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The benefits of escorted tours vs. independent travel

02 November 2016 ( 25 October 2018 )

Go with the group or strike out alone? Saga weighs up the pros and cons of escorted deals and autonomous adventures…

Train in Sri Lanka through tea plant
Thinking of going on a touring holiday but not sure whether to embark on an escorted tour or travel independently? We list the pros and cons of both to help you make up your mind.

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Escorted tours: The pros

There’s minimal planning stress and you only pay once

According to a survey earlier this year, 15% of British people find the stress of booking holidays equivalent to a bad day at work. 

Given that usual holiday-planning involves precious hours wasted poring over foreign train timetables or hotel comparison websites, this will come as little surprise to many travellers. 

On escorted tours, a benevolent guardian angel (otherwise known as the tour organisers) has already done this for you.

In addition to less planning, nearly all accommodation, transfers and excursion prices will be incorporated in the main price of the escorted tour, allowing you to budget more effectively. 

Transfers, tour guides and some meals, along with sightseeing and entrance fees to attractions are usually included too.

Reps can be saviours

Holidaymakers often run into problems – lost luggage, over-flowing hotel room toilets, fish-bones getting stuck in your throat… 

In the likelihood of such catastrophes, tour customers can relax safe in the knowledge that to know there’ll be somebody on hand to help them - possibly with Heimlich manouvre skills too.

The reassurance of insurance

Most large operators have their tours protected by ABTA [Association of British Travel Agents] and the government-backed ATOL scheme, which will protect you should your airline go bust.

Escorted tours are more cost-effective for bucket-list trips to large regions

Want to see South America during one two-week swoop? Well, many escorted tours will enable you to see Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Iguassu Falls, Patagonia and Chile all within one fortnight. 

Attempting to do this yourself would be a costly logistical nightmare.

Escorted tours are perfect for ‘difficult’ countries

Escorted tours are the easiest and safest way to see emerging or less well-trodden countries such as North Korea, Iran or Afghanistan. 

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Escorted Tours: The cons

Escorted tours can occasionally be too sanitised

Riding on public transport, taking a long-shot on a street-food stall or nattering away with dodgy-looking characters in dive bars are all character-building experiences that give a fresh perspective on a destination. 

Sadly, many escorted tours keep their customers shielded from such joys, with itineraries granting little time to stray off the beaten path.

The occasional superfluous add-ons

Some package deals include add-ons such as chauffeured transfers, airport parking or all-inclusive bars – which are not always strictly necessary and can often be booked cheaper independently.

Escorted tours aren’t always great for sampling local life

Want to experience a Kerala homestay through Airbnb? Or a charming Ho Chi Minh back-street diner that a friend has recommended? Unfortunately, escorted tours don’t always offer the flexibility to allow this.

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Independent travel: The pros

You’re the boss

You might have stumbled across a charming Mexican village and feel like delaying your flight by another day. Or maybe you have a long-lost cousin in the Adelaide suburbs you need to visit.

Or, perhaps, you feel like staying underneath the duvet all day after sinking too many cocktails last night. Due to the strict time schedule of many escorted tours, you rarely have the freedom to pursue these options.   

It offers a more immersive experience

Escorted tours are excellent for showcasing essential sights in a limited time frame.

But unfortunately they don’t allow customers carte blanche to tootle off and immerse themselves in local life, whether that's staying at a family guesthouse, travelling on public transport or spending hours soaking up the ambience and befriending locals in a café.

It forces you to learn the local lingo

Most escorted tours have a translator or a guide fluent in the native language. 

For those who want to pick up the local tongue, independent travel is possibly better, as it forces you to order food and strike up conversations in the local language (or at least jab away and start gesticulating wildly at the translation app on your phone).

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Independent travel: The cons

Those who crave home comforts may be disappointed

If you prefer air-conditioned luxury coaches to being tossed around in unventilated, maniacally-driven buses, or touring in the company of your fellow countrymen versus strangers, then escorted tours are for you.

Sadly, you’re not an expert in your destination. Escorted tour organisers are!

The pressures of plotting trips yourself means travellers can be prone to making simple mistakes, such as failing to check a museum isn’t open on the Monday that you’re visiting the city.

Having arranged scores of trips to that destination before, escorted tour bosses would ensure the itinerary incudes a visit to that museum – when it’s actually open. You’ll also probably skip the mile-long queues snaking outside too.

Some holidays are extremely difficult - and expensive - to plan independently

 Ever tried plotting your own safari in Kenya? 

You’ll have to arrange renting a car (and brush up on local driving laws), national park entrance fees, finding local guides, sourcing decent camps and lodges, not to mention dealing with the prospect of unexpected problems (what happens if your car breaks down in the middle of a lion-infested savannah? Does the Masai Mara have petrol stations?).

Unforeseen costs

 Independent travellers often underestimate the size of their credit card bill waiting at home. With escorted tours, all costs are taken care of.

Q I have booked a holiday to Switzerland independently, staying at three different hotels. The first two will have been paid for before we go, but the final hotel needs to be paid while we’re there. The bill will be about 950 Swiss francs; can you suggest the best way to pay, please? My ideas are to use either Amex or MasterCard or buy a pre-paid card with the money uploaded.

To be honest, it’s a case of ‘you pays your money, you takes your choice’! Both have their advantages. Depending when you buy a pre-paid card, you are at the mercy of currency rate fluctuation between the day of purchase and when you travel – though sterling has done well against the Swiss franc in the past year. It’s important to check the rates when you buy: look at, which can also find you the best deal on pre-paid cards. 

Extract taken from Saga Magazine, February 2018. For more travel tips, subscribe to the magazine today!


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.