Should you go on a group tour? My personal experience

Should you go on a group tour? My personal experience

In November I did something I’ve never done before – I went on an 8 day group tour to Egypt.

Normally I pick up my backpack, book a hostel and take off with a vague list of places to see based on what looks hot on Instagram. But Egypt hasn’t got the best reputation when it comes to tourists – especially solo females. So I booked a group tour.

I chose G Adventures “Best of Egypt” based on another traveller’s recommendation. Booking was easy on the website, you’ll see that almost all the tours are “on-sale”. I paid £720 for the basic tour but with all the extras (like a trip to Abu Simbel at £100) it was closer to £1,000.

While this sounds like a lot of money it was a once in a lifetime experience for me. I wanted to see all the incredible sights – the Pyramids of Giza, Nile River, Valley of the Kings and Abu Simbel, but as a country Egypt is tough going. Too many scams and lots of hassle.

So back to the tour.

What’s included: Accommodation, knowledgeable guide, transport, some meals, overnight train, temple and museum entry, and felucca boat trip.

What’s not included: Airport transfer, other meals, wifi, Egyptian visa ($25), entrance to additional tombs and temples, and tips.

First stop on the group tour was the Pyramids of Giza
Pyramids of Giza

You have a knowledgeable tour guide

This is the number one benefit of going on a group tour. Our guide really knew his stuff on ancient Egypt, I think he even had a degree in it. I learnt a lot.

Some people on the tour hadn’t travelled much and 100% relied on the guide. For example, they wouldn’t leave the hotel to buy water without him and he even carried money for them as they were too nervous. If you are unsure about travel, this is the ideal set up for you. I felt safe with the group at all times.

ATMs in Egypt rarely work, even the ones outside banks and nice hotels, and hardly anyone takes credit cards. It’s still a cash based society. So it’s nice knowing that in an emergency there’s someone who can help.

You don’t have to worry about transport

It’s such a relief not worrying about what platform your train is leaving from, waiting for an early morning bus that may or may not turn up or stuffing into an crowded no-aircon shared taxi (I’ve done them all). Having organised transport is great.

Group tours stick out

One of my favourite parts of travelling is the thrill of walking around a new city and feeling anonymous, no one knows me, I can be whoever I want, go at my own pace. However, in a group tour of 14 people from different parts of the world with a tour guide, you stick out like a sore thumb. At one point we even wore stickers to identify us. It makes you a target for sellers who literally swarm all over you.

Tour group outside Abu Simbel
Tour group outside Abu Simbel

Lots of couples

This was something I didn’t expect. Almost everyone was either a married couple or a friendship couple. I was one of the only people on their own.

In the past I’ve travelled with a boyfriend and we never thought about booking a group tour. Instead we planned out the trip, booked our hotels and navigated places on our own, occasionally taking a group day tour somewhere. Why would we need a group tour when we had each other?

Being on your own on a “couples tour” does make you feel very out of place when everyone is paired off together. If I were to book a group tour again, I would take a friend or book one for solo people.

Looking over the Nile in Aswan
Looking over the Nile in Aswan

No control over the accommodation

When you book the tour they don’t give you the names of the hotels. Instead they say “similar to (insert a hotel)”. Perhaps this is because they don’t want people to check out the rating on Booking.com. Of all the hotels I stayed in I wouldn’t have booked any of them as there were better hotels for the same price and location.

G Adventures prides itself on helping local communities, which means they only use 100% Egyptian owned hotels. These are actually fairly limited and the hotels don’t have to worry about the standard of service they deliver as they always have G Adventures’ custom. Service was non-existent, room service didn’t turn up and receptionists ignored us. I’m not sure if it’s like this in other countries, but this is something to consider if heading to Egypt with this particular company.

Also, they advertise the hotels as having wifi – none of them did, or they wanted to charge an extortionate price for it, and even then it wouldn’t work. If I had known I’d go without wifi for the whole trip I would have bought a SIM card with more data. Wifi isn’t a given, even when advertised.

One of the stops on the group tour was the Temple of Hatshepsut
Temple of Hatshepsut

You have to share a room

I have no problem with sharing a room. I’ve stayed in multiple hostel dorms with up to 12 people. However, the person you share with might not be so used to it. I was super excited to meet my roommate, make a new friend and have someone to share the tour with. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. She hadn’t travelled much, was older and we had nothing in common. Disappointing but I could deal with it, however the room shaking snoring was hard to deal with. After 6 days, I asked to get my own room, I needed sleep. The guide told me off for being selfish and that I should have paid the £200 supplement for my own room on the tour, I disagreed and thought the person snoring should have done that, but alas.

Who you share a room with is a lottery and they don’t seem to pair people up based on common interests. This is another reason why it’s a good idea to take a partner/friend, so you can share a room with them.

You learn patience

As with all things involving a large group of people, there will be times when you have to wait for others. Patience is something I’m working on as I’m used to running to my own schedule on trips.

You don’t have to make decisions on where to eat but you will go to tourist traps

How many times have you wandered around with friends on holiday looking for somewhere to eat? No one ever wants to make that decision and you can be walking around for hours.

On a tour, this is all sorted for you which is a plus. However, the restaurants will be tourist traps – expensive, bland food and over an hour wait for the food to arrive. Often no one else is there or it’s full of other tour groups. Nothing authentic about it.

It was times like this when I wished I had someone to pair up with. I’m a big foodie and love to try all the local food and drink. Food was not a priority on the tour, it was more about going to places which could house a table of 14 people.

When you actually get to interact with the locals – it’s good

You don’t get many chances to interact with locals as you’re in a group and on a schedule. Within the tour we ate with local families twice. Lots of tours include “eat with a local experience”. The food was basic but entering the traditional Nubian village houses and meeting the locals was as close to an authentic experience as you can get (even though you are paying for it). I recommend you try and book a tour with an option like this as it breaks up the restaurants mentioned above.

The tour group eating a meal at a traditional Nubian Village
Meal in a traditional Nubian village

You make friends for life – apparently

Before booking a tour I read this a lot and went expecting it. But as everyone knows – don’t have expectations on anything in life! It usually leads to disappointment. It’s best to go in with zero expectations on the other people.

It’s totally uncontrollable and random who is in your group – I had an older couple who were lovely to me, a super funny guy who did his best to make everyone laugh, a guy my age who flat out refused to talk to me when I tried to start a conversation, and one woman who I thought I got on great with but quickly deleted me from all her social media after the trip.

Just because you’ve booked the same tour doesn’t mean you’ll have anything else in common. If you do – that’s an added bonus.

Don’t get any free time for fitness

This doesn’t really apply to me but on my travels I’ve met many (mainly guys) who are into fitness – finding a gym to get a workout in or going for a run. A tour is very structured with little free time to fit in workouts. If you are strict about your fitness and don’t want to take time off from it, then a group tour might not be the way to go.

You have to tip, even terrible service

Tipping wasn’t a choice. On the first night you are told you must pay a set amount for tips which will be divided equally between the hotel staff, drivers, luggage handlers etc.

On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about tipping for the trip. However, I thought the guys working on the felucca boat were amazing, literally walking along ropes, carrying full heavy suitcases. I personally wanted to tip them more than the guy on hotel reception who tried to overcharge me for a bottle of water.

The felucca boats the tour group slept on
Felucca boats we slept on

Conclusion

Overall, there are lots of pros and cons about going on a group tour.

If you are a nervous person wanting to visit somewhere but are worried about going alone, a group tour is a good idea.

If, like me, you’ve travelled a lot and don’t like being too constricted you might find an 8 day group tour suffocating. Instead, do your own thing with day tours.

I’m not rushing to book my next group tour. If I were to do one again, I would go with a friend or on a tour specifically for solo people.

2 Replies to “Should you go on a group tour? My personal experience”

  1. In some countries, group touring might be the better option. As you mentioned, scheduling transportation and logistics is tricky especially if you want to visit every major sites in a “short” 8-day trip.
    The food part is definitely interesting. There is always a difference between what tourists think what local people eat and what local people actually eat.
    I saw you did the step pyramid by yourself. That must have made your group touring experience a little bit more spicier.

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