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Traveling With a Guide vs Self Guided

An age-old question when it comes to traveling is “Should I go on a guided tour” vs. “Should I travel self-guided.” I have traveled both on guided tours and self-guided and I can honestly say there are pros and cons to each style. Personal preference, budget, and destination all can play a role in the decision process, so let’s take a look at when you would choose one type of travel over the other.


Guided Tours:

1.   Guided tours are popular around the globe for many reasons. These days you can select a tour based on your budget, age and other demographics. You can choose a tour that takes you from place to place with 50 other tourists or you can choose smaller tours that cater to a slower pace of traveling perhaps.


2.   I choose guided tours when my schedule does not allow me to plan a trip beforehand. The advantage of a guided tour is that the company will usually handle the logistics of getting around, research opening and closing times for all the activities, book your accommodations and even plan restaurants to dine in.

3.   The wonderful part of guided tours is that you also don’t have to research the sights ahead of time. You will have a guide who can provide interesting background information on every place you visit and allow you to focus on the sights versus reading from a guidebook for example.

4.   People who choose guided tours often enjoy the company of other people and like the idea of meeting new like-minded travelers like themselves.


5.   My most recent guided tour was on a ten-day trek around the Tour du Mont Blanc in Europe. This trek crosses multiple borders, starting in France, through Switzerland, Italy and then back into France via the alps. Having an expert trekking guide alleviated me of my fear of heights in the alps. I also enjoyed meeting the other travelers in the group and learning more about their backgrounds. I did have plenty of free time post-hike before joining the group again for dinner. I didn’t have to worry about reading a map to try and figure out how to get from one place to another or getting lost in the alps as sometimes I didn’t see any others on the trail, other than my own group.


6.   People also often choose guided tours when they are choosing places like Tanzania and Kenya for example, especially if they are intending on taking a safari. Off the beaten path places such as Namibia or India might be difficult to access as an independent traveler and many people might feel less nervous having a guide, especially if they are concerned with not knowing the local language.

7.   One of the common disadvantages of a guided tour however is the downside of having to begin the tour every morning during the given time and also having to go everywhere the rest of the group is going. This is where you have to do a bit of research and make sure you choose the right guided tour for yourself, one that balances free-time and provides alternatives to the set itinerary.

Self-Guided Tours

1.   There are plenty of companies who will help you with self-guided tours if you determine you don’t need a guided tour. This means you will be given maps and logistics information and it is up to you to get from point A to point B. You will not have access to a guide or to other travelers. In some cases, the tour operators will organize your accommodations with your input, and maybe even help with luggage transfers depending on the destination you’re traveling to.


2.   Take for example the Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal. This is a trek that can be done self-guided with a permit, through the Himalayas in Nepal. The nice thing about this trek is that there are often Sherpas and guides along the way if you change your mind and decide you need a guide. The route is marked and  you will receive information about where to stay each night, and other recommendations on where to start and stop.

3.   You can also do a self-guided safari in Kruger National Park or join a guided multi-day safari in Tanzania’s remote Serengeti. A self-guided one-day drive through the Kruger National Park might be manageable but attempting to cross the Serengeti on your own may be more overwhelming and best left to the experts.

4.   I recently decided to go on a self-guided five day trek in the Bernese Oberland region in Switzerland. The trails were well marked and even though I didn’t see too many people at any given time, I had no problems.  It was also more affordable than going on a guided tour and I wasn’t really looking to meet other travelers in a tour group type environment. I enjoyed the freedom of starting when I wanted in the mornings, stopping where I wanted to eat what I wanted and relaxing in the evenings in restaurants of my choice without having to make conversation with a tour group.


5.   The self-guided option is for people who are comfortable experiencing an adventure on their own with minimal guidance and it’s a safe way to have an adventurous trip without getting lost and feeling isolated.

 Deciding which type of travel to choose depends on what you’re in the mood for when you are ready to take a trip.  It depends on your personality, your need for risk and adventure, your budget, and prior travel experience. If you want to have control of most aspects of your trip, a self-guided trip is best. If you think having a guide will make you feel more comfortable, worry less, and enable you to better immerse yourself in the daily activities, then go with a guided tour.