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When Traveling, Should You Take A Tour Or Do It Alone?

Posted by Cherish Germaine on 6/30/16 10:30 AM


When traveling abroad, you'll be faced with the option of going on a tour or just exploring on your own. During my travels, I have had the opportunity to experience both. Here are some pros and cons of both options. 

For the most part, I enjoy exploring a new city or site on my own. However, there are many times that I have had to take a tour to see a certain site or I took a tour because I wanted to learn more about a specific site. Both options are great but here are some things to consider when trying to decide which you want to do. 

Doing it Yourself 

During my second semester with ILP, I was volunteering in China. My group and I decided to travel to Guilin, which is a beautiful city in southern China. There are so many great things about Guilin and one of the top places my group wanted to go to were the Longsheng rice terraces. Early in the morning we woke up, grabbed a bus that we previously learned would take us to the terraces and were dropped off. We didn't have a tour and we didn't exactly know where to go but we eventually found our way and had a fun (and rainy) day walking through the rice terraces and enjoying the beautiful views. Exploring without a guide or tour guide or tour group can be tons of fun. Here are a few pros/cons about exploring anywhere on your own. 



  • You have flexibility to see what you want, when you want and you can spend  however much time you want to in an area. When we were exploring the rice terraces we didn't have to be back at a bus at a certain hour. It was nice because we were able to explore until we decided we had hiked and seen enough. 
  • You can stick to your budget. All we paid for was the ride there. Although we didn't have to buy a ticket to see the rice terraces, many tourist attractions do cost to go to, but that's all you need to worry about paying for, so staying within your budget is easy. 
  • Its really rewarding knowing that you planned everything and had an amazing time.
  • Truly experience the culture. Wandering around the rice terraces, or a new city, you can find hidden gems that may not be included in the tour itinerary. 


  • You have to make a plan and figure out how to get to all the locations by yourself (time consuming and overwhelming). Luckily, we were staying in a hostel not too far away, but many times trying to figure out how to get to your destination site can be difficult and time consuming to figure out. 
  • You miss getting that extra knowledge and information about a place. With a lot of cool historic sites, this is so true. I mean you can wander around and see everything there is to see, but you can miss out on lots of fun facts and extra information about a site. 
  • If you're traveling with a group of friends you might have a hard time making a decision on where to go or where to eat. I love traveling with friends, but sometimes figure out what we all want to do and coming to a decision can be harder. If you go on a tour then the decisions are made for you.  


As I mentioned above I volunteered in China. I loved it so much that I decided to go back, this time as the Head Teacher. My group wanted to go to Yangshuo (because it is the coolest place, click here to read more about Yangshuo). Since Guilin isn't that far, I told my group all about the rice terraces and how we needed to go so they could see them. After showing them a couple pictures they quickly agreed. Since we were staying in Yangshuo, we decided to take a tour up to the terraces.

I was surprised at just how different this experience was compared to when I went a few months earlier without a tour. Even though I loved going and exploring the rice terraces without a tour, the tour really did add to the experience and I was able to see a part of the terraces and a really neat village that I wasn't able to see when my past group and I explored on our own. The main difference was that we actually spent more time in the village and just enjoyed the views of the terraces from the village, whereas when my past group and I explored, we hiked in the rice terraces and not in the little villages. Here are some pros/cons of doing an organized tour.  



  • Tour guides are knowledgeable about the sites and can help you get the most out of your trip. When we were at the rice terraces, our tour guide was able to tell us more about the small villages we visited and how harvesting rice worked. 
  • If you're not comfortable trying to communicate (with very limited language skills) and get around in a new country on your own, tours are the way to go. Tours can also give you that extra feeling of security and safety. 
  • Someone who speaks English! When you are in a new country that you may not know much about, tour guides can help inform you of cultural practices you should be aware of and help you have an enjoyable and safe time exploring. 
  • Sometimes you have to have a tour guide. For some tours (such as visiting the 27 waterfalls in the Dominican Republic) you are required to have a tour guide. 
  • Many cities around the world offer free walking tours!


  • Tours can get pretty pricey. 
  • You don't have total control over what you see. Going on a tour can help enhance your experience but you can miss out on finding hidden gems that aren't included as part of the tour itinerary. 
  • You can often get by without knowing much of the language. Obviously, if you are fluent in a second language traveling abroad can be much easier, but I know maybe 5 phrases in Chinese and I was able to get around just fine.
  • Your tied to your tour group and lose the flexibility of going on your own. At the rice terraces, we had to meet back at our tour bus at a certain time. We lost the flexibility of wandering and exploring for however long we pleased. Plus, someone in your tour group might be really annoying and could drive you bonkers! 

Extra things to consider.

Cost:  Before you book a tour, figure out what is included in the cost of a tour. If it isn't that much more than doing it yourself and includes lunch then it may be worth considering. 

Activities: Ask in advance for the tour itinerary. If the tour isn't going to hit everywhere you want to go, make a plan and maybe do the tour and then go see the other stuff by yourself. 

Quality: Ask for recommendations and do a little research. Most tour companies realize that one bad review can make or break their business. Doing a little research will also help you find the best bang for your buck. 

No matter what you choose, the important thing is that you are traveling. Don't forget your passport! Click here to learn how to apply for one. 


Are you interested in traveling abroad? How about living abroad? International Language Programs (ILP) sends volunteers abroad to China, Dominican Republic, Lithuania, Mexico, Romania, Russia, Thailand and Ukraine. Click the button below to learn more!

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