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An Independent Traveler Considering a Small Group Tour - Pros and Cons

An Independent Traveler Considering a Small Group Tour - Pros and Cons

Old Nov 25th, 2022, 09:43 AM
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An Independent Traveler Considering a Small Group Tour - Pros and Cons

Spouse and I have had many wonderful trips to many countries in Europe, all traveling independently. However, now I'm considering a very niche small group tour, and welcome input on whether this is a good choice.

Years ago, I listened to a fascinating Great Course about Angle Saxon England. That professor leads tours through a small group operator on this topic (Scholarly Sojourns). It will be 9 days, a maximum of 16 people. I love the idea of being with a small group of people as interested in this niche area of history as I am, led by this professor, and I like the idea of having other people to talk to. Hubby is a nice guy, but he's not very sociable and doesn't much like talking to strangers. He may or may not accompany me on this trip.

I know I would be giving up flexibility and independence, and I know that hubby and I could drive to all of the sites on the tour on our own, but we would miss out on hearing this professor talk. I would probably add on days at the beginning or end of the trip.

Anything that I might not have thought of if I choose what, for me, is outside the box?
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Old Nov 25th, 2022, 10:23 AM
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Wow, I sure know what it's like to be afraid to pull this trigger.

We've mostly traveled independently throughout Europe both as a couple and with kids. However, we tried a group trip for a Switzerland hiking adventure, and we then found it was to our advantage for certain types of trips to book a tour. A big plus is that it allowed each person in the group to decide what he or she would participate in that day and give each other a break from each other's constant company. It also removed so many key travel burdens:
  • As the major trip planner, having most arrangements already made took a big weight off my shoulders
  • As the usual trip driver, my husband was able to view the scenery.
As to your non-social husband....My husband considers himself to be "non-social", yet he probably enjoyed all the socializing the most out of our family. He'll deny that, but my daughters were witnesses to the fact and often kid him about it.

Yes, we still traveled independently a few days before and after these trips, and we never ditched our tendency to do our own independent trips in addition to these.

While you will not be in lockstep all the time, if you start FEELING that way on the trip, just keep in mind that you can opt out of some things. it's amazing what an hour's breather can do.
You probably know how to pack light, but that becomes more essential on these types of trips. We always found that the lighter we packed, the more readily we could access what we brought, too.

Good luck with your decision!
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Old Nov 25th, 2022, 11:08 AM
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"Anything that I might not have thought of if I choose what, for me, is outside the box?"

I think you've thought of the main pros/cons. I would drill down on the details. How early will each day begin? I like to have a daily plan that's pretty full, but I wouldn't be happy with early starts day after day after day for 9 days. You OTOH may be an early riser by nature and have no problem with that. What about the lodging? I'm not terribly picky, but I really dislike big, chain-type hotels that are popular with tour groups of all sizes. I prefer a small-ish, boutique-y hotel that is in the center of a town. You OTOH may like the amenities a large hotel usually offers. The stops on your tour may not offer much choice in the matter, but I'd want to know what to expect. I'd also want to know the specifics of the sightseeing. I'll never forget a day tour by bus from London that I took as a teenager. I wanted to see Stonehenge. Well, I saw it but only through the windows of the bus as we passed by. On the subject of bus rides, I assume there are some in the itinerary. Would there be bus rides every day? Would you be happy if you're not sitting by a window? Do you have any problems with motion sickness? If the group becomes so small that the transport is switched to a van, I'd probably opt out unless the transits are really short rides. Sitting in a van for longish periods of time each day would drive me nuts.

Have you found any reviews on the company and/or the specific tour you're contemplating?
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Old Nov 25th, 2022, 12:12 PM
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Thanks for the input!

I've already thought through some, but not all, of the points you raised. I am an early riser, but yes, some of the days (but not all) will start pretty early - I need to check into that. Most of the nights are one-night stays, which I don't like, but for 9 days and what we would be seeing, being willing to do that will be part of the decision-making. I checked on the "drive by" vs. visit, and it sounds like we will actually visit and spend time at the places that they list. Also, no visits to sweater-weaving stores or olive oil pressing mills, which is good in my eyes, though I know many people like those places.

In terms of planning and driving, I tend to enjoy planning, so that's not a factor here, though I really like the places the tour will visit, and all on a very focused theme, which is appealing. The journeys between locations aren't too long for me, and it sounds like we'll be in a small bus (I think), and I don't get motion sickness. I'm usually the driver on our trips, but I'm ok with being driven too.

The lodging seems to be what we prefer, smaller family-owned places with character. And the meals are the same, and it looks like a smaller percentage of meals are group meals, which is preferable to me.

There aren't a lot of reviews out there, but I've read what I've found and they are positive. It seems like there are a lot of repeat customers, which seems like a good sign. I've talked to the tour company, another thing I asked about is the age range of the participants and the activity level. It sounds like a good age range, and perhaps a lesser activity level than I'm used to, I think there will be enough free time for me to take a brisk walk, or whatever.

I'm probably overthinking this, and need to just do it. (Also, 2023 will be one of those birthdays ending in a 0)
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Old Nov 25th, 2022, 12:34 PM
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(This post written before the OP's above reply)

Sixteen is not such a small group. Find out the seating arrangement in the transport. If half the seats are on the aisle, half the time you will not see much out a window. Will there be a toilet on the transport? (Probably not on a small bus or big van.) Read the itinerary details very carefully. There is a very significant difference in meaning among the terms used. "Tour" is much more than "Visit" and "See" can be a look out the window or a 5 minute stop for a photo op. Meals are another concern. Group meals will be at a place that can serve 16 simultaneous walk-ins, perhaps in a back room, and will be blanded down as not to offend the inevitable non-adventurous eaters. On your own meals will be limited to what you can find in the time allotted near the drop-off/pick-up point.

Last edited by AJPeabody; Nov 25th, 2022 at 12:36 PM. Reason: explain lack of coordination with OP's response
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Old Nov 25th, 2022, 03:46 PM
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We, too, are usually independent travelers but have taken a few group tours and really enjoyed them. We took two Road Scholar tours and appreciated the academic focus of those trips. We learned so much and it was nice to just sit back and enjoy what we were doing without worrying about driving, parking, hopping on the train, etc. We had some free time, which was nice, but were mostly on the go which suited us well. The other tour members were 95% like-minded and we made some good friends we are still in touch with.

We did decide to arrive early for both trips and had some time to visit places that weren't on our itineraries. It was great to already be over jet lag when it was time to be social.

I think this tour sounds terrific for you.

Addendum: I just signed up for e-mails from Scholarly Sojourns as several of their tours really appeal to me!

Last edited by KTtravel; Nov 25th, 2022 at 03:59 PM.
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Old Nov 25th, 2022, 08:01 PM
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An educational trip like this sounds great to me, and I am strictly an indie traveler. I am sure you will have an awesome experience. If your husband doesn't want to go, 100% you should go.
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Old Nov 26th, 2022, 08:17 AM
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As I get older I think about things that go wrong

Feeling sick, migraines, travel sickness
Needing to go to the loo
Food/drink I don't want
People who like to "take charge" of others
People who insist on spraying perfume, not washing, smoking on buses
People I don't know hugging me
The gentle hand that helps me down from tthe bus or into a boat
The person who always gets back late to the bus, saying "I'm so sorry I know we agreed to meet by 10 but I'm special"
The racist who thinks they are a liberal who insists on sitting next to me and tells me about how "those people should do...."

if you can manage all of this, you'll do fine
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Old Nov 26th, 2022, 09:09 AM
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I agreed with so many of KTtravel's remarks. I've never gone on a Road Scholar tour, but friends with whom I have so much in common do go on these types of tours. I enjoy working with these people, and I know I would enjoy traveling with them. And these tours were not "drive by" or "if it's Tuesday it's Belgium" type tours. As you said, you will not be forced into buying crystal, sweaters, or olive oil either.

Yes, one has to be careful how long you are on any bus and yes, the one night stays are a problem, especially since I'm pretty sure an independent traveler like you probably tries to do 3-day stays by now. However, as I mentioned in my post above, packing light for these trips means packing efficiently. The trips where we had to "shuffle" just meant that my packing lists had to be perfect and my suitcase layering had to be supremely logical. And they were!

As to bilboburgler's remarks, yes, there are some truths. But in all of our years with biking and hiking tours, even with post-bike exhausted sweaty people, everyone washed before dinner. No one smoked. No one hugged. The hand that helped me was welcome. Political discussions were easily tabled with, "Let's leave all this until the last night if you insist..." (and often people you thought would vote one way actually were voting another). No food or drink was forced on me. No person could control me because I sure would never let them--and I sure warned everyone that I was not a breakfast conversationalist and not to take that personally (in other words, leave me alone in my corner until I've had three cups of coffee).

Instead, we found people who enlarged our world, whose experiences became enlightening to us, whose outlooks informed us, and whose laughter we will always remember. We keep in touch with around 20 people from various trips to this day.

Hoping your decision becomes easier,

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Old Nov 26th, 2022, 11:33 AM
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Thank you all for your comments. I went through the trip itinerary last night, and the travel between the various locations was about what we would do when travelling by car, so I'm reassured on that front. They also name some of the hotels, and I checked those out.

I'm looking forward to meeting new people, and I think that anyone who chooses this type of tour has to be very interested in the topic, because otherwise they would be bored or unhappy (this might include my husband, and is why he might not go). So I think there's a higher possibility of people with the same interests in history. As for the politics, that's another matter, but I can handle that for the length of this tour.
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Old Nov 26th, 2022, 09:18 PM
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I agree with much of what's been already said. There are good tours and (what I would call) bad tours. In your case, with this tour, having a great guide who is able to add to your experience and knowledge would be an important factor.

One factor that hasn't been mentioned is cost. Whenever I look at doing a tour, the cost deters me because I could usually do it much cheaper (and just as comfortably) independently - and cost is significant for me.
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Old Nov 26th, 2022, 11:29 PM
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I am doing my first tour group tour. I have either gone alone or had a private guide. I booked a Tauck tour to Italy. Like you I am a bit hesitant about the people in our group. Are they going to be nightmares or will I enjoy it. We will know soon enough!
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Old Nov 27th, 2022, 07:55 AM
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If any of your tour mates cause problems, it is up to your guide to deal with them. If they are really badly behaved, then the guide should kick them off the tour!
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