: If the destination’s language looks like hieroglyphics, a tour may be easier. Same goes for exotic locations (African safari, anyone?) or where security is an issue.
Un-Tour: English speakers have it relatively easy in many destinations. In Scandinavia, it was disappointing not to practice the Danish studied for months online—everyone spoke English.
Or Take the Middle of the (Travel) Road. Plan your trip but include a day tour or a hop-on, hop off bus to orient yourself. For a package tour, check details. Some are jam-packed with activities; others provide activities but leave days free to explore. Still others plan accommodations and provide some support (maps, a contact person) then leave you to your own devices.
That’s when you can stop for chocolate.