This is Your Trip on Tour

Shannon and I have never been big consumers of packaged tours. But that’s not because we’re too travel-snobby for them. We really do believe there are tons of great reasons to take a packaged tour, and we don’t generally look down on people who utilize them (except when they exhibit symptoms of “Tour Brain“).

Mostly we don’t use tours for our personal travels because we prefer to do our own thing, at our own pace, and on our own schedule. That’s not really possible as part of a group so we tend to avoid them.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed another problem with group travel. As I recently watched waves of cruise and bus crowds wash into place after place, clog streets and cafes for a time, and then roll out again like an ebbing tide, it occurred to me that tour members must experience every destination while standing amongst an an omnipresent horde.

This is your trip on a tour

Not only do they step off the bus as one giant mass of humanity, but their transport often arrives at exactly the same moment as every other bus is unloading its own payload of packaged tourists. It’s a recipe for instant mayhem at every stop. And that seems like something every tour participant must necessarily endure.

I guess that’s why we hear so many people complaining about crowds. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The great thing about tour groups is that they eventually go back to their buses.

We’ve found that a side benefit of our style of slow travel is that we can usually outwait the masses. Instead of day-tripping into a place with everyone else, we’ll stay at least overnight and oftentimes longer. That way we can enjoy the destination before everyone else’s bus rolls into town and then get to toast them a joyous bon voyage as they leave.

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18 Comments on “This is Your Trip on Tour”

  1. lovetotrav May 15, 2015 at 9:28 am #

    I hear you! We always try to go before or after the groups but unfortunately in places like Machu Picchu nowadays, the crowds are constant. I feel it more in Europe than other spots. The pictures you posted are hilarious. We are mostly do it ourselves (cheaper, easier,more in control) types.


    • Brian May 15, 2015 at 9:40 am #

      It’s definitely true that when places are small with only a few ways to approach them, like Machu Picchu, you’re not really going to be able to avoid the crowds. We’ve mostly had good luck elsewhere, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kelly | The Wandering Blonde May 15, 2015 at 9:33 am #

    I agree with what you’ve said! I really feel that if a place is worth visiting, it’s worth spending the night. Even if you just leave early the next morning. If I’m ever debating going to a place but feeling like I don’t want to spend the night for whatever reason, I usually just cross it off the list. Day trips are just too stressful!


  3. Ben May 15, 2015 at 10:26 am #

    The only 2 times I feel tours are necessary are when you are pressed for time or it’s someplace you simply can’t get to by yourself.


    • Brian May 15, 2015 at 11:05 am #

      Those are certainly two occasions when we consider tours.


  4. mytimetotravel May 15, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    Cruise ship stops are even worse. I have discovered that some ports, such as Dubrovnik, post lists of cruise ship arrivals, so you can avoid the worst days. Don’t know whether that works for river ports. European river cruises have become very popular and I couldn’t believe the crowds in Vienna last time i was there. At least they all tend to stay in the same small area.

    I do occasionally take a tour, but I try to stick with companies that take small groups, such as Intrepid Travel, which maxes at 12. I’ve also taken a few Rick Steves’ tours, they are 24-28 people, which is a bit bigger than I like, but compensate with very good guides and central hotels.,


    • Brian May 15, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

      We experienced the cruise ship waves in Santorini and plan to do our best at surfing them in Dubrovnik. 😀


  5. Grainne May 15, 2015 at 11:25 am #

    Agreed! and sometimes my best memories are when I just get lost in a city.


  6. Bulldog Travels May 15, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    I am with you. I almost NEVER book group tours. However, I have lots of timid traveler friends who may not ever travel unless it was this way. For those I always tell them, “DO IT!” Travel however you are comfortable. For me it is all about getting lost, taking photos with no one else in them, staying at places until they close, hearing the silence, talking to strangers, etc etc etc. Thanks for the inspired post.


  7. Jason May 16, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    Hey Brian & Shannon, we agree, self paced is cool. Often taking a turn that gets you even one street back from the main thoroughfare will provide a very different insight into the place (although in some places you need to be very aware of no-go areas)

    The Grand Canyon rafting trip 🚣🏼 was a place where the ‘group tour’ not only makes that amazing experience accessible, but actually enhances your experience because of the knowledge, skill and passion of the guides. A safari in Africa🐗 also has the same benefits, although in that case, a small group with a boutique safari company will yield a customisable experience that need not be more expensive than a big group safari.

    I agree with BulldogTours, going anyway you can is infinitely better than not going at all 😀


    Jason & Rose


    • Brian May 17, 2015 at 4:21 am #

      Yup. Our Grand Canyon rafting trip still ranks as one of our best travel experiences ever. And we certainly agree with all of your points. So much so we wrote an entire post In Defense of Travel Tours highlighting them. 🙂


  8. Jason May 16, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

    Sorry, Jenny, Bulldog Travels 😀. Enjoyed a quick look at your blog too 👍🏻


  9. twoplusthreetravellers May 20, 2015 at 10:44 pm #

    After 5pm Dubrovnik becomes a calm, serene cruise ship crowds, no swarm of people as you turn a corner. We found a great local guide who took us on an afternoon tour of the city walls just before closing. We had them pretty much to ourselves.. No group tour can give you the same experience as a one on one conversation with a local. especially with kids in tow. Personal stories he shared with us about the war are still discussed today by the kids even after three years. If we were amongst a swarm of people listening through a set of ear phones it would of been lost on them..


  10. hermitsdoor May 25, 2015 at 6:03 am #

    I see that you are nearing Rome. We spent 10 days there in early April. Not enough time! As to the topic of the bus/group tour, our experience at the Vatican was “3 km of lines with Art”. We have gone to hiring our own guide for selected places, where commentary gives us additional information. We have found that with our party of 4, a private guide is not much more expensive than tagging along with a group of 15. Also, with the private guides figure out our level of knowledge and areas of interest, allowing them to tailor our tour in a manner that the group guide cannot (e.g. does not have to talk to the lowest-common denominator of interest or spend a lot of time figuring out who wandered away from the group). Greece is on our future list. I’ll be checking back.
    P.S. websties where we have good experiences with private guides: Context Travel and Guides by Locals.


    • Brian May 25, 2015 at 6:38 am #

      Hi Oscar,
      We haven’t hired any private guides, but that definitely sounds more our style (except for the paying part 🙂 ) We like the idea of getting all the extra info but at our own speed and directed towards our areas of interest. So that’s something we’ll need to check out in the future.

      We are headed to Rome on Thursday for a quick stop on route to Croatia. It’s our second time in the city although our first visit was 10 (or more?) years ago. We’re quite excited to get back. Last time we did the 3 km crowded crawl through the Vatican as well. We won’t be subjecting ourselves to that again, for sure.

      We enjoyed Greece very much. It’s so different from the rest of Europe we’ve visited. We’re sad to leave and are already looking forward to coming back.


      • hermitsdoor May 27, 2015 at 7:21 am #

        A couple of suggestions, if you have time in your plans:

        1) go to Il Gesu church (Via d. Plebiscito, just a few blocks from Piazza Venezia and before Largo Torre Argentina) around 5 p.m. They have a special viewing if the sculpture of S. Ignatius, which is hidden behind a painting. With music, commentary (in Italian) and light, the painting descends into the floor revealing the scuplture. Could not be more in the spirit of the Baroque era!

        2) dinner out, try Ristorante Isidor (06.7008266), a few blocks up form the Coloseum, on Via di San Giovanni in Laterano, just up from San Clemente church. We found this our first night in Rome and returned 3 times. Don’t worry about the menu. Just order a liter of their house red wine and ask the waiter to bring what the chef wants to cook that night! The waiter may bring a tray with various fresh fish the the owner brought fromt he coast that day. It is more of a neighborhood restaurant, espeically if you show up after 9 p.m. after the tours have eaten and run. Tell the host (young man at the front) that Paulette, Emily, Linda and Oscar recommended you. Then remind him that we came 4 times around Easter, and Paulette was the beautiful woman who bought the raffle ticket for the chocolate Easter egg. He speaks English well.


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