To tour or not to tour
With organised group tour packages being a popular travel option for Goans going on holiday abroad, Café weighs the pros and cons, as told by the travellers themselves
It’s the sweltering summer (except for a storm or two!) and everyone is looking to get away. Organised group tour packages, in which one travels with a group of (generally unknown) people along with a tour guide and all the details sorted, have been making travel more manageable than ever before – thus becoming a pretty attractive option, especially to those looking to go abroad. But, as these travellers have experienced first-hand, tour packages come with plus-points, and pitfalls to balance them out! With organised tours, every aspect of a holiday is managed by the organisers, right from booking accommodation, coordinating transportation, obtaining tickets and passes wherever necessary, to providing meals, making it very convenient for travellers, right from families with young children to solo travellers. “Ever since we first started travelling abroad a few years ago, we have been choosing to take a tour package, as opposed to attempting to plan our itineraries ourselves,” says Karen Coelho, who has travelled with her family in Europe on group tours. “I think a major benefit of group packages is knowing that all the nitty-gritties are being taken care of by people who know what they’re doing. This was especially helpful back when we had no experience with foreign travel and when our children were still quite young.” Robert Fernandes, an avid traveller, has been travelling around the world, both, solo and with family, and thus has had plenty of travel experience, yet he too continues to choose organised tours. “I’ve noticed that really good tour companies curate itineraries that help you get the most out of a place you’re visiting. Time is well-optimised, as they schedule in exactly the right amount of time at each site of interest and save you from wasting hours standing in lines for tickets and so on,” he says. However, the fact that every moment and detail is planned can turn out to be a disadvantage at times, leaving the traveller with few opportunities to explore by themselves or to opt out of something that isn’t of much interest to them. “When we were in Germany, my dad and I really wanted to visit the Cologne Cathedral that was just a few kilometres away from where we were staying. However, because we were with a group and on a pretty tight schedule, it ruled out that opportunity,” says Annalise Coelho, who has experienced tour package travel and independent travel. Some tour packages also try to pack too much into a single trip, that can leave travellers quite exhausted at the end of it, as Joshua Rebello experienced on a typical ‘six-countries-in-ten-days’ tour. “At the end of the tour, I felt like I had OD’d on culture, and didn’t feel like ever stepping foot into a museum ever again!” he mentions, laughingly. But there are also those tour packages that schedule in unique excursions and experiences that make one’s travels all the more exciting. “Some of our tours included experiences that we might never have organised quite so well independently, especially back when we were travel newbies… such as a flamenco performance in Spain or a casino in Monte Carlo,” says Karen. “It’s also quite easy to find tailor-made packages suiting very specific interests. For instance, my most recent tour was to the national parks of the United States – it had a well-organised itinerary that must have taken a great deal of know-how to plan,” adds Robert. In-depth knowledge of places of interest is the USP of every good tour package – and the best representative of this is the tour guide, whose knowledge of the place, its history, culture, language and so on is invaluable to travellers. “When I travelled in Italy,” says Robert, “Our tour guide was a lovely lady named Loredana, who, with her lilting Italian accent and her endless stories, akin to typical gossipy old Italian grandmothers, made my trip all the more memorable.” Another major plus-point of organised group tour packages can be the group itself, according to Kavya Allaparthi. “Getting to meet new people while on tour can be amazing – I made life-long friends on my holiday to the USA a couple of years ago. Certain places you visit while on holiday are far more exciting when experienced with a big fun group, like Disneyland for instance! If you’re lucky enough to get a great group, it can make your trip that much better,” she says. But she admits that that same aspect of group packages can turn out to be quite disadvantageous as well. “While we’ve had great groups on some tours, on others we’ve had groups with whom we could not gel very well, which made the experience rather uncomfortable. There’s also the fact that you have to deal with strangers’ idiosyncrasies – like some people who never seem to be able to get to the bus in time, delaying and annoying the whole group!” With a group, people also tend to get stuck in a bubble, without much opportunity to get in touch with the locals – or making little effort to try. Annalise says, “The major difference that I noticed between travelling independently and travelling on a tour was that when we were on our own, we spoke to many more locals than we did in the other case. Maybe this was more out of necessity, without having a tour guide to help us… but we found that talking to the locals added flavour to our trips – such as when a young boy in Vietnam took my family on an impromptu food tour of Hanoi, taking us to places only the locals go to!” With the positives and negatives of organised group tour packages laid out, each traveller is left to make a decision based on their travel preferences – weighing the cons against the pros. But most of these travellers agree that, despite some of the downsides, the upsides of travelling with a tour package make it a good option after all.
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