Apparently, it’s easy to be a travel snob. Independent travelers can look down on tour groups as not being “hard core” or “authentic” enough. Luxury travelers can look down on backpackers as cheapskates one notch above street riffraff. Holiday-makers looking to relax with a cocktail on the beach are not “real” travelers while those who are trying to live on $5 a day are “escapists.”
I could go on and on with the stereotypes and slurs that I’ve heard fly in all directions, but that’s not the point. One thing travel can teach you – if you allow it to – is that the world is made up of people whose goals and preferences differ. And those differences — they also apply to travel.
When we announced that we were joining a Gap Adventures tour of Bali, several friends and readers cocked their heads (literally and virtually), questioning what was going on. After all, we are independent travelers and Bali is a pretty easy place to travel.
The echoes of judgment reached their zenith (or nadir, depending on your perspective) when a follower on Twitter replied to our announcement with: “Why ANYONE needs a tour of Bali is beyond me.”
In truth we didn’t need a tour of Bali. I’d argue that with the exception of a few difficult-to-reach places where specialized transportation or technical expertise is required (e.g., Antarctica, Mount Everest, etc.), you really don’t need a tour anywhere.
So why take a tour?
We knew our reasons, but to understand some others we approached a few people on our tour and asked them.
Tours: A Few of the Reasons
A few solo female travelers felt more comfortable – for safety and companionship reasons – traveling in a small group. Others saw the tour as a way to explore parts of the island that they might not otherwise discover on their own in a short time.
Bali High: Above the clouds on Mt. Batur.
Others with busy work schedules commented: “I work a lot, so I didn’t want to spend a lot of time booking hotels and managing logistics.”
With logistics taken care of, they could focus on the substance of the trip.
Tours: The People
And who were the people with these reasons?
There was a young Canadian woman who received a Gap Adventures tour for her 21st birthday and used it to travel outside North America for the first time. There was also a well-traveled couple honeymooning from Britain, a Swiss event planning manager, a Peruvian-American New Yorker working at a bank, and two (yes, two) operating room nurses from opposite ends of the planet. This was just the beginning.
Friends. Ubud Monkey Forest: He was not on our tour. She was.
Some people came to Bali exclusively for the tour. Others, like us, incorporated it into a longer trip around the island.
In other words, there was a diverse group of nationalities, ages, professions, travel experience and reasons for joining the tour. And frankly, this is what made it interesting.
Our Reasons for Taking a Tour?
Our reasons were pretty straightforward. Bangladesh, and all the organizing we did to travel through the country independently for almost six weeks, had sapped much of our energy. So we came to Bali to relax, do some yoga and have some fun.
We wanted a vacation — to enjoy the island and sample what it had to offer — but we had little interest in all the logistics arrangements.
Atop Mt. Batur volcano at dawn
Some of you may be thinking: “Your tour was free so it’s easy to make a decision to take one when you don’t have to pay for it.”
Fair point, but for two things. We joined this particular tour because we wanted to. And in the end, we spent a fair bit of our own money on optional activities — again, because we wanted to.
Autonomy on the Tour?
While Gap Adventures provided the framework of the trip by arranging logistics (hotels, transport, temple visits), it was the tour participants who decided how to fill in the body of their trip.
Balinese Cooking Class in Ubud
For those who wanted to chill at the pool and get a massage, that was cool. For others who wanted to wake up at 3:30 AM and climb a volcano, good on you. Want to shop? All the more power to you. If you wanted to join the group for dinner, great. If not, have fun on your own. (Note: Optional activities are not included in the price of the tour so be sure to ask ahead about costs so you can accurately budget your trip).
Basically, the idea is do what you want to do. This is your vacation after all.
Small Group Tours or Independent Travel?
There can be a time for both. Whether or not you decide to take a tour anywhere should depend on your travel goals and your resources (i.e., time and money). Keep in mind that if you travel independently one day and take a tour the next, that’s OK too.
When it comes to travel, do what suits you and brings you satisfaction — so long as you do so respectfully. After all, travel is about exploring, adapting, learning, and understanding others.
Here’s to respecting our travel differences and enjoying the journey!