A comprehensive guide to planning your first overseas holiday with kids

Benefits of Guided Tours Vs Independent Travel Comparison

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When it comes to planning your dream vacation, you may be debating whether to go on a guided tour or explore the destination independently. There are pros and cons to both options, and the best choice for you will depend on your travel style and preferences.

What type of travel is best for you? We have put together a comparison of the benefits of guided tours compared to DIY travel planning to help you decide.

woman walking in the snow in Europe

No matter how you look at it, travelling can take a lot of time and preparation to organise and plan. While spontaneous travel works well for some, most of us prefer a little more pre-planning before embarking on our next big adventure.

This leaves you with two main options: Book it yourself or rely on professional travel experts to assist.

That’s what travel agents are for, so even the independent travel planning option comes with a few extra tools in the kitty. With independent travel, you need to have everything organised from flights to accommodation, transfers and excursions.

Which Is Better – A Guided Tour Or Plan Your Own Trip?

There are benefits to both and neither a guided tour nor planning your own vacation is a bad option! It all comes down to what suits your travel style best.

There is a lot to consider and each segment of your trip comes at a separate price. This can be a little daunting watching the totals add up. So what’s the alternative?

The benefits of guided tours on the other hand have the majority of your travel components all packaged up already.

Your accommodation and transfers are usually included, along with many of your meals and sightseeing experiences. While not all, some do include flights and all the extra excursions and entry fees also.

There are guided tours to suit different budgets, from basic backpacker-style tours to luxury 5-star resorts and all-inclusive guided tours. Plus you know right from the start how much your tour costs, which makes it easier to budget than DIY travel planning.

Guided tours are perfect for newbie travellers, who are not sure where to start or what they need to arrange at their destination.

It can also be a great way for solo travellers who want the added comfort of a tour group while they travel. You can make some great friends on tours.

Halong Bay Cruise
Cruises are a form of guided tours – we’ve taken a couple.

But there are downfalls also. While guided tours give you a great opportunity to see lots of countries and attractions over a short period of time, it’s usually just those must-see attractions that you have time for.

Unless you are going for longer guided tours, you are lucky to get 1-3 days maximum at each stop. This means you miss a lot of the lesser-known wonders, or maybe don’t even have time for all the well-known ones.

Guided tours can also be exhausting when they are constantly on the go, with no significant breaks along the way. Early mornings, late nights and days that are packed full of sights to see and things to do. You almost need to go home for a holiday, compared to slow travel.

GUIDED TOURS

Guided tours can be a great option for first-time visitors to a destination who want to make sure they see all the highlights.

Tours are also convenient because they take care of all the logistics, from transportation to lodging and activities. If you prefer having everything planned in advance and like the idea of travelling with a group, a guided tour may be the way to go.

Group tours can also be a wonderful way to make new friends as they are more social and give you the chance to meet new people from other parts of the world.

Pros:

  • Easy to budget for
  • You see lots over a short period
  • Less to organise yourself
  • Different packages to suit different budgets and needs
  • Convenient
  • Usually includes a lot of meals
  • Can be cheaper than DIY travel planning

Cons:

  • Fast-paced, often with little time at each stop
  • Exhausting with little downtime
  • Often large groups
  • Miss out on local wonders you may have discovered
  • Can be cancelled unexpectedly
  • No deviations from the agenda of the guided tour
  • Group tours are rarely suitable for families

INDEPENDENT TRAVEL

geraldton town beach

Independent travel, on the other hand, maybe a better option if you prefer more flexibility and freedom. When you travel independently, you can decide exactly what you want to do and when you want to do it.

You’re not tied to a group or a schedule, so you can go at your own pace and make spontaneous decisions along the way. If you’re the type of traveller who likes to explore a destination in-depth and off the beaten path, independent travel may be right for you.

Pros:

  • Flexibility to plan the trip you want
  • Can choose to spend as long or as little time in each location
  • More opportunities for discovering hidden wonders and local favourites
  • No relying on tour groups
  • Sometimes works out cheaper
  • Can change your plans whenever you want
  • Easier to plan travel with kids with more flexibility

Cons:

  • More planning needed
  • Can be stressful
  • Difficult when you don’t know what is available at your destination i.e. transport, locations etc
  • Will need more spending money for meals etc compared to guided tours
  • Harder to budget for

Which Option Should You Choose?

The best option for you really depends on what type of travel you are wanting to do. You will need to consider several factors including:

  • How much time do you have?
  • What do you want to see?
  • How fast or slow-paced do you want it to be?
  • How much do you want to spend?
  • Do you want a structured itinerary or flexibility to change your plans?

Work out your main goals for your travel and go from there. If your aim is to see a lot of different places with the convenience of most things being taken care of for you, guided tours are your best travel option.

They are a great option for shorter holidays where you want to cram a lot in without having to worry about how to get from A to B every day.

They usually incorporate transport that takes you from one stop to the next and accommodation is typically centrally located near food, shopping and attractions.

But if you want to take your time, with the ability to be a little flexible and spontaneous on your holiday, or if you enjoy the process of planning your own holiday, independent travel planning is a great option for you.

What Type of Travel Do We Prefer?

Venice Gondola ride
On a guided tour in Europe

We have experienced the benefits of guided tours and independent travel planning over the years.

It has all depended on our destination and time frames. Our first trip was a collaborative trip planned with family, through Poland, Germany and France. We had plenty of time to explore, with no set schedules and lots of downtimes when we needed it.

For our next trip to Europe though, we wanted to see lots with only 3 weeks to spare, so we did a guided tour through Europe and visited 7 countries in that time with a couple of days on either end to do as we pleased in London.

This was a great convenience and we made some friends along the way in our tour group. It was perfect for us at the time as a couple travelling without kids!

Kids are another factor to consider. Most guided tours do not accommodate young children so if you do want a guided experience, you will need to seek one that is family-friendly!

A lot of guided tour companies are for adults only or have an age cut-off for younger kids, so they may not be a suitable option for family travel at all.

The majority of our trips have been planned ourselves, with some mini-guided tours or day trips added in, which means we have been able to see more in areas we are unfamiliar with or keep our costs down by having it packaged up.

When it comes to planning a day trip, such as our A Day In LA Tours day trip, this can be a great halfway point of benefiting from guided day tours while still independently planning most of your travel.

But family travel definitely means having some downtime and slow travel opportunities. Sometimes you just need an afternoon nap or a day off from sightseeing, therefore often a combination of both types of travel is the perfect mix!

Do you prefer guided tours or independent travel?

guided tours vs independent travel