Do Big Bus Tour Groups Have Advantages?

categories: africa travel
Cosmos Tour Group - Giza Egypt 2010

Cosmos Tour Group – Giza Egypt 2010

On the Bus

I feel fortunate that I got to take a tour to Egypt last November and doubly so because of all that is happening in that country now. But before the tour I was a bit nervous. In part because it was the first Amateur Traveler tour so at least some of the people were coming because I told them it would be fun. But I was also nervous because I have traditionally been an independent traveler and I was not so sure about the idea of traveling with a bus load of people. I put on the tour with Photography Ralph Velasco, but our tour was part of a larger tour from Cosmos which is the budget brand of Globus Tours.

My big fear was winding up on a busload of whiny people. Now, granted I have sometimes traveled with whiny people that I am related to, but doing so with strangers did not sound that fun. I will admit that some of this bias against tours has also rubbed off from other travel blogger friends. After the tour I have to say I enjoyed it. Did it convert me to take my next trip on a big tour bus? Probably not, but I was intrigued with this letter I received from Enid who had come on the tour with us (used with Enid’s permission of course):

Enid

Hi Chris and Ralph:

I thought you might be interested in some feedback on our Egypt trip. I’ve been thinking a lot about it because it has really shaped my plans for future travel. The trip was not at all what I expected and I loved it.

I had only taken one tour before — a tour of India entitled, Following in the Footsteps of Carl Jung. It was a small group, about 15, and we had daily discussions of Jung. The accommodations were excellent and the food was spectacular.

That was sort of what I expected this time, which was probably silly on my part since that trip was much more expensive than this one. I never thought I would enjoy one of these comparatively down market bus tours in the company of 30 or 40 touristas. Chris, from the comments you have made, I take it you are still not inclined towards that form of travel.

Excursion to Abu Simbel

Excursion to Abu Simbel

But when I thought about it, I realized that I had not enjoyed the company on the Jung trip. Since we were an intimate and limited group, each person’s idiosyncrasies exerted a great influence on everyone else. Similarly, I would have enjoyed this trip much less if I had only the photography group for company. I know that is a politically incorrect statement (at best), but I enjoyed being able to interact with many different people and our very excellent guide was able to effectively herd the large group. Individual idiosyncrasies were less grating. I actually made two real friends on the trip, one from the photography group and one from the general population, with whom I remain in touch.

I would like to have had more photographic time. Perhaps if we could have left the group more often or even just more discussions during the off hours. The limited amount of time we had was very very valuable to me and I look forward to Ralph’s feedback on the pictures I uploaded ( even doing that was a major accomplishment for me). I found the food to be shockingly unsatisfactory until we got on the boat. But, when I think about how cheap the trip was and how much we got for our money, that seems very forgivable. (I think the Indian tour was almost 3 times as expensive and, since we had different tour guides at each site, they were of an uneven quality. Even the best did not beat Hesham.)

Our Wonderful Guide - Hesham

Our Wonderful Guide – Hesham

I have traveled many different ways, alone, with friends, with a husband, and I find that my favorite, as of now, is in a bus with a big group of touristas. How amazing. And so I am scouring sites like Cosmos, Smartours, ABC Travel for other incredibly affordable adventures. Of course, if they have a photographic aspect, all the better, so keep me informed of where you are going next.

Enid

Our tour group had been a cross section of mostly English speaking tourists. Lots of people from England, some from the U.S., Ireland and Australia as well. And Enid is right, we met some very nice people. Was there any whining? Yes, there was some but all in all it was a fun group.

Photographic Tours

I should point out that Ralph had a similar reaction to Enid about the amount of time to add in a photographic component on the tour and has switched his tours to use Globus’ Monogram Tours which are geared more for independent travelers.

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by Chris Christensen

I am the host of the Amateur Traveler. The Amateur Traveler is an online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations and what are the best places to travel to. It includes both a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog.

9 Responses to “Do Big Bus Tour Groups Have Advantages?”

enid

Says:

Hi Chris:

I just re-read my letter and still feel exactly the same way. I am so grateful I went to Egypt in November from every perspective.

Enid

Crissy

Says:

Chris,
I have done several group tours in Europe and have enjoyed them quite a bit. I am often traveling alone so I enjoy the company. I have made some good friends over the course of my trips. I am going to visit with a friend I made touring through Egypt a few years ago, she lives in Ireland so I will be betting a locals tour of Ireland on my next trip. But there on some down sides to tours – the occasional whiney people – the people on a tour can make it or break it. Also the tour guide who runs the tour – I’ve had some that did the bare minimum and some that have gone above and beyond – it does make a difference in the experience. I think the most important thing for people who are considering a tour is to understand what they’re getting into. Different tour companies offer different types of tours – some more more scheduled then others, some have smaller groups, some are large. They can all be good, but not necessarily a good fit for everyone.

chris2x

Says:

Crissy, well said. I agree that there is no one right way to travel, although there might be one way that is a better fir for me… today.

Devon

Says:

Travel light and in small groups. I hate trips being over powered by head strong know it alls!!!

chris2x

Says:

I feel like I should stick up for my head-strong know-it-all brethren.

Kyle Morgan

Says:

I’m glad I made it to Egypt before all this as well, but I can’t wait to go back and see how different things are (after everything settles down!).

Katherine

Says:

Having been a Tour Manager for 30 years with many of the top tour operators in the U.S., I wanted to comment on Tour Bus Travel.
Yes, the Tour Manager makes or breaks the tour. In my briefing at the beginning of the tour, I spoke about loosing some individualism, the Front Seat Hog and the Whiner….politely but firmly. This briefing makes all the difference in a successful trip. It sets the mood.
When you put all the expenses together for what it would cost to do something like this on your own, you can see the value of tour group travel. It sure isnt for everybody and those grouchy reluctant ones, I just don’t understand why they do come on a group tour (other than their spouse made them!).
Group travel is the only way to go in far away destinations like China, Egypt, India and other exotic destinations. The safety net, experienced Tour Manager and those who are so curious to leave the comfort of their living room all have the same common interest.
You need to look at the tour operator as well….the cheaper the tour, the less savvy traveller you have in your group. Cosmos is among the cheapest and least savvy travellers. Travcoa and Tauck are among the most expensive and most savvy of travellers. Brendan Tours (now Trafalgar), Collette and Smarttours are middle range – travellers on these tours have several tour group experiences under their belt. As for leaving the group and doing things on your own, I encouraged it. I know not all aspects are what everyone wants. I would assist those wanting to take a car or wander on their own…because I would want to do the same.
My book is being published as I write….”The Ethnocurious Traveller”. It hits on the many passengers and tour manager trials and joys. Hope you will read it. I would go with a tour group even after retiring as a Tour Manager because it is value for money but the thread of common interest is what makes it so worthwhile. What a wonderful World!

chris2x

Says:

great perspective Katherine, thanks!

Kathy

Says:

“Group travel is the only way to go in far away destinations like China, Egypt, India and other exotic destinations.”

Totally disagree. It’s certainly one way to travel, but my third trip to China was seven weeks solo, and both my India trips were solo – ten weeks the first time and six the second. I’m just finishing a six month RTW that was almost entirely in Asia – solo. In fact, tours in China can be the worst way to travel – too many shopping “opportunities” with kickbacks to the guide(s) for starters.

I’ve done group travel, but am really happier solo, although I’ll still do an occasional group, usually with an outfit like Intrepid which runs a max of 12 people. I’ve done Rick Steves’ tours as well, although his groups have gotten a bit big for my taste. At least his tour leaders insist on people showing up on time – you can waste an incredible amount of time with a big group if people aren’t prompt.

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