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 Is a Travel Tour Worth It?

 If you ask a group of people whether a travel i h h ill l Is a Travel Tour Worth It? If you ask a group of people whether a travel tour is worth the money, you will get vastly different answers. People tend to fall into one of two groups: 

1. The travel tour group: "Tours are great! No need to worry about the details."

 2. The independent travel group: "Why? It's so easy to get around. You can better spend your money on fill-in-the blank instead?"

       I have always been in the independent travel camp. It made little sense to me to pay and hand off the research when it is one of the best parts of the planning process. I also genuinely believed that folks are missing out when they do tours. When I travel, I like to interact with locals. Ask for directions when I get lost. Eat at local restaurants. These interactions add a valuable dimension to a destination. Tours, by its very nature, are more removed from the local experiences. 

What Changed?

      It all started when my siblings and I decided to plan an epic trip to Sydney, Australia to celebrate our parents’ milestone birthdays. With over 20 hours of flight time each way, I considered it to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Needless to say, the planning went into high gear. I also quickly realized that some of the places we want to visit were not easily accessible. This included the Blue Mountains, located about 90 minutes from Sydney’s Central located about 90 minutes from Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD). Not wanting to get a car rental or deal with driving, a tour suddenly seemed like a good solution. 

Embarking on The First Tour

      We booked an all-day inclusive small group tour, and our guide-and-driver-in-one picked us up from our hotel. We started the day with a visit to the Featherdale Wildlife Park where we were greeted warmly by a ranger holding a baby wallaby. We got the chance to feed baby kangaroos, and we had a close-up encounter and a photo opportunity with a koala.
       I drew a line, however, when a staff with a snake around her neck asked me if I want to hold the snake or take a picture. “Uh, no thanks”, I smiled politely as I slowly backed away from the After wards, we went on the Katoomba Scenic Railway, touted as the "steepest passenger railway in the world.” We got to see spectacular views of the region, including the famous Three Sisters. We retreated to a clubhouse for lunch, followed by a relaxing stop at the Sydney Olympic Park. We wrapped up the tour with a scenic cruise back to CBD where we got a great view of the iconic Sydney Opera House.
      At the end of the day, I thought the tour was a smashing success. For a change, I didn’t have to worry about how to get to places or where to buy tickets. The tour was well paced and well planned. Our time in Australia was nothing short of amazing, and the tour was a major highlight of the trip.  

  Not All Tours Are Created Equal

      Given the overwhelmingly positive experience with the first tour, I signed up for a couple more. I quickly learned that not all tours are created equal. For example, a "highlights" tour in Singapore turned out to be too ambitious for its own good. The guide rushed through the tour in order to “stick to schedule”, so much so that I even hesitated when someone asked if I could take a picture for him at the Botanical Garden.
      While I was able to catch up with the rest of my group, the irony was not lost on me: The Botanical Garden is supposed to a place you could relax and smell the roses. Two guests didn't make it back to the bus on time at this stop, and the tour guide left without them. As it is, many of us already lead fast tour too.

Is a Travel Tour for You? 

      If you are trying to decide if a tour is for you, here's a rule of thumb: If you are short on time or have a language barrier, or if you have transportation needs that can't easily be handled by the transit systems, then a tour might make sense. Otherwise, save your money and skip the tours.
       I had some great adventures as an independent traveler, but I also found great value with travel tours, if you choose the right one for your needs. At the end of the day, it’s not as important who is planning the trip. Whatever your traveling style, all that matter is that you are out there, seeing the world and creating precious memories with your loved ones.

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