Invariably, when someone wants to pick my brain about international travel, they always end up asking some version of this question: "Is it cheaper to plan a trip on your own or go with a group travel company?" My answer, hands down, is go with group travel!
If you are considering an international vacation—even if it's years into the future—read on to see how traveling with a company on a group vacation can save more money than even the most careful individual planning.
Group deals on accommodations
Group travel companies are able to book packages and make arrangements at far greater discounts that an individual could get on her own. This was made obvious to me on a summer trip to the Amazon region. The Ceiba Tops Lodge, 45 minutes downstream from the Peruvian town of Iquitos, offered a 3-day/3-night package for $455.00. Not bad, but I still needed to get there. I could take a flight from the capital city of Lima to Iquitos on popular LAN airlines for anywhere from $400–500, depending on the day of the week, if I paid in advance…and I'd have to get to Lima, which would cost another $1000 or more. But my Amazonian adventure could come true (and did!) courtesy of GoAhead Tours' add-on at the same lodge with LAN airlines with this tour. The package from Lima which would have normally cost me upwards of $900 was only $499! When a travel company can guarantee a group of tourists, companies are much more willing to cut deals and offer special services like those we received—an early morning guided boat tour for bird watching, piranha fishing, and a special event show.
When you’re planning a vacation on your own, there are no safety nets. If you decide not to go or if personal events prevent you from following through on the vacation, you can be out thousands of dollars. Reputable group tour companies all offer some form of cancellation insurance, often available at anywhere from $50 to a few hundred dollars (depending on the location and trip length). Most also offer some general safety insurance policy or refund if weather or other natural causes prevent a planned event from occurring on tour. In part, due to established relationships, tour groups have much more leverage with on-ground services to allow them to recoup costs for events like these, whereas you might have a much more difficult time on your own.
Group travels packages—especially those abroad—are often all-inclusive or nearly-all-inclusive, so food and beverages at select meal times are prearranged. What I've found after taking three group vacations is that the availability of food and variety of extras (such as included wine or special dessert options) seems far greater with groups than individual patrons. For instance, on a trip to Turkey, our group was frequently treated to free cups of Turkish black and Turkish apple tea at dinner, special locally-caught ocean fish at seaside locations, and typically unavailable desserts (like a fresh fruit cake for our group at a Pamukkale restaurant) that others dining/traveling alone were not offered. My other trips have yielded similar mealtime extras that required no additional out-of-pocket expense.
Traveling with a group—even when you've just met your fellow explorers—makes it impossible to feel alone. There's always someone to snap your picture, split a cab ride or share souvenir bargain-shopping tips. Additionally, since group travel will be led by an individual, there's a built-in free resource for money exchange, language, or accommodation questions. Perhaps the old adage "safety in numbers" is most useful here: when traveling abroad, having a group of like-minded adults surrounding you can help put you at ease, even in the most stressful of international situations.
Opportunities for discounts
When you travel with a dedicated group tour company, various discounts are possible. They include such things like early booking discounts, last-minute specials, limited-time offers, and a host of get-paid-to-refer opportunities. When you plan via a group, it can be easy to save $200, $500, or even $1000 or more off the base price of a trip, which is something you can't do individually. Why? The group may be trying out a new tour or route, it may need to sell just a few available spaces, or it may be trying to encourage travel for a certain month or special event, like GoAhead's upcoming Eurochocolate Festival tour. (Yes, you read that correctly: an entire tour devoted to the wonders of chocolate!)
If you want to backpack Europe by foot, plan to rough it in tent accommodations in Mongolia, or wouldn't mind sleeping on a freighter for a few nights, you can certainly save money with alternative vacation routes. But if you want easy air travel, no-nonsense transfers and guaranteed hotel accommodations, group travel offers some heavy financial advantages.