11 Unexpected Benefits Of Traveling With A Tour Group

The coronavirus pandemic is still impacting travel, and destinations around the world have different COVID-19 restrictions in place. Always check and adhere to local government policies as you’re planning any future trips.

I went to Egypt with Contiki, a group travel operator, and it exceeded my expectations.

the book

My dream of seeing the pyramids feels as ancient as the country itself; I’m pretty I scribbled “visit Cairo” at the top of my bucket list in middle school. I’ve added many new places to that list but Egypt has retained its spot in first place for decades.

When I started combing through trips offered by Contiki, I was especially stoked by an itinerary that let me waltz through King Tut’s Tomb and sail the Nile River via a fancy boat. An aside: If you didn’t beg your parents for this Egyptology book via Scholastic mail order, then I’m afraid we don’t have much in common.

Candlewick

Now, what is Contiki?

TL;DR, I’m just now realizing how awesome these group trips are…aaaaand you can continue scrolling to see my thought process behind this statement.

a temple

I want to preface these points by saying that I, AnaMaria, am not the kind of person who would typically go for the “group tour” environment that Contiki delivers. I’ll elaborate in a bit. But let’s get into it, shall we?

AnaMaria Glavan / BuzzFeed

1.The idea of “solo travel” feels more accessible.

the Sahara

I would love to be a spontaneous adventurer who books last-minute flights and stays in cheap 16-person hostel rooms on my own, but I’m not. I listen to true crime podcasts. The world can seem scary. Especially from the perspective of a solo female traveler.

With operators like Contiki, you get the benefit of traveling “alone” but still have the safety net of being with a group, plus you have access to discounted tickets, cheaper accommodations, a built-in network of people to grab drinks with, etc.

AnaMaria Glavan / BuzzFeed

2.You also don’t have to coordinate with friends.

two people on a boat in the Red Sea

In my old age, I’ve come to the unfortunate realization that my friends have lives outside of me. It’s shocking. I can’t believe it. How rude of them.

But on a serious note, everyone has different PTO policies and various obligations that make coordinating dinner feel like a chore, let alone an extensive, weeklong adventure. If you’ve dreamed of sailing the Mediterranean this summer but friend A has a family wedding, friend B is pregnant, and friend C doesn’t have the vacay time, that’s okay. You can join one of these trips and bond with a built-in community instead.

AnaMaria Glavan / BuzzFeed

3.There is no predeparture planning required on your end.

the itinerary

Raise your hand if you’ve spent hours poring over hotel and flight options just to, at the end of all this research, scratch your head and say, “I quite literally don’t know where to start.” In a tour group, overnight accommodations are booked on your behalf, city-to-city travel is taken care of, plus certain tour operators can even book your flights (and they tend to get the most competitive rates as they work directly with travel agents). This is especially relevant for places like Egypt, where the geography is long and inner-country train rides can take up to 12 hours. You’d need to be very, very thorough if planning this without proper help.

The exception is if you arrive outside of the itinerary time frame. I arrived in Cairo a day early, for example, and had to arrange the first hotel overnight myself.

AnaMaria Glavan / BuzzFeed

4.You will get thorough instructions as to what is required preflight, plus all docs will live in one convenient place.

Visa requirements, passenger locator forms, COVID-19 protocols, whatever else you can think of. You'll get a tidy email that lists out everything you need. No more showing up to JFK with the anxiety of feeling like you forgot to scratch something off a predeparture checklist. This also saves you money in the long run. I would have paid $125 for a tourist visa before entering Egypt if I had booked an independent trip (it was a very confusing online process), but my Contiki rep told me it would be best to simply purchase one in the Cairo airport for $25. That is a massive price difference. As for COVID-19 protocols, you'll know what kind of testing you'll need and have clarity on when you need to do it (24-hour antigen tests, PCR tests being valid so long as they're taken 5 days before departure — the list goes on). They also schedule the COVID test you'll need before boarding a flight back home. Contiki was also very clear that all travelers had to be fully vaccinated to join their group tours. 

Visa requirements, passenger locator forms, COVID-19 protocols, whatever else you can think of. You’ll get a tidy email that lists out everything you need. No more showing up to JFK with the anxiety of feeling like you forgot to scratch something off a predeparture checklist.

This also saves you money in the long run. I would have paid $125 for a tourist visa before entering Egypt if I had booked an independent trip (it was a very confusing online process), but my Contiki rep told me it would be best to simply purchase one in the Cairo airport for $25. That is a massive price difference.

As for COVID-19 protocols, you’ll know what kind of testing you’ll need and have clarity on when you need to do it (24-hour antigen tests, PCR tests being valid so long as they’re taken 5 days before departure — the list goes on). They also schedule the COVID test you’ll need before boarding a flight back home. Contiki was also very clear that all travelers had to be fully vaccinated to join their group tours.

AnaMaria Glavan / BuzzFeed

5.Necessary tourist stops are packed into your itinerary.

camels in front of the pyramids

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do love itinerary planning. There’s something so intoxicating about opening up a fresh Google Doc to outline the hotel, food, and museum options I’ll want to see in person as opposed to romanticized on a Pinterest board. The drawbacks to this are the time required for planning and, on a note more relevant to me personally, the anxiety of feeling like you’re missing something.

Group trips like this are great because you have to do minimal research *and* you can rest assured knowing you’ll check off all the must-see boxes. You also get the crème de la crème of tourist experiences: Our guide, for example, knew exactly when and where to go to ensure we had the most unobstructed, crowd-free views.

An irrelevant but somewhat important sidenote: I wish we stopped thinking of “tourist spot” as a dirty, cringeworthy phrase. Like, if I’m going to Rome, I’m seeing the Colosseum.

AnaMaria Glavan / BuzzFeed

6.Your tour guide lives in the destination you’re visiting and has the best itinerary suggestions as a result.

the cow

My Contiki tour guide (hello Serif, you wonderful person) was born and raised in Cairo, has spent decades traveling Egypt, and is privy to immeasurable local expertise that no amount of googling can replace.

He has the insider scoop on the tourist spots worth visiting and better avoiding; he recommended the best, most budget-friendly food spots; he pulled me aside when he thought I was overpaying for a figurine at a local market; he coordinated a visit to a small village where we ate fresh bread and tea. Truly, the list goes on and on. I finished my trip feeling completely immersed in the culture.

AnaMaria Glavan / BuzzFeed

7.Travel hiccups are not your problem to solve.

the plane

While in Egypt, it actually snowed in Alexandria and the 12-hour overnight train I was supposed to take from Cairo to Aswan was no longer operating as a result. Had I booked this trip myself, I would have, quite literally, curled up into a ball and cried (you think I’m kidding but I’m not). I would’ve had to book a flight at reasonable cost for the next morning, plus coordinate a new hotel stay with just a few hours’ notice, all of this occurring in a foreign country where my cell service was shoddy at best. I am getting hives just thinking about it.

Contiki took care of it by booking us on a direct Egyptair flight for the next morning and extending our hotel stay, all at no additional cost.

Anitra Singh

8.You can pay for your trip in installments.

NBC

While there are certainly ways to be cost-efficient, the reality of travel is that it is expensive. Please don’t believe all the aesthetic “well I got my flight to Madrid for $3” TikTok accounts that would have you thinking otherwise.

Many group operators (particularly ones catered to the under-35 crowd) allow you to pay in installments. This Egypt tour, for example, costs $1,409 but you can opt for 11 installments of roughly $124 per month, along with an initial booking deposit. This monthly plan will charge an interest fee with rates dependent on several factors including credit score, and it’s okay if you haven’t paid for your trip fully before departure.

9.Speaking of $, it’ll be easier to stay on budget.

the itinerary

Have you ever had the experience of booking a hotel at a reasonable rate, getting to the property, and then realizing you had to pay a $100 resort fee? And that you didn’t select the breakfast-included option? This happens to me all the time when I think I’m getting a great deal and then boom, hidden fees.

Booking with a tour operator means that the bulk of your expenses is baked into an overall price. Everything is very meticulously laid out for you: which meals are free, which museums you’re going to, the works. And because you have a tour guide, they know the most cost-efficient routes for the things that aren’t included — I don’t think I paid more than $10 USD for any of the ~not included~ meals, for example.

The one caveat is that there are usually free time add-on experiences at extra cost. (Visiting the Kom Ombo Temple was an extra $19 USD to be paid during the trip, for example.) These are also packed into your itinerary and very explicitly framed as optional, but when in Egypt, right? I highly recommend you do the math before departure to determine which experiences fall in budget! I did not do this and racked up quite a few unexpected fees during my eight-day trip. This was entirely my fault, though. Don’t be me. Use your phone calculator and tally those up.

AnaMaria Glavan / BuzzFeed

10.All transportation is arranged.

the riverboat

Have you ever come back from a trip, looked at your bank statement, and saw 1 trillion Uber rides that added up to *does quick math* quite a hefty sum of money? Or tried to get a car and were quoted about 2k for a 5-day rental and insurance? Transportation is the secret budget killer that travelers don’t think about until it’s too late (myself included).

When working with a tour group like Contiki, all transportation is covered. This includes quick rides between hotels, restaurants, museums, etc., but it also encompasses long-haul ones. If you’re in London and want to visit Stonehenge and Bath, for example, you won’t have to figure out how to get from point A to point B if it’s on the itinerary. In Egypt, we had coach buses, private sailboats, and a river cruise that took us everywhere…and it was a delight to not have to think about the cost.

AnaMaria Glavan / BuzzFeed

11.Friends. You will make friends.

Paramount Pictures

I am the coworker who will not show up to virtual happy hours. I dreaded syllabus week in college because I knew it would lead to icebreakers. Giving a one-sentence answer about my favorite meal made me die a bit inside. I say this because I arrived in Egypt with a friend, had initial meetings with the group I’d spend the next eight days with, and thought, Alright, that’s the end of it. We’ll exchange pleasantries and have brief convos about the weather and I’ll carry on speaking exclusively to the friend who arrived in Cairo with me. Wrong!

Egypt was magical but the best part was the people I met and shared this once-in-a-lifetime experience with; I made friends with travelers from Illinois, England, Saudi Arabia, Alabama, Switzerland, Ireland, Texas, and the list goes on.

Most of the friends I made had, by the way, gone on several Contiki trips prior to this one: The unanimous reason for doing so was the breadth of people they meet along the way.

Have you ever gone on a group trip like the one above? Let us know in the comments below.

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