I was halfway down a picturesque river in the Ha-Giang province of Northern Vietnam floating peacefully on a bamboo raft when suddenly, the peace was shattered by the braying screech of what sounded like a donkey being set on fire. Birds took to the air in fright, children covered their ears and Richter scales around the world quivered. It turned out just to be a large American lady called Judy floating about 500 meters further up the river. Over the next 30 minutes, I heard a great deal about Judy’s private life from around half a kilometre away as did most of Vietnam given she was talking loud enough to embarrass an air-raid siren.
This is my issue with packaged tours especially when I compare them to solo long term travel. I was lucky enough to take no further part in Judys’ life which can’t be said for her fellow tour goers who had to pile into a bus with this beast then spend the remainder of their tour learning more about her fascinating problem with lactose intolerance (not surprisingly even dairy products can’t stand her). These types of people are just one of the issues I have with a pre-packaged travel tour, it’s such a mixed bag and i’m not just talking about over 50’s tours like this one was but things like Contiki or other youth style tours too. I’ve never tried this style of travel before but I’ve heard very mixed things about them so I decided to put a few thoughts down on paper and nut out the pro’s and con’s of taking a Contiki tour, (since I’m slap bang in the middle of Contiki’s target audience I’ll focus on them).
Take this Contiki Tour as an example. While it certainly looks like fun and I’m sure I would still have a fantastic time, 25 days in 11 different countries would mean a whirlwind fast 2 days in each (not including transport time), not a great way to get to know each place or it’s people. The other major issue I have with this tour is the cost, which seems a little on the pricey side at $2,692 per person, especially given that it doesn’t include half your meals, entry and entertainment costs or flights. Suddenly 25 days in Europe (from Australia) is now looking more like topping $5,000.
The greatest issue I can find with packaged tours is the lack of flexibility in their schedules with everything including destinations, meals, accommodation and your group all being predetermined and locked in place before you even set out. This is my personal preference speaking as I like to have the flexibility to change my mind when I travel but if you’re happy to just go with the flow then maybe a tour could work well. In my opinion, the thought of having no input at all in the journey and being locked into a roller coaster ride with the possibility of sitting next to your very own ‘Judy’ is enough to make me think twice about forking out the cash for one of these bad-boys. In Australia, Contiki style party tours seem to be just about a rite of passage early 20 some things take on their way along the voyage to adulthood and very often these tours are the first taste of travel young Australians experience, (probably due to their convenience and our drinking culture).
- Can be a good first taste of the travel experience
- No planning required (if you are happy to go with the flow)
- Meet plenty of new people as you’re forced to interact and make friends
- Fast paced travelling if that’s your thing
- Less chance of theft or some other crime since you’re with a large group.
- Includes experienced guides which can be handy
- Very convenient
- Risk of alcohol poisoning
- Possibility of a ‘Judy’ being in your group (group incompatibility)
- Inflexible everything (destinations, times, accommodation, food, group)
- Expensive given what’s included (never cheaper than solo travel)
- Hidden costs (things like entrance fee’s, entertainment costs and flights)
- No input in planning
- Less opportunity to mix with locals
- Not enough time to explore things properly
- Focus on touristy destinations only
- Percentage of travel time spent in transit
Here’s a great post about some of the benefits of taking a good tour, which raises some good points that I really do agree with. I have used many tours in the past especially things like day tours, walking tours and other types of guided exploration. I‘ve found that taxi drivers seem to turn into makeshift tour guides when prompted with questions about the local area, which can be a great experience too. Generally, I avoid packaged tours and prefer to go through a country solo and find my own way.
I do know lot’s of people though, (my sister included) who have really enjoyed packaged tours but I’m just not too sure it’s the type of travel for me. I like having the freedom to change my mind, stay in places for extended periods of time, hang with the locals and the time get to know an area and its people before moving on at my own pace. I also really enjoy the build up and pre-planning process of a big trip. Contiki Tours, while providing the ideal opportunity to throw up all over someone you’ve just met are just too constrained for my liking and they also cost far too much money. I think packaged tours do have their place in tourism and can be a good starting point for a new traveller who might still be wary of solo travel but if your preference is slow travel or you want to have some input into where, when and who you explore these new places with, in my mind a packaged tour could never hope to replace solo travel, but that’s just me.