Travel Planning. Expert Advice.


August 30, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Group Tours When Traveling

The Pros and Cons of Taking a Group Tour - The Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

When planning international travel, many often consider taking a tour. Some think about taking large groups tours that last weeks and others plan short tours that might only last a few days or even a few hours.

I’ve taken group tours for everything from a two week trip to Europe to a short tour through a museum, and I’ve noticed that, no matter how long they last, the pros and cons of group tours seem to be the same.

So, before deciding whether or not to take a group tour, here are my three pros and four cons of taking group tours when traveling.

Pros of Taking a Group Tour

The Planning is Done for You

When you take a group tour, all of the planning is done for you. All you have to figure out is how you’re going to get to the tour’s starting point. For those out there who hate planning their trips or are intimidated by the thought of planning international travel, taking a tour can take away a lot of the stress.

All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

You Can See Things that Would be Hard or Impossible to See Independently

Another benefit of group tours is that they often can get access to people, places, or demonstrations that you can’t arrange on your own. Whether that’s the DMZ along the border between North and South Korea, a behind the scenes tour at a factory, or a lecture by an expert, tour companies often have sway and access that independent travelers can only dream of.

Visiting the Korean DMZ and standing in North Korea is impossible without taking a group tour. The Pros and Cons of taking a group tour.

Visiting the Korean DMZ and standing in North Korea, where this picture was taken, is impossible without taking a group tour.

You Always Have a Knowledgable Guide

When you pay for a guided tour, you’ll have a guide who ensures that you don’t miss the important things and of whom you can ask questions. No one likes to go to a famous attraction only to find out that the signage is in another language or non-existent.

Taking a group tour makes sure that you don’t miss the highlights of each place you visit.

Cons of Taking a Group Tour

You Have to Follow a Pre-Determined Itinerary

For me, the hardest part of taking a group tour is that you have to follow the pre-determined itinerary. Want to spend more time exploring a fascinating site? Too bad. Want to skip somewhere boring? You’re out of luck.

If you travel independently, however, you can choose how much time you spend at each destination.

The Three Pagodas of Chong Sheng Temple in Dali, China.

Getting photos like this one are nearly impossible on group tours since you have many people around you.

You Can Never Have Somewhere to Yourself

Another problem with group tours is that no matter where you go, there will always be a large group of other people there. It can be nearly impossible to find a quiet place to view a magnificent work of art or a beautiful building because you’ll be surrounded by your group and listing to your guide.

It’s Cheaper to Travel Independently

Ok, this isn’t always true, but it’s true most of the time, especially if you aren’t looking for luxury. Having done a lot of independent travel and having sold tours as a travel agent, I have a fairly good grasp of the cost of many destinations. And, I can say for certain that most group tours will run you at least 10-20% more than doing a similar trip by yourself.

After all, the tour company might be getting group discounts, but they certainly aren’t passing those savings along to you because they have to make a profit.

It’s Much Easier to Have Authentic Experiences

When most people travel, they want to get a feel for the local culture. And, while a group tour might be able to get you behind the scenes access to a site or a special performance of a local dance, the people you are interacting with work in the tourism industry.

When you travel independently, you can take time sipping coffee in the local square or buy produce from a local market. Being away from the large group will help you blend in and make you less intimidating to locals.

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer group tours or traveling independently? Do you have any other pros and cons of group tours? Let us know in the comments section below.


  1. A long time ago we took a group tour to China because we were intimidated of doing it by ourselves. Having everything done for us was nice, but ultimately we didn’t enjoy the experience. Ever since we’ve travelled on our own and wouldn’t want it any other way.

  2. I have travelled extensively independently and have been an overland expedition leader for many years in many parts of the world.

    I agree there are both pros and cons of travelling in a group. But I also think it depends on what type of group tour you take. I have specialised in long-haul trips that are 6-8 months long such as London to Sydney, London to Cape Town, Mexico City to Rio de Janeiro & Quito to Caracas.

    These types of overland expeditions are a unique experience and if you are game enough to try one of these trips you will find many of the cons mentioned just don’t apply.

    They enable you to travel to countries you may not have thought of or want to do on your own. Because of their length there is a huge amount of flexibility to tailor the particular trip to the group’s tastes. The cost of doing the same trip independently would far out way the cost of doing it in a group. You may be visiting an attraction with your group but the group has the flexibility to visit the attraction outside peak times therefore missing the other crowds. You also have the ability to have time away from the group and do your own thing – so you can experience the best of both worlds (organised vs independent travel). These types of trips often visit areas well off the beaten track and involve shopping in local markets and staying in small villages so you can immerse yourself in the local culture and have authentic experiences often only associated with independent travel.

    The main con though is if you don’t like your group you are stuck with them for a long time. But in my experience you make life long friendships based on shared experiences. Just remember, if you can’t identify the pain in the arse in your group – it’s probably you

    • Wow! I didn’t know there were 6+ month guided tours. Crazy stuff. Can’t speak to most your points because I can definitely see how there could be some differences there, but I still think that many of the pros and cons still would apply. After all, even when I traveled with my wife, there were still compromises we each had to make to ensure we each got to see what we wanted to. Once you started putting random people together, I doubt you can make everyone happy all the time.

      I’d also be curious how you could do a small group tour for cheaper than traveling independently. I wouldn’t think you’d get too many super-low group discounts, and you have to make money somehow.

      On the plus side, I’m sure a trip like that would save a ton of planning time for people who don’t enjoy it or aren’t good at it. Thanks for sharing, Kirsty!

  3. I have traveled with a group and by myself. I liked that I didn’t have to plan all the hotels by myself and how to get from one location to the next. The one thing that I didn’t like about the group was the amount of time spent on the bus, but it allowed us to cover distances that I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. I sometimes went off by myself when the group was going elsewhere and met them back at the hotel. I found that I could intersperse as much independent travel as I wanted within the confines of the group itinerary.

  4. Hi, I took a few group holidays when I was younger and LOVED them! There are a lot of pluses, you can cram more into a shorter trip,the quality of activities is often better than anything you’d arrange independently you meet new friends and, in my case, I met my husband. These days we always travel independently, no fixed plans, we just wing it. We travel full time at the moment. But when I was younger and needed to tick off the sights in a trip that was limited by the amount of annual leave I’d accumulated rather than my finances, they were a Godsend.

  5. Nonette Lib

    Since I traveled alone with just a backpack, my adventures became more enjoyable. I just blended with the locals and do the traveling the way they do. Talking to the locals and learn their culture, history and way of life is informative. DIY or do it yourself travel has become exciting and cheaper. If possible I search for a local connection if that is possible before I finally fly to the destination.

  6. I agree with your pros. Travelling in group makes your vacation convenient. Traveling with family members or buddies is indeed tricky because you have to come up with itineraries that will surely benefit the entire group. With this kind of arrangement, hassles involved in preparation for group activity is no longer a burden. People can simply relax and engage in the prepared activity for the day. This is truly convenient on our part and it makes us want to travel more. Although there are also cons with travelling in group as you say but I still prefer to be with my family during my travels cause we just make unbelievably beautiful memories that are priceless and valuable to keep our bonds.

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