While independent travel might give you a sense of accomplishment by proving you can navigate a new destination like a local, the truth is the time you spend accounting for all the nitty-gritty details of where to sleep, where to eat, and what to see adds up to less time spent actually enjoying your trip.
These days, guided tours come in all shapes and sizes, and they strongly challenge that stereotypical notion of a crowd of tourists shuffling their feet behind guides whose job is to describe landmarks and monuments in different languages, whether their party is paying attention or not.
While many prefer this type of travel only for harder-to-reach destinations, others never travel in any other way. But one thing is common for both types of travel preferences, choosing guided tours to go overseas means you'll come away understanding your destination on a much deeper level.
Cultural identity in Morocco is a mix of Spanish, French, Islamic, and Jewish influences, as intertwined as the threads of the tapestries sold at local bazaars. The North African country is a top destination for guided tours because they allow for a fully-immersive, off-the-guide-book experience around local cuisine, history, culture, and architecture that an independent trip simply couldn’t provide.
Guided tours in Mexico will have you learning about ancient civilizations, relaxing at the beach, indulging in mouth-watering food, and mingling with local artisans. Although many choose to visit this Latin American country as independent travelers, most end up doing the same resort life and following the same sightseeing tips that add very little to their knowledge of the real country. Especially if you don't speak Spanish, a guided tour of Mexico is the way to go.
Culture shock in Japan is part of the traveling experience, but not all travelers are prepared for the intensity of landing on "Planet Japan." That’s why the land of the rising sun is one of the top destinations for guided tours. From marveling at quirky Japanese pop culture to uncovering the best onsen (hot springs), a guided tour will show you the Japan you came to see and the one you probably didn’t know existed -- without feeling totally lost.
Nepal is one of the most popular destinations in the world for guided tours. And, often, adventure-seeking travelers and outdoor enthusiasts have the same activity in mind when they come to Nepal: trekking to Everest Base Camp. For those who’d rather look at the highest mountain in the world instead of climbing it, cultural-immersion experiences in Kathmandu and the ancient surrounding valley are also compelling options.
Most participants on hiking tours don’t need a particular set of skills or fancy gear, but they do need a guide that knows the territory well. In some areas popular for these kinds of activities, going rogue is simply not allowed or is strongly advised against for safety or environmental reasons.
Historical & Cultural Tours
This type of tour is not only a classic favorite but is probably the first idea that pops into everyone’s mind when they think about a guided tour. Be it exploring the historic center of a city or getting to learn more about the culture through its local cuisine, there’s hardly a destination in the world that doesn’t offer a historical and cultural tour.
Depending on the chosen destination, wildlife observation activities can include safaris, whale watching, bird watching, or even scuba diving and snorkeling. These kinds of tours offer a mix of outdoor activity with educational entertainment.
Especially in more urban destinations, cycling tours have become popular because they provide the opportunity of sightseeing differently. Usually, all you need to bring along is your leg power and your cycling skills. In some destinations, like hilly cities, local tour companies favor the use of electric bikes -- a fun modern update to the classic cycling adventure.
Planning Your Trip
Embarking on a guided tour usually means you have everything taken care of on your behalf, but here are a few additional tips to keep in mind while planning your trip.
What to Look for in a Guided Tour
For a responsible and sustainable travel experience, always look for a tour operator that partners with local guides and local businesses. Locals can bridge the gaps between what tourists want to see and what residents feel is truly appropriate. By supporting the local economy, travelers will also help locals reap the benefits of tourism coming to their region.
Benefits of Guided Tours
With the arrival of the independent travel trend, guided tours are usually seen as an option only when a destination is hard to reach in other ways. In reality, however, guided tours provide travelers with the opportunity to dive into a country’s culture more deeply than they ever would with a self-built itinerary.
Typical Tour Cost
Tour costs vary depending on the destination and the type of activities included. Using a well-known guided tour operator as an example, and using the same 15-day duration reference for all tours, hiking to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal can start at $1,100 per person, while a "best-of" tour that focuses on the highlights of almost any country starts at $1,500 per person.
In general, guided tours organized around must-see attractions, with the same type of itinerary, vary between $900 per person and $2,200 per person, depending on the destination.
Other Tips for Guided Tours
Read through the itineraries and tour conditions carefully to check if there's something that’s not included in the package that you'll have to take care of yourself. Most guided tours only cover the costs of the activities explicitly included in the itinerary, so you will probably need to arrange for transportation to and from the starting and ending points of the tour, for example.
Visas and travel insurance are usually the responsibility of the traveler unless the tour operator specifies that those services are included in the package you select.