To tour or not to tour?
That is the question.
Except for me, it’s not really a question.
I have, in my online explorations, seen a lot of arguments for and against taking tours.
Some people argue for the more organic route – show up and just see what happens, hang with the locals, get the true VIBE of a place and ride it until there’s little left to squeeze out of the experience.
Alternatively, you could belong to the pro-tour group – you prefer a more organised approach to travel, packing as much as you can into your day and leaving little to fate.
While I see the merits of both, I belong predominantly to the latter camp. I love a good tour. Seriously.
And I love a good tour for a few reasons –
1. I am a woman and I often travel alone. While I encourage any and every woman to go brave and book that ticket, I also like to err on the side of caution when it comes to actually being in a foreign country and exploring accordingly (duh) Tour groups or a private guide afford you a level of security you may not otherwise have as a solitary figure wandering a city or countryside. When I need a bomb ass photo, I’d faster trust a tour guide with my phone than some passerby. If something of value gets lost or stolen, you may benefit from having professionals on hand to assist. While I’d love to just befriend a random local and let them show me around, I also have to be smart about my own safety and minimise my risk as much as possible.
2. I travel on a TIGHT schedule so I need to get as much as I can from a place in one go. Trust me, if I had it my way, I’d be able to travel for months on end (sorry Mom, Dad, Brandon). But the way my vacation days are set up, I can really only squirrel away two weeks for my longer trips, and a week for the shorter voyages abroad. Depending on the country I go to, there’s a HEAP of historical and cultural context I want to pack into my travels, because while I am all for just enjoying an experience for what it is, I personally just appreciate a place more when I have a better understanding of why things are the way they are and how they came to be. For me, personally, that’s easier to come by in a short space of time when I have a tour guide on hand.
3. I think it is really important to support the local tourism industry in the places I visit. I like spending my money on local enterprise, wherever in the world I am. I’ve supported a lot of different kinds of tour companies – multinational companies that hire locals who may have previously worked in other industries, and adapted (sometimes late in life) to work in the tourism industry, family-run tour companies, students offering free tours while they try to gain experience in the tourism industry, and so on. I met one man in Cambodia who learned English just so he could become a licensed tour guide (which actually costs a lot of money so I need to show that dude some ROI). I’ve also just really enjoyed spending time with people passionate about their country and eager to share it with visitors. Maybe I’ve been really lucky to get stellar tour guides 9 times out of 10.
4. I like tours. Sorry, not sorry, but I find tours super fun, ESPECIALLY food tours. Food tours are the best kind of tour, hands down, and if you can only do one tour in a country, I recommend you make it all about that country’s gastronomy. In my experience, food tours encapsulate a vast range of cultural cues. For the cultural or historical tours – I like the ease of access being a part of a tour affords you. No long lines, somewhere to leave your bag, and a guide on hand to explain other little bits and bobs to you that might not be covered in an audio-guide of a place.
5. Sometimes the only way to get there is a tour. If I wanted to go to Machu Picchu (again), this time around I would need to do it with a tour operator. If I want to hike the Inca trail, I need to do it with a tour company. I would NEVER dream of doing rock climbing with a rando, licensed tour operators and instructors only, please. And so on and so on. Sometimes when you want to have a particular experience, the only way to get it is through a tour.
That said, there are a lot of inherent challenges with booking tours in foreign countries. One I come up against A LOT as a solo traveller is finding tours that don’t demand a minimum of two people per booking or don’t charge me three times the rate for being solo. Another thing I’ve noted is tour platforms like Viator being accused of inflating the price of local tours significantly (always read reviews folks, a lot will be revealed in them). I experienced that when I was planning my trip to Chile and ended up having to contact many of the tour operators directly to arrange my tours, which isn’t extremely difficult, just mildly inconvenient.
Be thorough in your research when shopping around for the best tour – other traveller reviews are gold! Blogs usually link directly to tour operators as well, so do a general search for the activity you’re interested in and see if they’ve linked to the operators they used.
However, there are a few tour companies that I have found myself going back to repeatedly, namely Urban Adventures (excellent food tours) and Grasshopper Adventures (Grasshopper does predominantly bike tours across Asia).
I can also highly recommend Amansuka Tours in Bali. It’s a small family-owned and -operated gig that’s very flexible and competitively priced.
If you need any help finding the perfect tour feel free to hit me up and I’ll help where I can.