Sangeeta Kocharekar

Recently, I went on my first group tour. In all my years of travel, I’d never once considered doing one. But then again, I’d always had someone to travel with. After spending a week with a friend in Havana, Cuba, she went back to work and I decided to stay on and see more of the country. Not wanting to do it alone, a group tour was an obvious choice. I settled on a seven-day sailing trip.

It ended up being one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve ever had, and not just because of the destination (though that was incredible too – if you ever find yourself in that area of the world, definitely consider visiting Cuba’s Canarreos Archipelago). At times, it was exactly as I expected a group tour to be. At others, not at all. Here, I share my experience and insight to help you work out whether a group tour is worth it for you.

group atv tour

The group

Going into the tour, I’d expected couples, groups of friends and only a few solo travellers. I was surprised then to find that my six-person group consisted of three other solo travellers and only one couple. With such a small group and no WiFi for the majority of the trip (I could write an entire separate blog on Cuba’s dire WiFi situation), we became fast friends. Though we came from different parts of the world and all walks of life, sharing the same experiences for seven days straight made our relationships unique.

If you’re worried about being shy or about the rest of the group being cliquey, you shouldn’t be. Group leaders deliberately create situations to encourage friendships, pairing people they think will get along together in shared rooms or during activities. Throughout the trip, they’ll always make an effort to ensure everyone feels included.

Pros: If you’re travelling alone, you’ll have built-in mates to share your experience with. If you’re with your partner or with friends, you’ll make new friends from all around the world.

Cons: You may find yourself travelling with someone who has a negative attitude or a day-to-day pace not on the same level as the rest of the group.

group tour friends

The trip itself

Many group tours offer experiences that would be nearly impossible to organise yourself. Sailing Cuba is a good example of that. Though I could have chartered a cabin on a boat, it would have taken a substantial amount of time to research and plan. Once I booked the tour, I was provided with all the information I needed to know – everything from what to pack to the type of travel insurance I’d need.

In addition to a hassle-free trip, you’ll also be able to rest assured you’re seeing some of the best sights and doing some of the best activities the area has to offer. Itineraries are usually decided on by locals or others well-versed in the area. They’re then rolled out by knowledgeable, trained guides.

Pros: If you’re after an adventure or cultural holiday, doing a group tour will save you time and energy both before and during the trip. The tour’s itinerary will also guarantee you’re making efficient use of your travel time.

Cons: Tour itineraries don’t usually have much wiggle room. If you’re interested in doing or seeing something not on the itinerary, you’ll either have to miss out or arrange to do it before or after the tour is finished instead.

group of friends

The cost

The cost of a group tour with its multiple zeros is what made me never consider them. Now having done one, I realise their cost factors in peace of mind knowing you’ll have a worry-free holiday, like-minded travel companions and easy access to English-speaking guides. You’ll be paying for the time and effort the company put in to planning the route and making the itinerary.

In saying that, apart from situations where you’re travelling alone and like to travel luxuriously or have scored a dirt-cheap group tour deal, travelling on your own will always be cheaper. You can always find an inexpensive hotel or a hostel. In popular tourist places, downloading a map, buying a guidebook and navigating yourself isn’t all that hard to do. Driving routes are or suggested itineraries can be found online.

Pros: A group tour will make holiday budgeting easy. You’ll likely pay for the bulk of it upfront and then only need to set money aside for souvenirs, tips and extra activities.

Cons: With set itineraries you don’t usually get a say in the tour’s picks for hotels and meals. If you’re a foodie who prefers cheaper accommodation or someone who enjoys luxury hotels but is happy with street food, you might struggle to find a suitable tour.

At the end of the day, working out whether a group tour is worth it for you or not is a personal decision that will vary from one trip to the next. After long hours at work, you may want a holiday where you can be completely worry-free. On your next, you might feel like researching the destination in-depth and planning your own itinerary. You might want to be alone in Paris. In Amsterdam, maybe not. Regardless of your pick however know that travel of any kind will expand your mind. Group tour or not, it’s a win-win.

group of people in the snow

Sangeeta Kocharekar is a freelance writer specialising in travel and life. When she’s not hunched over her laptop, she spends her days browsing plant stores and taking photos of beaches and brunches for Instagram. You can view them here.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.