Traveling: With or Without A Tour Group

Traveling could get pretty stressful when you are just in the beginning stages of planning – especially traveling abroad.

About a year ago, my cousin and I decided to go on a trip for our 30th birthdays! No, we are not twins, but we could be. Being 3 days apart counts as being twins, right? Sort of? Not really? Okay. We definitely knew we wanted to get out of the country so we had two choices: Thailand or Dubai. Being that we are Laotian – which is very similar to Thai, we decided to go to Dubai. Who wouldn’t want to anyways?! You hear about Dubai so often these days because of celebrities we follow on social media. A lot of hip hop/rap artists travel to Dubai so we figured it would be super fun!

Since my cousin was a new member of a travel club (I will not disclose the name since I am not part of the club), we definitely bought our airline tickets and booked our hotel through them. It was super cheap – around $1300 for a 6 day trip. Being part of a travel club means meeting new people, touring on the club’s expense because the attractions are included in your reservation, some meals are included and using the tour bus instead of getting your own transportation. Of course, these are all optional. You have the option of booking your travel, but you don’t need to stick with the group. But since this was my first trip with her club, we decided to stick with the group instead of venturing out on our own. We’ve never traveled abroad as adults – well she hasn’t traveled further than Mexico at the time and I haven’t traveled abroad since I was 9.

We flew with Lufthansa which wasn’t so bad. Most travelers fly with Emirates when flying to Dubai and a few other countries. Since we opted to save a few hundred dollars, Lufthansa was the smartest way to go. We had a layover in Germany, which was only for a few hours. But boy was it boring! This is where I learned that you get dirty looks when you ask for iced water. Yep, they don’t have ice in their restaurants at the airport and I guess you should never eat ice or drink water from another country anyways (unless it is bottled water).

By the time we made it to Dubai, it was about midnight their time. Or was it our time? Whatever time it was, we were pooped! Traveling for about 14 hours really does take a toll on you. Make sure you’re extra comfortable when traveling for that long! We caught a cab to our hotel, JW Marriott Marquis Hotel – which in fact is the tallest hotel in the world! WOW! It was amazing viewing our hotel from the freeway. This photo does not do any justice of how beautiful it really is! Their service was impeccable from beginning until end. We couldn’t believe how kind, courteous and attentive everyone was. It made us Americans look like straight up a-holes!

Fast forwarding to meeting everyone from the travel club, to actually going out for daily activities … If you really wanted to know my honest opinion, I’d say I would rather travel without them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think all of the perks that were included in the package deal was great! Breakfast was included every day, a few lunches and I think one dinner meal, transportation was provided everywhere the group went and we were always on a schedule (which is 50/50 for me). Here are a few reasons why I would opt for traveling without the group:

  1. Being on a tight schedule – I did mention above it was 50/50 for me. I do like being on a schedule sometimes, but not when I am traveling. I am more of the type to wing-it, but to also have things in mind that I want to see or do. Traveling with the group means waiting on others to wake up, eat breakfast and getting to our bus on time. Taking the time in the bus to do head count making sure we have not left others behind and not having enough time to do visit each attraction. It was a long process each morning or by the end of each site we visited.
  2. You aren’t sure who you will be grouping with – Now, we didn’t know who we were meeting, where they were from or if we spoke the same language. It actually didn’t even cross my mind until we actually met the group – whom 90% of them were from China. The other 10% consisted of my cousin and I, two others from America and 4 others from Thailand (who understood and spoke a little English, thank God!) So whenever our tour guide would explain where we were going, what time we needed to meet back at the bus or location, she spoke in Chinese dialect. We had to constantly remind her to translate whatever she just said in English. It was pretty frustrating, but we dealt with it anyhow.
  3. We were limited to what we could do – I mean, we could have ventured out on our own, but felt a little skeptical doing that on our first trip outside of the country. We are two grown women, but anything can happen to us, or maybe we are just paranoid! So back to being on that schedule … it limited us from doing other things, seeing other places or visiting other cities within the country since the travel club has an itinerary prior to your trip. There were so many things we probably could have done, but didn’t get a chance to experience. But there is always next time for sure!

There are also reasons why traveling with a group if you’re traveling solo is a good idea – or if you and your friend(s) don’t want to be alone at all!

  1. Making new friends from all over the world – This had to be my favorite part of the trip. Meeting new people from all over the world is an amazing thing! You may not see each other ever again, but you’ll never know. Since you are all part of the same travel club, you can always contact one another and plan a trip to anywhere in the world!
  2. Not being alone, even if you are traveling with friends – Being in another country could be a little scary, especially if you are traveling alone or even with friends. If you are unfamiliar with the country and you don’t feel so much at ease with being in another country, then traveling with the group will make you feel safe and also fun.
  3. Meal accommodations, cheaper hotel/flight – Booking with the travel club was cheaper than booking your own flight and hotel with regular travel agencies in my opinion. It also came with majority of the meals – breakfast every morning downstairs in our hotel and a few lunches. If I could remember, we had one dinner accommodated. Other than that, if you wanted to eat anywhere else at any time, you forked the bill. Even being part of the travel club, you can book flight and hotel without having to stick with the travel group. It’s a really great perk! I am sure there is more to it but since I am not a member, that is all I know.

So either way, any choice you make would be fun no matter what. It’s up to YOU to make your trip the best it could be! Traveling alone may be a good time to reflect and have some time to yourself as well. You don’t have to wait on anyone else or be on their time, you can go wherever you please and do whatever you or your budget allows. Being with a travel group has its’ perks too whether if you want to make new friends from across the globe or you don’t feel like being absolutely alone and want to engage with others during group excursions and activities.

Traveling to Dubai was definitely an eye opener and also a really great time. I now know what I will and will not do during my next big trip. I don’t regret one second of it! My cousin and I plan on going back for our 50th birthday since there is so much more to see and do, people to meet and of course new experiences to encounter! Make sure to always save a ton of money so you can do whatever you’d like, travel safe and most importantly, have the time of your life – with or without a group.

Don’t forget to check out my video mash-up and photos below!

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