Cycling group in Vietnam | Lachlan Gardiner
I love organised tours. Not bus tours or cruises, but small group organised tours are totally my thing. Of course, I adore independent travel as well. The ideal – for me at least – is to do both to get the best out of each.
Recently, I've been travelling independently and things have gone wrong. Not seriously wrong but we've had fuel shortages, a flat tyre, overbooked accommodation and delays because buses have been full. I've still had a good time but it's made me remember all the things I love about organised tours. These are my top 5 benefits of small group tours.
1. Feeling productive
One of my favourite things about an organised trip is feeling productive. I love the idea that in 10 or 12 days, I can pack so many experiences into a relatively short amount of time. On the Bike, Hike and Kayak Northern Vietnam trip I did, for example, it was fantastic to cycle in the Mai Chau valley, kayak in Halong Bay and hike in one of the region's national parks, as well as enjoy a home stay, a cooking class and a city tour of beautiful Hanoi. Our wonderful guide shared his knowledge about the country and its customs, which added so much to the experience. He even knew where to get the best coffee, which really helped too! It would have taken me double the time – at least – to see what we saw in that time.
Cycling through rice paddies in Northern Vietnam
2. The people you meet
Another standout of an organised tour is the people. I've met some terrific people on the small group trips I've done. At the very least, you are travelling with people who have a desire to see the same destination you do, in the style you like. It's easy to make friends. In Nepal a few years ago, I travelled with a great group of people. The friendships we formed on our stunning trek through the Everest region were cemented when our departure flight out of Lukla was delayed because of bad weather. I'm sure the way our guides managed the situation helped us all keep a sense of humour – knowing that we'd fly out as soon as it was safe to do so.
The people you meet on organised group tours, often provide turn into lasting friendships. Happy trekkers at Gokyo Ri, Nepal
3. Having a contingency plan
The other huge advantage of organised travel is having a contingency plan. After a hassle-free organised trek in Patagonia's Torres del Paine National Park recently, we rented a car to drive across the country to Argentina's Atlantic coast. We were blissfully unaware that fuel shortages are common place in Argentina. No one in Argentina drives past a petrol station when they have less than three quarters of a tank of petrol. We were stuck for a day, paying exorbitant rental car rates because of a fuel shortage, and even without the shortage we never took less than 35 minutes to refuel because of the queues of traffic. This doesn't happen on organised tours because tour companies have contingency plans.
Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
4. The fantastic tour guides
Reason number 4 to love organised small group tours is the guides! I've never had a bad experience with a World Expeditions' guide and some have been absolutely fantastic. Just as local knowledge helps with storing extra fuel when you need it, a guide's knowledge of unique plants or birds on a trek or explaining the history of a particular city can make a huge difference to your appreciation of a destination.
I've been saved more than once by the ingenuity of a guide. The most memorable occasion happened when starting a 6-day Jatbula trek in the Northern Territory a few years ago. As we got out of the van, my daughter noticed the waist strap on her backpack was missing. Carrying a full pack for a week is not easy with a functional pack, but it would be miserable without a waist strap. Our fantastic guide produced some cable ties and fixed it in a matter of minutes.
Helpful guides on the Jatbula Trail, Northern Territory, Australia
5. It's easier to relax
Lastly, it's easier to relax on organised tours. Of course, things may not always go to plan because that's travel but, when it does, it's not your problem. Someone else will sort it out. There is a team of people at World Expeditions who solve these problems all day, every day. They have the resources to know where to get a van repaired in remote Mongolia, or where the additional fuel is stored in Argentina. They don't miss out on bus tickets because they already know where the best places to go are – and the accommodation is booked for its value, location and overall quality.
Certainly, there's a time and a place for both organised small group tours and for independent adventures. Choose wisely. Happy travels!
Words by Michele Eckersly, a World Expeditions employee. She's travelled extensively around the world, including South America, across Southeast Asia, in the Northern Territory and in Nepal. While Michele enjoys independent travel, she also finds many benefits when travelling with a group.
World Expeditions specialises in trekking, travel and active adventure holidays in small groups across seven continents. Check out the extensive range of trips >
Did we miss a reason? Share with us in the comments below what you love about travelling in a small group.