Should you travel as part of a group trip (Contiki Tours, Gap Adventures, etc.)?
Well, it depends. Our goal is to help you make an educated decision on the matter. In this post, we’re going to cover:
- The pros & cons of traveling by yourself vs. in a group tour
- A detailed comparison of all the popular group tour providers, including approximate costs and what kind of traveler each is best suited for. We’ve also included some reviews from Reddit for each provider.
Let’s get started!
Pros & Cons of Group Tours For Solo Travelers
Here’s a breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of traveling as part of a group tour.
Pros of Group Tours (The Good):
- It’s never a dull moment when you’re traveling in a group. Whatever happens, there will be a conversation going on about it. And with enough people, the chances of something unexpected happening are very high. If you’re the kind of person who finds it difficult to travel alone, a group tour is a way to get all the social benefits without the need to rally your friends back home to join you.
- You’ll make some new friends. Group tours attract lots of solo travelers, so everyone’s starting out “by themselves”–striking up a conversation and making a new friend is pretty easy. And the more stuff you do together, the more at ease you’ll feel with one another. Not to mention that you all (independently) signed up for the exact same tour–so you probably have far more in common with a group member than with another traveler taken at random.
- Safety in numbers: if you’re traveling in a group, everyone is looking out for one another. There’s less chance of someone attempting a mugging (unless one of you strays from the herd). This point is especially amplified at night–it helps to have a buddy or two when you’re drinking and partying in a foreign land.
- Local wisdom can make any trip more interesting. Group tours benefit from having access to knowledgeable guides that can explain the significance of important locations, attractions, dishes, etc. You’ll save a lot of time flipping through guidebooks and translating everything back to English.
- Ease of travel: forget planning out your accommodation, meals, and day-to-day itineraries. The tours generally have everything prepared already–it’s truly travel on easy mode!
- Exotic destinations can become a possibility with a group tour. It’s much harder to justify a solo trip to Antarctica, for example, when there’s a possibility of splitting costs 15-20 ways via a tour group. Even if the tour is expensive, you may still come out ahead than if you attempted to pull it off by yourself. Naturally, this varies by operator and destination.
- The possibility of sexy times. What do you think happens when you put a bunch of singles on the same trip–and fill up their day with activities that encourage social bonding? Romantic relationships and quick flings are not unheard of, especially when the nights are spent partying and dancing.
Cons of Group Tours (The Bad):
- It’s never a dull moment. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, group tours may not be the best solution. At the end of the day, these packages are about having a great time together — and this often takes precedence over immersing yourself in the local culture or attractions. Extroverted people will naturally be comfortable in a group setting when traveling, while introverts may feel a nagging claustrophobia.
- Being the odd one out isn’t very fun. If it happens that you don’t get along with anyone else on the trip, you’re still stuck with them until it’s over. Maybe you’re very introverted, and they’re not. Or vice versa. Or maybe you don’t fit the demographic profile (this is why operators often have references or even limits as to the age of the participants).
- Too much alcohol. Not to generalize too much about tour providers (there are a lot to choose from, all with their own approach), but many of the companies that target 18-35 year olds put a heavy emphasis on partying and going out. This leads to a lot of alcohol-fueled nights, and a lot of time spent in bars/clubs. It can be a lot of fun, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. Make sure you read reviews before you commit to a particular operator! (If possible, talk to someone who has gone on a similar trip with them).
- Missing out on the actual destination. This may sound a bit silly, but a group tour *may* limit your interaction with the local attractions. If the focus is on doing everything “together” and bonding, then there’s naturally less time for solitary activities such as going on a photo walk, exploring a museum, or getting lost in the side streets of a foreign place.
- Less chance of interacting with locals. It applies in almost any situation (regardless of whether you’re on a trip): when you’re in a group, strangers are less likely to strike up a conversation with you. A group acts as a social “shield”–both protecting its members and organically “repelling” anyone else. Contrast this with the typical experience of a true solo traveler–everyone’s naturally curious about someone traveling alone and many will ask questions and try to get to know you.
- You’re stuck with the itinerary. Group tours take away a lot of the freedom that attracts people to solo trips in the first place. The start and end dates are fixed. Most of the day-to-day activities are predetermined, and are not going to change. Even the meals may be pre-booked in restaurants of the tour operator’s choosing. And if you want to spend less or more time in a particular place, it will have to happen on a future trip.
- Being told what to do. As a naturally independent person, this is something I’ve always struggled with. I have trouble taking orders from people, especially when I’m on a vacation that I paid for. Sure, I’ll wake up at 8 AM to get on the damn boat–but I won’t like it. And the idea of having someone else determine how much “free time” I have in a given day? It’s a tough pill to swallow.
- Cost: group tours can be very expensive. Before you commit to spending thousands on an 8 day / 7 night itinerary, check to see how much the trip would cost you if you were to book everything by yourself.
Comparison of The Most Popular Group Tour Providers
All the companies below are reputable group tour operators–they have been doing this for decades. And while you’re unlikely to go wrong with any of them, there are some differences between how they operate, where they travel, target demographic, and general approach to travel.
In alphabetical order:
“Travel with no regrets”
Full name: Contiki Travel Tours (website)
Founded: 1962 (New Zealand)
Description: “Contiki is the travel company exclusively for 18-35 year olds. Our purpose is to connect young travellers to the time of their lives.”
Where they go: “350 trips across 6 continents” (everywhere except Antarctica)
Target demographic: 18-35 year olds
Price range: $230 – $9,800 USD
Trip length: from 3 to 55 days
Trip photos: Contiki Instagram feed
Word on the street (anonymous Reddit reviews):
“If I had to redo the choice of either going myself on a DIY trip and going through Contiki for my first Euro trip, I would 1000% do Contiki again. The people I met were amazing, and it was essentially like a road trip through Europe. It was a great gateway for someone like me who had never been to Europe and was nervous about planning everything and getting between places. I’m heading back to Europe for two weeks this fall and revisiting some of the countries that I loved. If you are a solo traveler, it is a great way to meet people.” – kb32492
“I did Contiki (Europe) when I was in my early 20s and I generally had fun. It was my first time travelling and went with a few friends and had a good time. Lots of drinking and such. It was expensive, but easy to organise. The ‘extras’ tagged on were sometimes a bit so-so. Also, a lot depends on the person/drivers hosting you. My guy was incredibly annoying and seemed to use the contiki tour as his own personal pick up joint. The hotels we stayed at were reasonable, but not awesome.” – loggerheader
“Did a Contiki last year in England and Scotland, absolutely loved it. Was my first time overseas and I wanted to do it on my own as I didn’t really have any friends to go with, sounds cliched but absolutely no regrets. My tour was only ten days unfortunately, and it only left me wanting more. The trip managers are pretty cool, the coach is comfortable enough. We had a good enough mix of people: those wanting to party and those just wanting to see sights and experiences. I definitely had a good mix of both.” – swanny246
“I am from California. And I have traveled 3 times with Contiki. Highly support it. Great for people in their mid 20s. Fast paced, get to see a lot. Tour guides are generally super knowledgeable. I think they do Europe the best. I liked my Europe Spain Contiki better than my Asia Contiki.” – s0ysauce09
“Help make our world a little bit better, one adventure at a time”
Full name: G Adventures (website)
Founded: 1990 (Toronto, Canada)
Description: “G Adventures is an adventure travel pioneer offering the planet’s most awe-inspiring selection of affordable small-group tours, safaris and expeditions.”
Where they go: Over 700 different tours across 100+ countries (all continents)
Target demographic: minimum 18 years old. No upper age limit on most tours, but their 18-to-Thirtysomethings tours are limited to 18-to-39-year-olds
Price range: $240 – $16,000 USD
Trip length: from 2 to 65 days
Trip photos: G Adventures Instagram feed
Word on the street (anonymous Reddit reviews):
“I’ve done 5 trips with them in the past and have another one booked… I’ve picked tours where I felt the logistics would have been a bit more difficult to do on my own…. they generally are relatively fast paced tours, and you’ll often want a holiday at the end. Overall I’ve found the itineraries of the trips I’ve done to be structured very well – most places I would have loved more time in (as is the nature of travel) but was very happy with what I did/saw and didn’t feel like I’d missed out. There’s also been a good mix of “organised time” and “free time.” – cupp95
“I’ve travelled with them ten times on five continents. They have 3 styles of travel: 18-30something (basic, hostels, public transport), classic (standard hotels, private transport) and comfort (upgraded hotels, a/c busses, etc.) I’ve travelled on both 18-30something and classic. Age group in the former is mostly 18-25, and classic is mostly 25-40+
You usually share a room with 1 person (or more if hostel accommodation), but always same gender, and never with strangers. It’s massive fun, and you get to make a lot of new friends as part of the trip. You always have people to hang out with if you want (no force).
I wouldn’t use G in Europe because it’s easy to do on your own, except maybe for their sailing trips around the med. I used them in Australia & NZ, which maybe wasn’t necessary, but I had a great time. SEA wasn’t as amazing, so I wouldn’t recommend them there either. But their tours in all of Latin America is great, they’re epic in Central Asia, and have fantastic trips in Africa.
Finally, their trips can be really good value. Look at their website for tours on offer.” – windcape
“Responsible travel, small groups and very (very) big adventures”
Full name: Intrepid Travel (website)
Founded: 1989 (Melbourne, Australia)
Description: “The world’s largest small-group adventure tour company, carrying over 100,000 travellers across the globe each year”
Where they go: “more than 1,000 adventures in over 100 countries” (all continents)
Target demographic: all ages (18+). Some tours are limited to 18-29 year olds.
Price range: $515 – $18,000 USD
Trip length: from 4 to 58 days
Trip photos: Intrepid Instagram feed
Word on the street (anonymous Reddit reviews):
“I did my first Intrepid tour last year! I went to Egypt and Jordan and I did one of the all ages trips. I LOVED it. I went as a solo traveller 28 years old. For my Egypt group the range was 24-71. I’d say half of those people were mid to late 20s, the other half were older. I was one of 3 solo travelers. You spend a lot of time together socially. You travel together to and tour each location together so there’s a lot of socializing. Typically after you tour the location with your guide you get like an hour or two to walk around on your own and typically you stick with a couple of members from the group so you have a buddy to explore with. Our tour leader was also great at arranging large group dinners with the whole squad, but that was optional.” – lhs0726
“I’ve traveled a lot with Intrepid and it’s usually a huge variety of age ranges. A lot of younger people who want a party atmosphere will do the trips specifically for younger people. If you want that, go for it. If not, stick with the mixed crowd.” – huddle1031
“I’ve been on 2 intrepid tours and one of the guides told me the key is in the price. Intrepid has tiers, and the cheapest tier is (almost) always full of young people, where as the expensive tier is (almost) always full of older people. You will have a good time regardless though!” – furiousfire
“I did a 15-day trip to India with Intrepid Travel last June and had an amazing time. There were 11 of us including the guide. I was solo, as was a few others. There was a mother/daughter from the US, a couple from New Zealand, and a couple from Australia.” – kilroyishere89
“Here at Topdeck, it’s your trip, your way”
Full name: Topdeck Travel (website)
Founded: 1973 (United Kingdom)
Description: “We offer variety, comfort and value for money, and promise a hassle-free holiday, loaded with authentic local experiences.”
Where they go: “330 different tours in 65 countries” (all continents except South America and Antarctica)
Target demographic: “18 to 30-somethings”
Price range: $180 – $7,700 USD
Trip length: from 4 to 58 days
Trip photos: Topdeck Instagram feed
Word on the street (anonymous Reddit reviews):
“I went on a Topdeck tour many years ago to Europe. I wasn’t alone but many people were. I have mixed feelings about these organised trips. I had a great time ,made some really good connections and definitely saw A LOT! almost too much. this was my biggest beef, we were constantly on the move. we were in 9 countries in 3 weeks. I really didn’t get to fully enjoy or experience any one place because we were in and out so fast. One great advantage is that everything is planned for you, you can sit back and enjoy the ride.” – travelboy
“I have done 2 tours with Topdeck before and both were brilliant. The first one was a 4 day ANZAC day tour to Gallipoli and Istanbul in Turkey, the second was a 9 day tour of Egypt. They were professional and the guides were fantastic. But the best part (from your point of view) is that it was really easy to make friends, especially because it was a pretty small group (10 -12 people). All it takes is one night at the pub and you’ll never want to forget them” – lukemarlin
“I decided to do a Topdeck tour because I had 0 experience overseas and had friends who had done Topdeck trips and loved it.
- It’s a fantastic balance of scheduled activities and free time
- Got to meet a group of fantastic people
- Everything was booked. Didn’t have to worry about finding transport and accommodation
- Knowledgable guides who could answer any questions I had. Give good recommendations on what to do on free time
- always had somebody to do activities with but could also just do your own thing on free days
- a lot of meals are included (65% on estimate)
- my group was very sociable. Always went out on a night, met new people from other tours. However there was no stigma if you decided to have an early night – definitely made friends for life
- not as cheap if you booked it all by yourself
- the final couple of days I was starting to get sick of a few people. just stayed away from them; was fine-
- if somebody gets sick, most likely you will as well
- having to get up at 8am for travel days is hard (just sleep on bus)
- only a couple of days in each city. If you like a place it’s not enough time. However if you don’t like it your out of there quickly
- you’re hanging out predominately with Aussies, kiwis and Canadians.” – Uleh11
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TL;DR: all the tour companies are great, and of course your experience will greatly depend on who you get in your group. Contiki and Topdeck seem to attract more of a “party” crowd, while G Adventures and Intrepid are a bit more toned down. Also, any tours to Europe typically involve much more partying than trips to other destinations.
If you’re looking for a smaller tour operator (that comes highly recommended by other solo travelers), check out Free and Easy Traveler.
Pro tip: if you have any questions, call the operator beforehand! Don’t be shy about asking for specific details about the typical age makeup of the tour(s) you’re considering. Also, ask if the tour generally gets more couples, more solo travelers, or an even split. Get all the details before you spend all your savings!
We hope this guide was helpful. If you feel that we’ve missed anything, please leave a comment below. Safe travels!
PS. Looking for solo travel destination ideas? Check out our article featuring great trip ideas for new solo travelers.