Group Tour vs Solo Travel: Pros & Cons

Traveling around the world has been an exciting adventure that has had a way of getting me to face and conquer new fears each and every day.

Before making my first solo trip in 2015, traveling alone was one of my biggest fears. Just the thought of going to a foreign alone, where English is not the mother tongue,  left me up at night sweating, anxious and with an uneasy feeling.

This wild experience has opened my eyes up to the world and has given me a greater confidence in myself and my ability to navigate throughout different countries without the help of anyone by my side.

In my solo travel across more than half of the countries on the planet, I have learned the ins and outs of traveling alone and in this article we are going to talk about the pros and cons of solo travel vs group tours in order to get a better idea of them from both perspectives.

In the north of Thailand I decided to take a break from my normal solo travels for a day and join on a day tour with a reputable company called Travel Hub. They offer very distinct tours, private and group, with good prices and interesting iteneraries, so I decided to give it a try!

The trip that I did was a full day excursion, picking me up at 7:30am and returning back at 9:30pm We started our journey off visiting a natural hot spring, before making our way to the famous White Temple in Chiang Rai (Wat Rong Khun).

This is one of the most recognized temples in the country, and from first glance, one can understand why. It is completely white and sparkles brightly underneath the sun. The white represents the purity of Buddha and the glass represents his wisdom and teachings. 

This is definitely one of the most extravagant temples that I’ve ever been to.

We then made our way to the Golden Triangle, which is an area that that borders three countries: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. We did a guided river cruise on the Mekong River and visited the border of Laos and walked around. We were greeted with snake whiskey, a common exotic and strong drink that is common in Laos.

I must say, I have had many interesting introductions into foreign countries, but never one like that!

We then made our way to see different tribal villages, which included the Karen Long Neck Village, a place that is interesting for some and quite controversial for others. It was interesting to see, but not the highlight of my trip.

We had a nice buffet style lunch, a short stop at the Myanmar border and then a 4.5 hour drive back to Chiang Mai. Our day was completely packed, but it was nice to be able to see and experience so many places in a short time.

As I mentioned, this was not my normal solo travel style, but I was surprised at how much I liked the experience!

Now let’s talk about the pros and cons….

Pros:

1. Travel Without Planning & Organizing Trip

As a solo traveler, I am responsible for planning all of my trips, organizing my schedule and always paying attention to every small detail. Going with TravelHub was a great experience because it allowed me to take a mental break and just enjoy the trip without thinking and planning anything.

I was able to take some great pictures and just simply look out the window along the way without anything on my mind, which was actually quite a luxury.

2. Knowledgable Personal Guide

Another great thing about group trips is the fact that you will have a personal tour guide that usually has detailed knowledge on the places that you visit that can give you a very good idea about the story behind what you see. Our guide was a local, with a high level of English, which allowed us to easily learn and take in the information easily.

 

Not everyone has good experiences with guides, but thats why its important to look on Trip Advisor and read up on what people say about the company and tour guides.

3. Meeting New People

Without a doubt, one of the best parts about a group tour is the fact that it is a perfect way to meet other people. As a solo traveler, sometimes I am in situations where I don’t meet others, depending upon the location.

In my tour I connected with a few different girls from South America, as well as three guys from Barcelona.  I ended up staying in contact with them all and even ended up meeting them a couple weeks later in the south of Thailand at the Full Moon Party.

Without the group tour I would’ve never met these wonderful people that I will continue to be friends with as the years go by.

4. Safety & Security

For people that are a bit nervous about solo traveling, group trips are a really great option. It’s much less likely that something will happen to you when you’re with a group than when you are completely alone.

Some of the rural areas are difficult to reach and more dangerous for solo travelers.  Going with a group takes away the stress of possibly getting lost or something happening to you. Many times I have tried to visit a place alone and ended up having many obstacles, spent hours lost and getting ripped off by taxi drivers, which in the end costed me much more than I would of paid on an organized tour.

I have found from my personal experience that its much easier to fall into a scam when I am alone than when I am with other people to help in the decision making.

Cons:

1. Lack of Freedom and Independence

Without a doubt, one of the biggest cons of group tours is not having the opportunity to have your own freedom and independence. However, given that I have all of the freedom in the world that I want 99% of the time, it did not matter to me and was actually quite nice.

When you travel completely alone you are in control of everything and can stay as long as you want in a given place, compared to having a set time and schedule that you have no control over in a guided trip.

I think a mixture of solo travel and organized tours could be a good combination for one that is looking to have two totally different types of experiences. I know after my positive experience in Thailand that I will try to combine both types of travel styles into my plans.

2. Prices

Organized tours can get quite expensive depending on different factors (location, activity, time of year etc), in comparison to going completely alone. I have heard nightmares of people on very poor quality group tours and having experiences that have been complete nightmares. Sometimes people book extremely cheap tours to save money and in the end leave feeling a sense of regret for having joined in and not trying to make that same trip alone.

It’s important to do your homework and read all the reviews on Trip Advisor before making your decision. Travel Hub has many great reviews online, which is why I had them as my number one choice.

3. Personality Conflicts or Disconnection from Group

Sometimes you join a group tour and the energy is not what you were hoping for. It could be very possible that there will be someone in the group that absolutely drives you crazy, or the guide is terrible. If that is the case, it could be a very long and dreadful day.

However, with a positive attitude towards the experience, you can easily get past this minor problem and switch your focus on the beauty of the place that you are traveling to instead of getting worked up over a small, dumb issue.

4. Being Rushed

Many of the tours are filled with activities and are on a very tight schedule. While that is great for seeing a lot in a short amount of time, it can be kind of frustrating, especially if you want to really see a place or get photos and videos during the tour. Some tours are more relaxed, while others try to put too many activities in a short day trip.

Most tours will give you the agenda before hand so that you can see what your day will look like before going on the trip.

 

What do you prefer? Solo travel or group trips?

Catch me on social media to give me your thoughts!

 

 

 

Don’t Forget to Also Check Out: 

5 LESSONS I LEARNED FROM TRAVELING TO INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES

ETHICAL ELEPHANT PARK VISIT IN CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

A MINI PARADISE: MYKONOS ISLAND, GREECE

 

 

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Karen Long Neck Village – Culture & Traditions or Mistreatment?

When it comes to culture, there are some things that I will never be able to fully understand and that will always remain a mystery. The more I travel across the world and experience different countries, the more I am faced with situations that I have never seen and living conditions that are far from anything that I have ever experienced.
On my exploration through the northern part of Thailand, I stopped at the Karen Long Neck Tribe, a place that many people talk about as an interesting, yet very controversial tourism trap.
The Karen Tribe came to Thailand from Burma whenever violence and war took over their country. Thailand granted them the permission to live in the country and they made their living based on tourism.
These women stick out by the brass coils that they wear around their neck, starting from the age of five years old and each year adding weight as another ring is added.

Although the children start wearing these rings around five or six years old, at about 15 they are given the choice to continue wearing them or take them off permanently.
In order to get an idea of how these rings felt, I tried them on. Within just a few seconds all I could think about was the discomfort that these women must feel wearing this every day, even as they shower and sleep.
While the Karen women mentioned that there was no discomfort to their neck, it was hard for me to believe that the pressure of these rings did not create some sort of discomfort and soreness.
However, despite the discomfort they it might bring, many people wear the rings and have been following this tradition for decades. Through a translator, the Karen lady explained that the rings were originally put for two different reasons: to protect them from tiger attacks (tigers tend to attack first from the neck), and then to keep men from other tribes away.

During my visit I met a Karen lady that had 26 rings around her neck, which is equivalent to around 4 kg (8.8lbs). Her rings were placed on her at five years old she has never taken them off.
Every country around the world has their own definition of beauty based on different factors: skin color, length of hair, height, body shape, weight etc.
The Karen women believe that the real beauty is determined by the amount of rings one wears around their neck. The more rings one has, the more gorgeous and appealing she is.

Vestido

Karen women are seen throughout their little village hard at work, typically weaving on a back strap loom. The children in the village were running around and playing, but apart from their energy and happiness, the village was dead.

The general feel of the village was unpleasant and left me feeling solemn.

 

While many people think that the purpose of the rings is to make their neck longer, when it reality it only compresses the should blades, forcing them down and giving them the appearance of a long neck.

Many people say that if you wear the rings during an entire lifetime that your neck would snap, but the Karen ladies mentioned that it is untrue and there have been many cases of ladies that have taken the rings off without a problem.

The more one looks into information on the Karen Long Neck Tribe, the more one will find about their negative feelings on the issue. However, the real question to be answered here is:
Is it better for these families to be in Thailand, making money from tourism so that they can live and take care of their families, give their kids education, or return to Burma where living and working conditions may not be so favorable?
In my travels around the world, I strive to travel as ethical as possible, only supporting tourism that is based around the fair treatment of humans, animals, and children and for that reason I had such mixed feelings after leaving this village. I was misinformed on the village before visiting and it turned out to be something completely different than I thought.

To be honest, I write this article with very mixed feelings, knowing that it might raise controversial feelings in the minds of the readers.
To answer the question from earlier “is it better for the Karen ladies to be in Thailand working in tourism or in Burma,”  the answer is I don’t know.
In my heart I believe at times that it’s OK to not know. I would need to spend more time with the ladies, do more research and take more than just one trip to the village in order to form a well rounded opinion on this topic.

Would I return?

Probably not…..

Do I regret going?

No, Because I learned a lot from the trip and I was able to base my Opinion around my own personal opinion and experience.
It’s not a place that I would highly recommend to visit, but I think if you Want to see it for yourself, there are some steps you can implement in order to travel and respect the situation as much as possible.
1. Learn as much as you can before going
2. Ask first before taking a a picture
3. Don’t be afraid to Ask questions
4. Buy a local handmade craft
5. Don’t judge without taking time to get to know the full story
6. See them as humans with feelings and not just an attraction

Don´t forget to check out:  

HOW I GRADUATED WITH HONORS IN 1 YEAR WHILE TRAVELING FULL TIME TO 20 COUNTRIES

MY SOLO TRAVEL NIGHTMARE: LOCKED UP AND DEPORTED FROM EUROPE

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A Mini Paradise: Mykonos Island, Greece

Mykonos Is one of the most popular Greek islands, known for its breathtaking views, blue and white houses, charming churches, windmills and amazing night life. This island has something to offer for just about anyone!

There you will see travelers, expats, honeymooners, youth and families. There is also a large homosexual scene, with many bars and night clubs of that style.

Mykonos is a beautiful places to visit, but it is highly suggested to pick a time of the year to visit that is not peak season if at all possible.  I made my first trip there in the middle of June, right before high season, and it was just beginning to get more crowded.

Many locals will say that the best time to visit is around September and October, just right after the end of the high season. In that time, you will be able to visit with lower prices and without the crazy traffic and large crowds of people.

Getting to Mykonos is simple. There is an airport located on the island, or you can choose to take a ferry from other greek islands, or from the capital, Athens.

I departed at 1600 from Athens on a high speed boat and was there by 1930 to see the amazing sunset.

One of my favorite parts about Mykonos was the amount of charming churches throughout the island.

Rumor has it that there are more than 800 churches, all unique with their own history and charm.

As you drive along the road you will see churches hidden off into the hills and along the seaside. One of the best ways to get around is by a scooter, four wheeler or renting a car, giving you the flexibility to stop at as many churches as possible and take in as much of the beautiful scenery as possible.

Mykonos has a wide range of beaches, from highly crowded and touristic, to quiet and completely isolated.  One of the most popular beaches in all of the island is called Super Paradise, also known as the most famous homosexual beach. While it’s beautiful, this place can get packed!

Other popular beaches include:

  • Platys Gialos (5km from the town)
  • Ornos (Known as the most family friendly beach on the island)
  • Ella Beach (the longest beach)

There are multiple other beaches, so don’t be afraid to get there and ask the local people their opinion on which to visit. Greek people are so friendly and can give you their local advice that you might not find on Google.

The night scene in the island is absolutely crazy! Many people refer to Mykonos as the Ibiza of Greece. Some places can get very crowded, so its necessary to book a table in advance, so you are not just one of hundreds of people crammed into the open area.

Some of the Popular night clubs are:

  • Cavo Paradiso
  • Scandanavian Disco
  • Tropicana Beach Bar and Restaurant,
  • Babylon Super Paradise Beach Club

If you want to escape the party scene and move into a more romantic place, you can visit Little Venice. This is an area, located right along the water that is lined with 18th century fishing houses that have been turned into restaurants, and bars.

The water is so close to the sitting area that when the waves break against the walls, you will most likely get drizzled by water. Walking through the narrow streets of this part of Mykonos you can see art at its best form.

People travel from all over the world to take a stroll through this area and take pictures of the unique streets and art styles, which are distinct from any other place in Europe.

In the evening time, most visit Little Venice to see the sunset reflecting over the ocean. Its possible to enjoy the views while having dinner along the waterfront, but its important to reserve in advance.

Apart from the amazing night life, beautiful views, the artistic streets, and the amazing sunsets, one of the main things this island is known for is their fresh fish, greek salad and delicious wine.

While many places are highly touristic, you will be able to find many local places with delicious, freshly caught fish. I have to admit, I have eaten at places all over the world, but nothing beats the fresh taste of Greek food.

Mykonos is highly recommended on my list and it’s a place that I will visit again in the future!

 

 

Don´t forget to also check out: 

SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL: CULTURAL IMMERSION WITH MAYAN COMMUNITY IN BELIZE

MOST COMMON TRAVEL MISTAKES: PART 3

PHOTOS TO INSPIRE YOU TO TRAVEL TO BRUNEI

 

 

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5 Lessons I Learned from Traveling to Indigenous Communities

Travel has a way of changing and opening you up to new ways of living and seeing the world. It connects you to this beautiful world that we live in and can drastically transform you as a person if you travel with an open mind and heart.

However, believe it or not, travel can be a dull, unfulfilling experience, leaving you with the sensation that “once you’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all.”

I have to admit, traveling from one tourist trap to the next can be an unpleasant travel experience. In my case, I travel desperately seeking out cultural experiences, where I am completely surrounded by different people, doing something completely outside of my comfort zone.

However, what you typically find in most big cities is superficial, unauthentic experiences, loaded with tourists, hotel chains and fast food restaurants on every corner. When I started traveling, this was the only way that I wanted to travel, but after a couple of years of the same thing over and over, I started feeling an empty sensation and a disconnect from what I felt like travel should really be about.

Outside the major cities, to the more rural areas where most tourists do not tend to travel, is where it’s easy to find real, authentic experiences.  Traveling to these more rural areas, stopping to have a traditional meal, taking a class with a local or buying a hand made craft may seem insignificant, but those are some of the best ways travelers can explore and make a sustainable impact and support the true local culture and economy.

When I traveled to South America,  I had the chance to really connect on a personal level with different indigenous groups for the first time and learn about their traditions, customs, gastronomy, art, music and ways of living.

 “There are around 370,000 indigenous people living in over 70 countries around the world.” (European Commission).

Supporting and connecting with them is simple and can truly add value to your travels and give you an unforgettable story.

After my experience traveling and connecting across indigenous communities throughout the whole world, I have made a list of the top lessons that I have learned in my experience :

1. The Joy of Simplicity

The great thing about different indigenous communities is that, while most of the world is progressing in technology and changing their lifestyles, they remain simple and stand strong on how their ancestors lived and taught them.

Just because the world around them started buying computers, cell phones and adopting new ways of living, does not mean that they are influenced by this advancement. Their way of living comes to show you that it is possible to live in a progressive world and to be happy with little.

When I arrived In Paraguay I had the chance to see their simple way of living. They enjoyed the little things and found pleasure in something as simple as gathering together, with no technology and connecting as a community.

The kids happily played with rocks and sticks in the road and were not complaining about not watching TV or playing video games. In fact, the children had never even seen a TV screen before. They live in very basic houses and don’t feel the need to have all of the materialistic possessions that many feel the need to have in order to survive.

2. Respect and Love for Nature

For many indigenous groups, nature and their surrounding land is the most important element for them. Given that they’re living independently from the rest of society, they depend greatly on the resources that come from nature in order to live. With this being the case, they tend to respect and appreciate nature in a way that many modern people do not.

In many cultures, land and spirituality are directly connected and it’s the source that connects them with God, as well as there ancestors.

In today’s world, it’s easy to take for granted nature and not see the value that it really has.  However, a few days in an indigenous community will help you to regain that respect, value and appreciate again.

3. The True Meaning of an Authentic Cultural Experience

In a very rapidly changing world, it’s difficult to find true authentic cultural experiences while traveling. Many of the authentic experiences that you pay for today are highly commercialized, and as a result, the experience feels forced and unauthentic. However, escaping many of the touristic traps, you can find new experiences, meet people and connect with cultures in a way that will leave you wanting to go back for more.

Over the years, I have seen different cultural ceremonies where I was able to see culture through a different lens. I have been able to watch unique styles of dancing in traditional outfits, as well as listen to their music, instruments and chants.

4. Amazing Power of Natural Remedies from Nature

One of the most interesting experiences that I have had with indigenous communities is seeing their powerful connecting with natural medicine. They strictly depend on nature in order to find the cure for all their daily discomforts and problems, instead of going to the pharmacy.

In Belize, I was given a class in the woods on natural medicine from an indigenous man that was able to name every tree and the health benefit one could get from each one.  There were treatments for everything, from just a small headache, to a case of chicken pox for a toddler.

Indigenous people are experts at living in nature, given the fact that they have done it their whole life, as well as their ancestors, without external help.

5. Power of Non Verbal Communication

Traveling to more rural areas can be a rich experience, but often times travelers fear the unpaved paths due to communication barriers. My first time visiting an indigenous community was in Paraguay in South America and I went there will full confidence in my ability to communicate, given my fluency in Spanish.

However, what I quickly discovered is, while the average person in the big cities generally speak Spanish, most indigenous groups do not speak a word. What I thought would be a day of asking questions and getting a deeper understanding of their culture from their perspective, turned into a day of gestures, singing and laughing in order to communicate.

Although we were not able to communicate the way that I thought we would be able to, I still learned a great amount from them by just non verbal communication. A smile, laugh and light touch can sure go a long way in connecting and sending a message of love and care.

 

Don´t forget to also check out: 

 

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5 Ways to Travel Sustainably & Support Local Cultures

Learning about different cultures from around the world is one of the most enriching experiences that I have had on this amazing adventure around the globe. However, having an open mind and the willingness to connect with others across cultures is not something that came naturally for me.

I grew up in a small, conservative town in the south of the USA. Growing up, we had just under 10,000 people and was an area very safe in comparison to other parts of the world. Life for the most part was generally comfortable and considering there was no mixture of cultures living together in one small area, it was generally peaceful.

Leaving my small state and venturing off into the world completely alone was an act of courage and something that tested me on all different levels, especially culturally. I truly believed in my heart that my way of living was the right way and that everyone else was just wrong. My narrow mindset limited me and made me a judgmental person towards anyone that did not believe exactly what I believed, or acted according to my ways of thinking.

Each country from around the world has had a way of changing my narrow mind and getting me to open my mind a little bit more. What I have discovered is that travel is about learning to adapt and expand your way of thinking.

The art of travel is about having true, authentic experiences that can change your perception about the world and make you a more well rounded individual.

The girl who left Arkansas in 2013, to the current moment that I write this article, has had a transformation of night and day. This has been cause by many factors, the main one being my deep rooted commitment to travel sustainably and responsibly in every way that I can.

Being a sustainable traveler does not mean just traveling the world, only focusing on taking care of the environment, although that is a very important aspect of sustainable tourism.

Traveling sustainably focuses around the idea that you should travel in a way that is beneficial for the country and culture that you travel to, as well as you as the traveler. Its about working together with local cultures and making it a positive experience for everyone, while leaving a minimal impact on the environment.

From my personal experience, here are 5 ways that I have found to travel more sustainably, while supporting local cultures at the same time.

1. Take time to learn and ask questions about the culture, customs and cultural differences.

This is something that you can do before leaving your house. Take time to read about the culture and learn as much as you can. A little knowledge before traveling can go along ways. Continue learning as you visit the country by having the courage to connect with locals, ask questions or even take a class or two.

Different cultures across the world have their own unique dances, art, festivals and gastronomy. Hands on experience is one of the easiest and best ways to learn, so don’t be afraid to get a little adventurous!

This is a photo I had in the Garifuna Community in Hopkins Village in Belize. I was able to do a full cultural immersion, dress in traditional clothes, learn the traditional way of cooking and end with a private drum class. I was not the best cook or drum player, but what matters in the end is the interest and the lessons you learn from trying something completely new.

However, if you keep an open mind, you might find in the end that you are actually a good drummer, so open yourself up to live all kinds of new experiences.

2. Travel outside the city to smaller villages or communities that tend to not have as much tourism.

This does not mean you cannot see the big cities. It just simply means that a more sustainable option would be to organize your trip to explore more unmarked territories.  In more traditional towns you are more willing to find the true culture and beauty of the country.

The photo below is from a small Indian Village in Panama. I was able to visit them by a small boat, see their traditional dances, style of living and art work. These type of experiences can really open your eyes to how most people lived years back. Many of these indigenous families live completely independently from the society and live only from their own produce and art work.

3. Choose locally owned accomodation and dining.

This is one of the best ways you can support the local community. Cities are full of Hiltons, Marriott, McDonalds and Starbucks. Look for privately owned places instead. This will give you a more cultural experience and will also support the real local economy of the destination you have chosen.

If you are wanting a full cultural immersion, you could try Couch Surfing, which can you an authentic experience.  CouchSurfing gives you a deeper look into the local culture by giving you the opportunity to stay in the homes of locals, spend time and explore the culture together and form a new friendship. I have Couchsurfed across the whole world and the experience has truly added value to my life and travels.

4. Work or volunteer with an organization that supports a good cause

There are countless organizations that are making a difference in the world today. Find a cause that is important to you and reach out to them in order to volunteer. Even if you don’t have much time to volunteer, even helping out for one day or visiting the organization to learn about the work they are doing can be a great way to show your respect and support for them.

In Costa Rica I was able to connect with the Ostional Wildlife Reserve, which is dedicated to helping the turtles. Each year thousands of turtles visit the shores in order to lay their eggs. During this process, the vultures are always in the surrounding area waiting for their next meal. When they see the eggs of the turtles, they quickly fly their in order to snatch them. Also, when the babies leave their eggs and make their way through the sand to enter the ocean, they are at risk as well by the vultures and other external factors.

This organization helps assist the mothers in order to keep their eggs safe, as well as babies that are trying to make their way to the ocean to start their life on Earth. They have been able to save thousands of turtles each and every year, which is a perfect example of sustainable work.

5. Pack for a Purpose.

This is an American Non Profit organization that challenges travelers to make a sustainable impact and support local cultures by just one small step. The concept is very simple. Usually a travelers carry 1-2 bags full of materialistic possessions. The majority of time time half of the items in the bag are unused and just extra weight. This organization challenges travelers to take out a few kilos or unnecessary items and put school supplies to donate to kids in need in that extra space.

Thanks to this simple action, they have been able to give thousands of kilos of school supplies each and every year, supporting and helping thousands of peoples and communities around the world

 

Traveling sustainable in a way that is beneficial for everyone can be done be just one small simple act. So, the next time you are planning your next vacation, keep these 5 actions in mind and choose to be a more sustainable traveler!

 

Don’t forget to also check out:

COUCHSURFING: WHAT EXACTLY DOES THAT MEAN?

INDIA: MEDITATION BOOT CAMP: THE START OF MY MEDITATION PRACTICE

9 POWERFUL WAYS TRAVEL AND INTERCULTURAL EXPERIENCE HAS CHANGED MY LIFE

 

 

 

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