Recently while reading the Queensland’s Sunday Mail I came across the welcome blurb of the ‘ESCAPE’ section of the newspaper written by Jana Frawley about her experiences with group travel and tours. This prompted me to think about my own participation of tours which have all been the complete opposite. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of stress-free holiday organisation can be handy but when you spend so much money on a holiday you want to get the most out of it; because you never know if you will get the opportunity to do anything like it again. These days there are an abundance of resources to plan out both short or long, solo or family trips and ~hello~ there are paid professionals that can plan and book it all for you.
‘ESCAPE’ also covered a full story on ‘tour travelling’, and yes being in a group is safer (like they say safety in numbers), and yes having a local guide or leader to show you around can be rewarding, and YES it makes language and transport issues and boundaries a lot less of a hassle but really….is it all worth it? I am not saying to stay away from group travel, even after all my experiences with touring I would probably give them the benefit of the doubt that the next one will be better than the last and book again but I am more conscientious towards my decisions to do so. Personally at the end of the day I would much rather spend my time researching and planning my own holiday than leaving in the hands of others. I have already been disappointed and missed out on potentially once in a life time encounters because of a tour or travelling in a group.
My troubles all started when I went on a well-known tour company’s 16-day-Great Britain Explorer. Contiki is seen as a rite of passage for young Australians looking at having a gap year and seeing the world, especially to meet new people and immerse yourself in wonderful cultural elements. What they do not tell you in the brochure is that you’ll be sitting on a bus with 20 hung over people (that are best part Australian) that take the pleasure in boasting about their travel adventures because they just finished a 40-day Europe Express (which also happened to be their first overseas holiday) and now they think they know everything there is to know about backpacking and travelling abroad – please give these guys a reality check! So after months of saving I rallied a friend to come with me and we set off to London. I learnt a lot about travelling (the cool clothesline in the shower) and even more about myself (especially my lack of patience with some people), and that self was not designed to take tours because I like to experience culture, history and food without the detail of partying and drinking to excess. I may sound like a prude but seriously you are in another country and you are going to waste yourself, there is this thing called social-drinking to a limit. Oh and to top it all off you will most likely get some strand of influenza, labelled the “contiki cough”, fun times.
The whole trip was not a complete failure, my first time to the United Kingdom was amazing and was possibly the reason I returned two more times after, but by the end of the tour I had enough. The structure the tour provides is awesome but thinking I was going to be around like minded people I got wrong, maybe travelling in a group is just not my thing. I vouched that I would never go on another tour yet have been disappointed another three times – On the Go, Topdeck and an independent company called Golden Tours in London.
The year is 2015, after missing out on the ballot for the ANZAC Day ceremony in Turkey my aunty and I found what we thought was the perfect tour to attend the 100 year Anniversary of the Battle of Lone Pine – August Offensive with On the Go tours. It was meant to be an all-inclusive tour with transfers from the airport to hotel (which we or our travel agent did not even get given the name of until we met a representative at the airport). We also changed the option to get a flight return to Istanbul at the end location rather than taking the night bus. Neither of these events played out like they should have and left us $200US out of pocket because our names were not on the transfer list and we were shoved into a taxi and apparently there was a head office misunderstanding that thought we had booked the longer tour and would be returning with the rest of the group and our flights were not booked as per organised and confirmed. Just to add more fun to the adventure what was described in the printed brochure differed from their website and they failed to mention in both the included activities that we were completely unprepared for. At the end of the day our tour guide was absolutely wonderful, we got to attend the ceremony and experience Gallipoli without the extended crowds (we only had 4 people on the tour because at the time the fear of terrorism deterred a lot of people) and seen some magnificent places in an even more beautiful country. But alas this experience has crossed On the Go off my loyalty list.
Fast forward a couple of months when I travelled to England for my now third time and an old school friend has tagged along for the ride. Right at the end of the trip we had a day to spare and I wanted to share with her my love for the little town of Bath and do the touristy thing of walking around Stonehenge. Being last minute we were not as organised to work out train schedules to make our way out of the city, so we went with this tour company that was just down the street from our hotel, Golden Tours. For a $130AU (EACH) you got return transport in an air-conditioned coach, walking tour in Bath and entry to Stonehenge (a little over priced for me but oh well, lesson learnt). Other than a little motion sickness from the English roads you can not complain about the transport, the issue we did have was our departure time from Bath to get to Stonehenge. We were all told a time to meet back at the bus but one can not get on the bus if the bus is not there. The group waited over an hour from our original departure time for the driver to come back – with no explanation he then proceeded to speed to catch up for lost time because they knew that by the time we got to Stonehenge it would be closed for the day. When we arrived what did we discover (oh look its closed), we were given the option to peruse the free information centre or wait on the heated bus (because by this time it was getting rather chilly). Frustrated and disappointed we just stayed on the bus as we were not interested in facts, after another 45 minutes everyone (minus the 6 that stayed on the bus) returned quite happy with themselves – THEY HAD ORGANISED ONE LAST BUS TO VISIT THE FORMATION!!! So frustration has now escalated to rage, in defence they offered to take the high way behind the stones so those that missed out could see them, ppfftt sorry not sorry and give us a refund from what our entry ticket would have been. Yet another tour company crossed off the loyalty list.
You would think I would have learnt by now but most recently two of my girlfriends and I sent off to Japan. A wonderful week in Tokyo with Disneyland as a bonus (all self-planned and booked by travel agent) followed by a 7-day Ski tour with Topdeck. Unaware that it was a very new tour let’s just say it had its kinks. The inclusions and exclusions were not clear prior to booking and had to have multiple funds at the time to participate. Was pretty much a self-managed week other than a few pre-organsied activities but at the end of the day the cost would have been a lot cheaper, with a lot better quality without the tour and like Contiki the drinking culture was dominant and being in a group it got clique. Sorry Topdeck but I will pass on round two.
Fool me once – shame on you, fool me twice – shame on me; I think it was my own personal experiences on these tours that made up my mind but clearly I did not learn. I have had missed opportunities in Turkey, disappointment in England and isolation in Japan which could have all been avoided by better planning on my part to create a trip that did not require a tour. So my advice (unless you are strongly after group travel and it is everything you want and need) do some research and construct your own holiday to dodge over-priced disappointing tours.
Have you had any tour mishaps, let us know! #wilwoodadventures
Images: Grand Theater of Ephesus (Turkey), London Underground Tube Sign (United Kingdom), Snow Park Imori Hakuba (Japan)