I was never enthusiastic about group tours in the past. I think I thought one would be too regimented and I wouldn’t have the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do because I would have to adhere to the guide’s itinerary. And in my early 20s, it was easier to plan travel with my friends but now that we’re older with job, spouse, or family commitments it’s not so easy to coordinate schedules and find time to travel together. So I started taking a few trips solo and while that form of travel has its benefits I wanted to try something new and that’s when I signed up for my first group tour.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to go to Italy for a week for work. Since I flew all that way from California, I wanted to take advantage of the long trip and stay an extra week for a vacation however I didn’t want to travel by myself and I didn’t have any friends or family that could come meet me for only the week. I started searching for tours to join and the options were pretty slim since I needed a tour that could leave at a specific time (right after my work trip finished) in early April (which is not the peak season for tours). Luckily, I did find one with G Adventures, a local living experience on the Amalfi Coast. The week-long tour was scheduled to depart at just the right time and from Naples, which was easy for me to get to from where I was staying in Bologna the week prior.
I was so excited to see the beautiful Amalfi Coast for the first time but I was a little nervous about the tour because I hoped that my group would get along and that our guide would be reliable. I had read about bad experiences on group tours, but I knew this had to be a great week and as they always say, “Don’t knock it ’til you try it.” I ended up loving my group tour more than traveling solo so here are five reasons why I think you should try one yourself.
Obviously, you will meet new people and like-minded people at that. I know from my solo travels that you never know when you are going to meet someone new whether you’re sitting at a restaurant bar, taking a cooking class, or at a museum. But when you join a group tour, it is a guarantee that you are going to meet a whole bunch of new people and what’s more, people who like to travel just like you.
On our way to dinner on our first night together in Naples, one girl in our group who had been traveling solo for a while commented how it can get pretty lonely and quiet. She would turn on the TV in her hotel room just to have background noise even though whatever she was watching was in a completely different language. I could definitely relate and I was reminded that travel can bond strangers instantly.
I didn’t find it intimidating at all to start a conversation with the rest of my tour mates either. We were a group of 12 and I was able to connect with everyone throughout the week to learn about where they were from and what they did for a living and we would compare and contrast our hometowns. It’s such a good chance to get out of your head and gain a new perspective on how other people live their lives.
Personally, the hardest part of solo travel is having to dine alone, but on the tour I always had people to share a meal with and that was such a relief and joy for me. I do relish my alone time though and what was nice about this tour was that after our hikes we had hours to ourselves in the afternoon before dinner to relax and do whatever we wanted and we also had a free day to do as we pleased. Hikes weren’t mandatory either so if you wanted to sit one out you could go and do something else.
You will be taken care of. The nice thing about traveling solo is that you can make up your own schedule and do as you please but you do have to plan everything from figuring out where to stay, where to eat, and how to get around. All that planning can cause some stress for some, so once in a while it’s nice to be taken care of and a group tour does just that.
Our tour guide Elisabetta was amazing. She always explained our plans for each day in advance, coordinated our transportation and schedules, and gave us good advice on things to do and places to eat. While I’m sure I could have researched the hiking trails on the Amalfi Coast and done the hikes on my own, it was so valuable to have Elisabetta lead us expertly as she had done the hikes many many times before and was super knowledgeable. We had two private vans drive us to and from the start and end of our hiking trails, or to ferry landings, or to the train station. Our agriturismo in Furore was our home base for the week and the owners prepared all of our breakfasts and dinners, all of which were included in the cost of the tour. All of the basics and logistics were taken care of so we didn’t have to worry about a thing and could just enjoy our trip.
You can still do a lot if you’re short on time. I think I could have taken a tour longer than 8 days but I did need to get back to work so a week-long tour was perfect for me and I got to see so much from Pompeii and Amalfi to Ravello and Positano. And since these towns were quite small, I was able to see everything within a couple hours after we had finished our hikes and had lunch. While I would have liked a couple extra days to see Capri and Sorrento, in hindsight I’m glad I also had some downtime at the agriturismo because this was a vacation after all. I think a tour is ideal for people short on time especially people who can’t take a lot of days off from work. And of course you can always travel back to a place if you feel you need to explore some more.
You will experience something you may not otherwise get to do. If I had planned an Amalfi Coast trip myself, I’m sure I would have stuck to the main touristy areas and booked a regular hotel but the “local living” theme of our tour gave me the opportunity to have an off-the-beaten-path experience. One of the many benefits of this trip was that we got to stay in an agriturismo in Furore, a quiet town above the more busy port of Amalfi. The farm stay was so peaceful and the young family who owned it were so generous and hard-working. They cooked amazing four-course meals for us every night using the fresh produce grown on their farm and they made sure we were comfortable in all of the eight rooms we occupied throughout the week. It was my first time staying at an agriturismo and I would never have thought to stay somewhere so unique to my travels had it not been for the tour.
You will get out of your comfort zone. I travel for the culture, the food, the history, the museums. While I love to get out into nature, I’m not one to do a lot of physical activity or to sign up for adventure sports, so I was hesitant to join this tour because we would be hiking throughout the week. I’m not a professional hiker and I didn’t want to be the one person who was lagging behind everyone else because I couldn’t keep up. Our guide Elisabetta was great though and every night at dinner she would go over the ins and outs of the next day’s hike so we would be prepared and she always gave us the option to sit out a hike if we didn’t feel up to it. But I did all of the hikes, except the last and most difficult hike, and everything went perfectly fine. We took a lot of breaks to sip water, take in the view, and listen to Elisabetta teach us about the areas we were hiking through. Throughout the hikes, I focused on putting one step in front of the other and my breathing (thanks yoga!). I’m so glad that I didn’t let the idea of hiking intimidate me otherwise I would have missed out on an amazing trip. I actually enjoyed pushing myself and getting my heart pumping. It felt good to be out in the fresh air and the sun and the views were so worth it. Now I look forward to hiking at home or wherever else I may travel in the future.
Have you ever been on a group tour? What did you like or not like about it?
*I paid for my own way on the “Local Living Italy – Amalfi Coast” tour with G Adventures and all thoughts and opinions are my own.