Whats the deal with these tour groups?
Ever wondered what it would be like to book a trip with a travel company? It seems like a gamble for a variety of reasons. I was initially hesitant to try it out because I wasn’t sure it would be worth the money and I was nervous about being with a ton of strangers for a vacation. Would they be crazy party animals? Would I even like anyone? Would I make any friends or just be that weird loner?? So many things to consider even beyond the social part. Are the accommodations going to be nice? Are included meals just cheap and gross? Is the guide going to be helpful? Then there’s the control freak in me who is like, do I want someone else to plan my trip for me? What if I miss out on something?? Ahh there so much to panic over!!
Okay, I kid. It’s actually pretty great for a lot of reasons. I luckily found that all of it was awesome! I loved all the tour guides, the travel part is super easy, food and accommodations typically were really good, and I saw more on some of these trips then I ever imagined I would.
I have been on four different trips (thus far) that I booked with a tour group and have loved them all! I feel really fortunate that each of my experiences have been so much fun and with people that were so amazing. This post is in no way an ad, but I have to name drop the company Contiki since they are the team responsible for my good times in my tour group travels (I have heard tale of a handful of other companies with a similar mode of travel that also have great reviews, so there are for sure a lot out there to choose from). I felt really safe and comfortable on each of my trips. The tour managers really try to make sure that everyone has a good time and that we as the travelers do not have to worry about anything. I never had to think about how to get anywhere or get tickets for anything or deal with hotel booking or any other organizing! They literally do all the tedious work that everyone stresses over when planning a trip. It was so nice to not have to think about any of that. You basically show up at your destination on day one and they do all the hard work for you! There’s always going to be the trips where you want to take the reins and plan to the T but if you are not a planner or just want to click a button and have everything set for you, travel companies are the way to go.
The Contiki agency focuses on 18-35 years in age and travels to most of the continents around the world. The groups usually consist of 20-50 people per trip, depending on the popularity and region. It may seem overwhelming to travel with 50 people, but the way that the group is structured makes it seem normal. Everyone kind of develops a pack mentality and we all try to keep an eye out for each other. Like one crazy family trip. If you tend to be a lone wolf or lean towards introversion you can still survive with the group. There is usually a handful of people who want to do their own thing and everyone just leaves them be. But if you have a really good group and everyone is super friendly, they may try to force you to be a part of the team. From my experiences, most people want to talk to everyone they can at least once and try to be one happy family group. But it’s not a perfect world so the wild cards can’t be stopped (yes I’m talking about you over there who wants to party all day all night and can’t stop talking!).
What I really appreciated about traveling with a travel agency is that I was able to go to areas that I might not have if I was traveling alone. I am not really sure if I would have traveled to Egypt or Vietnam if it weren’t for the tour group. For these two places I was nervous about the language barriers, how to get around, and just the general safety in those countries for a lone American traveler. However with the guides, I felt comfortable because they were all super knowledgeable of the area and were able to either speak the local language or had someone with us to help translate. In Vietnam, my tour guide was an amazingly fun and caring Australian. She didn’t speak Vietnamese but she had a guide with us at all times to help us get around and speak to the locals. We also had a security guard with us on the bus to watch over us everywhere we went and that for sure made me feel a lot more safe! The guide for my trip in Egypt has been with the Contiki company forever! He is Egyptian himself and spoke English and Arabic fluently. It was comforting to have someone who really knew the area take us around and see all of the sites. He also was very straightforward and gave us legit warnings about the locals and what to be wary of. I was glad to know what to look out for and how to avoid any potential trouble. It was even nice to have someone be upfront and honest about the possible safety risks because pretending we are safe at all times isn’t reasonable. They really want you to be safe (I’m sure for legal reasons too) and have a good time! Either way, all the guides really put me at ease in each of these places. It is so worth it to have the feeling of security while traveling and not needing to be concerned that you might take a wrong turn and end up in a terrible situation. We’ve all heard those stories about people being robbed or kidnapped while abroad, so I was glad that I had a whole group there to keep an eye out and make sure we all were together and safe. And just for the record, I was never robbed or given any trouble while on these trips. The most stressful thing that happened was bartering with people at the shops. Apparently Americans are the worst at it…I can confirm that for myself. I guess I have a hard time negotiating over dollars and cents.
The way I decide whether to use a travel agency is based on my comfort level with the region. Places that are more rural, don’t speak English, or have questionable safety are the ones that I would look into using an agency. I also take the cost, the itinerary, and travel style and see if it meets my goals for the trip and is worth the money. I figure that I’d rather spend a bit extra to feel safe and not have to worry about being able to get around or speak to the people in the area. For example, I would probably not use an agency for Europe. It is easy to get around, most people speak English, and typically they cater to tourists in major cities, which makes it a lot easier. I would however use an agency for somewhere such as Turkey or Laos. I don’t know the language in either of those places, the safety is questionable, and I have no idea how to get around. Granted, I can probably do a ton of research and figure out how to get around those places and being with a travel group doesn’t guarantee my safety, but it for sure is a lot easier and way less stress to plan. Who doesn’t like to click a button and just be done?!
I also take into consideration the political climate of the region. From my experience, most people have been super nice and helpful while abroad, but being American can be a downfall for some regions. I for sure get a lot of questions about the current president and have had people directly ask about who I voted for and such. So to the Americans, good luck! And to non-Americans, we mean well…most of us…
In general I’d recommend trying out a tour group at least once. If you want to be around people who are just as obsessed, if not more, with travel as you then do a group travel! I met some lifelong international friends and know that we’d both be equally happy to host each other if one came to visit. I had so many amazing experiences that I would never have had if I had either gone alone or with just a friend or two. The biggest take away is that if you want to travel and can’t find someone to commit or want to come with you, tour groups are an amazing way to travel while feeling safe and with like minded people who just want to enjoy the world. The bonus is that you can make a lot of new friends, should you choose so. I am going to age out of the Contiki company soon (ew barf!!), so I will have to find a new group to go with in the future. I have confidence that the next group I choose will be just as amazing…and probably know the value of a full nights sleep! I can’t wait for my next (and last) adventure with Contiki and still highly recommend it for those who may be on the fence still. If you have suggestions for travel agencies feel free to let me and all the other travelers know!