When you want to venture out into the world, there are three options to make your travel arrangements: you can join an organized group tour, you can book your individual trip through a travel agency, or you can arrange your trip all by yourself (DIY).
People are different and so there are different kinds of travelers. Some people (like me) love to make their own plans and compose their own itinerary. Others stress out by just thinking about doing all the planning themselves and prefer to have an agency arrange their travel plans. Some prefer the comfort and company of a group instead of traveling about on their own, others shiver thinking of group tours.
I have experience with all three kinds of traveling. In the past I have occasionally joined organised group tours, I have done individual trips arranged by a travel agency, and I have arranged a lot of my trips myself. All three options have advantages and disadvantages. There is no right or wrong way.
If you are unsure what’s the best way to travel for you and you need some guidance choosing which way of traveling you prefer, Traveling Dutchie is here to help! Below I will list the pros and cons of the three options, so you can make an informed decision.
Advantages of an organized group tour
Joining an organised group tour is the obvious choice if you don’t want to travel alone. The advantage of a group tour is that you are assured of company. One of the people accompanying you, will be the guide, who will share all kinds of information, be able to help you in case of problems and make sure the journey goes as planned (insofar this is within the guide’s control of course).
Joining an group tour means you don’t have to do any planning or research, except for checking the websites of different travel agencies to see which group tours they offer. You may want to compare the different tours on offer, take a look at their itineraries and check dates and prices. But that’s a lot easier than making all arrangements yourself.
With organised group tours, all the basics will be arranged for you: flights (although not always included, make sure to check!), ground transportation (in most cases by private bus) and accommodation. In many cases lodging includes breakfast, so no worries about starting the day hungry, and generally excursions will be included too.
With an organised group tour, the itinerary of your journey is clear beforehand. You know where you wil go, when you will go there and what will be there to see or do. If you like clarity, a group tour does provide that. Plus organised group tours usually visit the major highlights of your destination of choice.
Disadvantages of an organized group tour
Organised group tours offer less flexibility compared to individual travel arrangements with an agency or DIY. An agency may offer one or two options to the destination of your choice, and that’s what you will have to deal with. There’s no room for tweaking the itinerary or switching to a different accommodation.
Less flexibility results also from the fact that organised group tours leave on fixed dates. Typically you can choose between different dates throughout the year, but you cannot choose the exact dates of your journey yourself.
In most cases, organised group tours will visit the most popular destinations and highlights only, so you may not have many options to visit lesser known destinations.
Organised group tours are often more expensive than DIY. You pay for the fact that the travel agency makes all the arrangements for you, plus you pay for the services of the guide.
Organised group tours offer little room to travel at your own pace. Not seldomly they have a daily program chockful of sites to visit, excursions and other activities. For some people a full schedule like that may be exhausting.
And then there is what I would call the group dynamic. You don’t know beforehand who your travel companions will be. Maybe you are lucky and end up with a great bunch of people with whom you have an amazing time. But there is a always a chance that the atmosphere in the group is negatively affected by either the composition of the group or events that happen along the way.
Because you travel as a group and everything has been arranged for, in general you may have less contact with locals. Of course you can always seek out opportunities to interact with locals, but traveling in a group there are less natural moments to do so.
Advantages of booking through a travel agency
Booking through a travel agency is easier than making all the arrangements by yourself and it saves time. Figuring out where you want to go, how to get there and how long you want to stay there is quite a puzzle. Just like figuring out a logical route, arranging accommodation and book flights or a rental car; it is all together quite a lot of work. And not everyone likes to do it all themselves. If you don’t. a travel agency can take a lot of work off your hands.
Travel agencies have specialists with knowledge of the destination you want to go to. They use that knowledge and experience to put together a trip that meets your wishes. If you book with a reputable travel organization, you can rest assured that everything is well arranged, from hotels to transportation. They may even have access to resources or deals unavailable to you.
Booking an individual trip through a travel agency gives you more flexibility than booking an organised group tour. You get to decide the dates and where you want to go. The travel agency will try to accommodate as many of your wishes as possible and offer you a tailor-made trip.
If you book through a travel agency, they have your back. If things go wrong when you’re on the road (let say your car breaks down or there’s an issue with the hotel you are staying at), you don’t have to solve the problem yourself; the travel agency you booked with may be able to solve the problem.
Disadvantages of booking through a travel agency
The possibilities with a travel agency are not unlimited. They often offer excursions and ‘building blocks’ for a trip that they purchase from local travel companies. You are therefore bound by the offer of the relevant travel agency. That does not have to be a problem: with a good travel agency, in many cases you will find what you are looking for.
In general (not always, but in most cases), booking through a travel agency is more expensive than DIY. After all, you pay for the knowledge and expertise of the travel agency and for the fact that they do all the work for you.
Many travel agencies offer trips to the most popular destinations only, so you may be less flexible taking the road less traveled. Although with the large number of online travel agencies nowadays, chances are you will be able to find an agency that offers journeys to the most exotic places around the globe.
Be mindful of choosing your travel agency well though, unfortunately not all are reliable. You may want to check some reviews before booking.
Advantages of doing it yourself
Making your own travel arrangements offers you maximum flexibility. You can compose your trip completely according to your own wishes. You can stay where you want and for as long as you want, compile your own itinerary and choose the sights you want to see. Even once you’re on the road, you keep that flexibility: do you want to stay a day longer somewhere or do you decide to skip a destination? No problem: you are free to change your bookings.
Generally (not always, but in most cases) DIY is (much) cheaper than an organized group tour or booking an individual trip through a travel agency. Depending on the type of trip and your destination, it can really make a difference. You save money that you can spend during the trip. Or on your next trip. 🙂
Compared to an organized group tour, you have more freedom. You travel at your own pace and you do not have to take other travelers into account. Do you want to head out early? You are free to go. Want to sleep in instead? Go ahead.
DIY does not mean you have to travel by yourself all the time; you can include organised day trips or even multi-day trips in your itinerary, and in this way alternate days of traveling by yourself and enjoying the comfort of some organised excursions.
Last but not least: making your own travel arrangements is part of the fun! Through the research you already get into the travel mood and the trip you put together really becomes your trip. You acquire more knowledge of the places you are going to visit, and more understanding deepens the experience (rather than just sitting in a bus being driven around).
Disadvantages of doing it yourself
I admit: DIY is time-consuming. Thinking about where you want to go, making an itinerary, finding, comparing and booking accommodation, booking flights and ground transport; it’s all together quite a lot of work. And it takes a lot of time. Now if you love making your own plans, that may not a problem, but if you are short on time, it may be.
Especially as a novice traveller, it is not always easy to judge whether it is wise to book a certain hotel, or whether the agency where you book an excursion is reliable. You cannot use the knowledge and experience of a travel specialist. That said, if you use common sense, use reviews from other travelers, book through reputable websites and agencies, you will usually be fine. And along the way you also gain experience yourself. Believe me, it will be quite an adventure at first, but once you get the hang of it, you will love to plan you next trip yourself.