Like a lot of young people, my first real travel experience was as part of a tour group. Yep, I was one of those late-teens/early 20s kids hanging out of a tour bus, feeling like the ultimate backpacking warrior. It wasn’t my finest hour, but it did pave the way for me to fall in love with travel, so I can’t be completely embarrassed about it. The group tour is a rite of passage for many young people and, when you’re on a budget, can be a great way to see a lot of places, quickly and cheaply.
Dragging your sorry, hungover carcass around Europe stuffed into a bus with 30 other people is definitely acceptable in your early twenties. But what about when you’re older? I’m 27 now and while that’s far from old, it’s starting to get to the age of being completely out-of-place on a bus tour through Europe. Most importantly, I probably wouldn’t enjoy myself because I’m way past my party prime and want to be sound asleep in bed by 10pm… alright, fine… 9:30pm! There, I said it!
So, should you say no to a group tour and how old is too old when it comes to group tours?
Truth is, a tour can be the best way to cover a lot of ground and do it on a budget. Matt and I have done a number of tours together in our old age and will definitely continue doing them when we need to. I guess the most important thing is making sure you choose a group tour that really suits your needs. There are so many companies out there now who have realised there is a market for this kind of thing that you’re really spoilt for choice.
At the end of our London gap year, we wanted to see as much of Europe as possible while spending as little as possible, so we did a bus tour that caters for all ages. The tour left out of London and had a great mix of people on board from early to mid-twenties, couples around our age, families with older kids and even one or two older people travelling with their family. It might sound strange, but somehow it worked and everyone got along with just about everyone. It meant nobody felt bad for going to bed early or staying up late partying, everyone just did their own thing.
We also did a group tour through Turkey as we wanted to see as much as possible without wasting time, money and energy trying to coordinate getting to all these different places. This tour was a smaller group with the average range from early 20s to mid-30s and again, it was a great mix of people.
The same thought process applied when we visited the USA and we joined a group tour to see as much as California as we possibly could. The tour involved a mix of camping and hotels, the tour group was small and we found ourselves getting to know everyone on the tour pretty well. Given it was a smaller group than we were used to, it was easy to get to spend time with everyone and they made us feel special when Matt and I’s birthdays happened during the tour. It was nice to have people to celebrate with.
Another aspect of the arranged tour scene that I really like is that it’s easier to budget and stick to what you can afford. You know all the costs upfront and have paid in advance, usually there are some or most meals included and you can work out a per-day food/spending budget and really stick to it. When you’re travelling on a budget, this kind of thing is absolutely crucial!
There are times when you’re on a group tour where you just need some space and time alone, which is understandable. So it’s important to plan to do some things by yourself or with your travel companion so you can recharge away from the group. But, as much as I’m an awkward introvert, it really is great meeting so many different people and getting to know them. Making new friends also gave Matt and I a chance to have some friend time while were travelling, I could go and have a relaxing day with the girls while Matt went hiking for 7 hours with the boys.
We’ve met some really amazing people through group tours, people we still consider to be close friends now and, as I’ve shared before, I met one of my very best friends on the first day of my first ever Europe tour. We’ve been BFFs ever since! Writing this post and looking back through all our group tour photos is getting me excited to travel again, guys! Now all I want to do is pack my bags and get on a tour asap! Damn it.
I don’t think there is an age where you should stop doing group tours. They’re a great way to see a lot and really take the worry out of wondering how you’re going to get to the next place, it’s nice to have someone else take care of it all for you. Aside from that, you’ll definitely meet some wonderful people and have loads of great memories. Some of the stories Matt and I love to tell are about the people we’ve met along the way and the incredible times we shared them with. It’s nice having memories with different people and when we look back on a place we’ve visited we remember the new friendships we made there too.
If you’re thinking of taking a group tour but are unsure if it’s right for you, I say go for it! Make sure you take a look at the reviews of the tour company and their photo gallery to see what they get up to and the type of people who usually join the tour. At the end of the day, you’re probably going to meet some really wonderful people you would never have met otherwise and hopefully make some new life-long friends. Group tours aren’t just for the young folk, they’re for everyone and anyone! So challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone and try something new.
If you’re thinking of taking a group tour there are a number of companies you can look into. Albatross Tours is one company that offers small-group tours ranging from slow-paced 2 night to 7 nights trips and longer tours stretching up to 18 days. Their tour groups are capped at 28 people so you’ll get a chance to meet everyone else on the tour, their packages are inclusive and they arrange really great accommodation that’s not your usual run-of-the-mill tour stops. These guys design all their itineraries with Aussies and Kiwis in mind, so they take into consideration the kinds of things we want to see and our travel style.
Albatross Tours have a number of different itineraries through Europe including Alpine Adventures, Provence and Tuscany to Umbria and Magnifico Spain and Portugal. They also offer fantastic tours of Turkey which allow you to visit and pay respects at important historical sites in Gallipoli and also take in other cities like Kusadasi, Ephesus and Cappadocia.
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