With regard for recreational travel, most people either go on a self-planned trip or they go on a tour. I have been on many self-planned trips and many tours, so I feel like I’m qualified to assess the respective pros and cons of these two travel methods. I’m going to evaluate each method by 3 metrics: cost, difficulty, and freedom.
The cost for a self-planned trip is wildly variable. You could scour the web for a cheap economy flight ticket to a country with a very low cost of living, stay in super cheap hostels for your entire trip, buy food at grocery stores instead of eating out, take public transportation to get around, etc. Alternatively, you could fly first class to a country with a very high cost of living, stay in five star hotels for your entire trip, eat at five star restaurants for every meal, take private transportation to get around, etc. I think you get the point.
On the other hand, the cost for most tours are fairly expensive considering what you get in return. In general, your airfare rate is average, you stay at average hotels, and you eat at average restaurants. However, you aren’t paying average prices for all of these things. You’re paying slightly more than average. You have to remember that these tour companies are for-profit businesses. They take your money, they spend a fraction of that money on your trip, and then they pocket what’s leftover. Don’t forget that your tour guide(s) and your bus driver(s) will probably be expecting tips once their services have been rendered. Another thing to consider is that tours generally take you to many tourist traps that give the tour company kickbacks. These tourist trap stops ultimately lead to one of two undesirable outcomes: A) You’re interested in the tourist trap, so you spend a lot of money you wouldn’t have spent otherwise or B) You’re not interested in the tourist trap, so the stop is a complete waste of your time. I will go ahead and point out that organizing a tour group to go on one of these tours can be a very economical way to travel. The basic idea is that you get some trip credit for every person that you recruit to go on the tour. For the sake of an example, I’ll just make up a number and say that every 4 sign-ups is equivalent to a full trip credit. In this scenario, if you got 6 people to sign up for the tour, then you could go for free, and someone else of your choosing could go for half price. My mom has actually had a lot of success with this approach. That’s why I’ve been on so many tours. Of course, the downside to this approach is that it takes a lot of time and effort to organize a tour group. You could spend that time working and saving money for a self-planned trip.
Clearly, a self-planned trip can be much more cost-effective than a tour. However, if you’re not good at finding cheap travel deals on your own, then you might want to go on a tour instead of planning a trip for yourself. Due to the fact that a self-planned trip can be as cheap as you want to make it, I’m going to give the edge to self-planned travel for the cost metric.
Without a doubt, going on a tour is much easier than planning a trip for yourself. I like to think of tours as travel with training wheels. You’re traveling, but you’re not really doing it on your own. You give a company some money, and they take care of booking flights, hotels, admission tickets, etc. When you’re planning a trip for yourself, you have to do all of your own research, and that can be a painstaking process. However, going on a trip that you planned yourself tends to be far more rewarding than going on a tour. As they say, “The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.” In other words, you tend to be more invested and interested in a trip that you planned from the ground up.
The freedom metric goes to self-planned travel hands down. You build your entire itinerary from scratch. You have complete control over what you want to do. Also, you can deviate from your itinerary whenever you want. Your itinerary can be extremely rigid, extremely flexible, or any state in between. As a matter of personal preference, I like to strike a balance between rigidity and flexibility because you never know what could come up when you’re traveling. For instance, you might meet some cool people that want you to join their group and go visit a nearby attraction that you had never heard of before. However, spontaneous travel opportunities don’t always present themselves, so you need to have a solid base itinerary in case nothing else comes up. Tours, on the other hand, are very constricting. Tours offer no wiggle room. You’re in this city for 3 days and the next city for 2 days. You’re only liberty is that you have the liberty to pick the pre-manufactured itinerary that is the most appealing to you.
In summary, self-planned travel can be more cost-effective while offering you way more freedom; whereas, tours are a much easier way to travel. Personally, I highly prefer self-planned travel over tours; however, I know that self-planned travel is not for everyone. Go with whatever option seems best for you. I hope that you found this comparison of self-planned travel and tours helpful and informative.