Traveling alone can be a thrilling and life-changing experience, but it can come with its own set of challenges. I write from the perspective of a solo male traveler, but I think many of the issues I've experienced in solo travel may ring true for others. From navigating unfamiliar territory to finding the best places to eat where you feel comfortable, travel can be stressful and overwhelming at times. If you travel alone, you may not want to have to do ALL the research ALL the time. That's where group travel comes in.
Joining a group of like-minded travelers for part or all of a trip can offer a variety of benefits that make the most out of your solo adventure. Not only do you get to meet new people and have the opportunity to make lasting friendships (if you want), but you also have access to insider knowledge and experiences that the group organiser has discovered on your behalf that you may not have discovered on your own. You may already know that I'm a big proponent of being prepared for solo travel, but I'm realistic: time and circumstances don't always permit in-depth research time. In this article, I'm going to look at the advantages of group travel and how it can enhance your solo travel experience. So whether you're a seasoned solo traveler or new to the game, read on to learn how group travel can take your wanderlust to the next level.
Advantages of Group Travel
Joining a group tour or excursion can complement your solo travel experience. Perhaps the most obvious advantage is the opportunity to meet new people. If you're going on a group trip organised from your home country, the new people might be fellow citizens. Or you may meet people from all over the world for excursions organised in-country. What is true of travel is that it allows you to make lasting connections and friendships with like-minded travelers who share your passion for adventure and exploration. There is a but…
A note of caution. Be aware what kind of group trip you're booking. If you are, say, a single guy in his 30s with liberal views, be cautious about booking a place on a group tour for conservative families.
The most solid reason to undertake group travel is access to insider knowledge and experiences that you may not have discovered on your own. Tour guides and local experts can offer unique perspectives on the destination, sharing stories and insights that enhance your overall travel experience. You might learn a little about history or art, or how to cook a local meal. Or at the very least get pointers to the best restaurants and nightlife for your budget. Speaking of which, group travel can also be more affordable, as you may get group rates and discounts on accommodations, transportation, and activities.
Why Combining Solo and Group Travel Can Be the Best of Both Worlds
While solo travel and group travel have their own unique advantages, combining the two can provide the best of both worlds. When you incorporate a group tour or excursion into your solo travel itinerary, you get to enjoy the benefits of group travel while still maintaining your independence and flexibility. This is something I do a lot! All the pictures on this page are from solo itineraries in different parts of the world, where I added both short and longer form group excursions to make it easier to enjoy certain activities. The picture below is from a trip to Porto Moniz in Madeira, which is expensive to visit on your own. I choose this tour of the Best of the West in Madeira which leaves from Funchal, and was a great introduction to Porto Moniz (and a LOT more).
You get to play this however you want. If you're on a solo trip already, you can join a day tour to explore a new city or take a multi-day excursion to a remote location, then continue your solo travel adventure once the group experience is over. The alternative is to plan to join a group tour that kicks off from the first city you fly to. Either way, being solo in a group setting like this lets you meet new people, learn about the destination, and have fun while still having the freedom to create your own travel experience.
Types of Group Travel Experiences Available
I've already mentioned two kinds of group travel, so I think it's worth pulling out the types of group travel experiences that are available. I want to bear in mind here that there are options based on your specific interests, budget, and the way you prefer to travel. Here are some popular types of group travel:
These tours typically include transport plus a knowledgeable guide who takes you to various destinations and provides commentary and insights along the way. I also like walking tours through the centre of cities and have taken walking tours places as diverse as Buenos Aires, Valparaiso, London (Harry Potter Walking Tour) and Vilnius “Jewish Walking Tour”.
These tours focus on outdoor activities and adventure sports, such as hiking, kayaking, or surfing. Sometimes they get combined with an element of a guided tour, like this tour I took sea kayaking in Alaska.
These tours offer a deeper understanding of the local culture and history, including visits to historical sites, museums, and cultural events. If you're in Europe, there are likely to be churches too. I enjoyed this trip that helped me understand Santiago de Compostela in Spain better.
These tours allow you to give back to the local community by participating in volunteer projects, such as teaching, conservation work, or community development.
Food and wine tours
These tours allow you to sample the local cuisine and wine, often with visits to local markets, wineries, and restaurants. There is a sensationally fun tour from Adelaide in South Australia to the Barosso Valley (famous for wine) that I enjoyed enormously.
How to Choose the Right Group Travel Experience for You
In this article, I really want to emphasise that you should pick the right group experience for you, and think carefully about a number of factors. There's a lot of choice out there, particularly when it comes to groups.
It may seem obvious to say, but include your interests and hobbies when looking for a group experience. Do you love the outdoors but get bored easily? Look for an adventure tour and maybe leave an in-depth museum trip to someone else. If you want to get under the skin of a city, a cultural tour may be more fun as it'll include history and art. For longer trips, think about who is likely to take that trip – if you want to meet like-minded people, set out to pick a group organiser who offer trips to people you'll identify with.
Group travel experiences can vary wildly in price, so starting with your budget in mind means you're more likely to find the right thing. Keep in mind that group tours may be more affordable than solo travel, but you will definitely have less flexibility in terms of itinerary and activities.
Consider the size of the group when selecting a tour. A smaller group may offer a more personalized experience, while a larger group may provide more opportunities to meet new people. A note of honesty: you may not click with everyone on a group tour. It's easier to avoid someone problematic in a larger group than a small group. Small groups are great for flexibility and easier access to sites off-limits to bigger groups; but I prefer to keep small groups for short trips and go big for a longer journey.
Consider your preferred travel style when selecting a tour. If you prefer luxury travel, look for tours that offer high-end accommodations and amenities. If you have that kind of budget, it's worth considering choosing something off the beaten track. If you prefer a more rustic experience, consider adventure tours that offer camping or eco-lodges.
4 Tips for Maximizing Your Group Travel Experience
If you've already read my Ultimate Guide to Travel Preparation, then some of these tips might seem familiar!
- Get to know your fellow travelers: Take the time to introduce yourself to your fellow travelers and get to know them. You may discover common interests or travel plans that can lead to new friendships and travel companions. And if you travel solo like me, you may find a buddy to take a nice photo of you (and you of them!).
- Be open-minded: Group travel can expose you to new experiences and perspectives, so be open to trying new things and learning about the destination.
- Participate in group activities: Take advantage of the group activities and excursions, even if they are not your top choice. I am not the world's #1 group activity guy. But, you may discover something new or have a memorable experience that you wouldn't have had otherwise. I know I have and it's widened my horizons.
- Be respectful: Respect the local culture and customs, as well as your fellow travelers. Avoid behaviors and language that may offend others or disrupt the group dynamics.
3 Common Misconceptions About Group Travel
Despite the benefits of group travel, there are some common misconceptions that stop solo travelers from joining a group tour. These are my top 3 myths (from personal experience):
- Group travel is only for older travelers: While some kinds of group travel may appeal to older travelers, there are heaps of tours and excursions that cater to a wide range of ages and interests. You're missing out if you've been avoiding it.
- Group travel is too structured: It's true that some group tours have a strict itinerary (particularly extended coach and river cruise trips). However, there's many options that offer flexibility and free time to explore a destination on your own.
- Group travel is too expensive: group tours can cater to all budgets, and some tours featuring 5* everything are expensive. However, the market has a wide range of price points and you should keep out for advance deals, as well as shoulder season and off-season options.
4 Group Travel Safety Considerations
- Research the tour company: Before you press ‘Book' on a tour, research the company you're using and read reviews carefully (not just those a company posts – check Google Reviews, Trustpilot and Travel Blogs like this one). Look for a company with a good reputation for safety, customer service and that are insured.
- Check the itinerary: Review the itinerary with a map open on your browser and ensure that it includes safe and reputable accommodations, transportation, and activities.
- Pack wisely: Pack for the destination and the activities included in the tour. Always have a back-up top and sweater. Bring the right clothing and shoes (some places require closed-toe shoes or to cover your knees for entry). Have any meds you might need, a back-up battery for your phone and sun protection.
- Use common sense: This is important: learn how to become situationally aware (I write about it here: 10 Crucial Tips for Solo Male Travel). Be aware of your surroundings and use common sense when traveling alone or as part of your group. Avoid risky behaviors or situations that may compromise your safety or land your fellow travelers in danger.
Group travel can be a valuable extension to your solo travel experience, or make your vacation time easier by providing you with a complete itinerary. There are new experiences, friendships and insights to be enjoyed. However, you need to make some choices: book according to your interests, budget and group preferences. When you do this, you can get the most out of your solo travel adventure, which still enjoying the benefits of group travel. It's worth incorporating a group excursion into your next big solo adventure to see how this type of travel complements your desire to travel alone.