To travel alone or in a group? Choose your own hotels or let someone else select and book them for you? Go with a guide who maps out plans for every day you’re on the road and arranges for most of your transportation, or schedule nothing except what inspires you when you open your eyes in the morning? Today I’m wrapping up my Spain/Morocco travel posts with a few reflections on this topic. My answer to all these questions is: it depends… on your age, the time you have available, both to plan and to travel, your expectations, finances, personality, and goals for the trip. Also, it’s certainly possible to combine both these approaches under the right circumstances.
We chose a tour because we wanted to see as much of Spain as we could and didn’t have the time or the desire to figure out the best way to move from city to city, to investigate which were the most charming yet affordable hotels, and to make the reservations ahead of time. Freer spirits may choose to land somewhere and go where their hearts and minds take them without plans. We did that when we were twenty-one. Looking back I think we missed a lot along the way, but an organized tour would have had no appeal back then.
If you prefer solitude to company, you have the time, you can only afford to hitchhike or sleep in youth or elder hostels, or you want to dig into a culture in-depth, traveling alone or as a duo is the obvious best bet. If your current job leaves you with no time to think about anything but work deadlines, you’re an extrovert, and you’d like to learn something about the place you’re visiting, but not feel like you’re going back to school, a tour makes sense. If you want to join a large crowd and combine education and entertainment, going on a cruise seems like a good idea, though I’ve no experience in this mode of travel.
We went on a tour with twenty-two others from all over the U.S. and Canada, and one guide from Madrid. Maybe it was luck, or maybe it was the expectations set by the Rick Steves’ company, but we found everyone in our group agreeable, some hysterically funny, and everyone kind. Best of all, no one fussed or complained. No one took the day off, although the guide made it clear we could do that. And everyone did the walking that the tour required, sometimes up hills and over rough surfaces in whatever weather the skies brought us, including one downpour. Our hotels rated two out of three stars and some produced the “wow experiences” our guide promised, either for their views, their tranquil settings, or their breakfasts, like the one in Barcelona that offered pure raspberry juice as one option.
If we were traveling to only one city, we’d do it alone, but to cover large swaths of territory without feeling like, “If it’s Tuesday, it’s Belgium,” a tour, particularly of the quality of a Rick Steves’ adventure, is the way to go.