Organized group tours have not been a big part of my travel experience. I’ve actually only taken a few in my life. Most of these were at the very beginning of my travels: My first ever trip abroad when I was 13 and visited Japan and China with my father, a school trip to learn about marine biology in Mexico when I was at boarding school, a trip to Bahia, Brazil with my scholarship group in university, and one to Oman for a college class. As I’ve gotten older and travelled more independently, I’ve only taken one organized group tour: to North Korea, where essentially all tourists are required to go as part of a group (though I did get lucky and manage two days private before the group arrived.)
In fact, I not only avoid organized group tours, but I’m not usually interested in tour guides at all. Sometimes I’ll do a day trip with a guide and/or group, like for a safari in Chobe, Botswana or to San Cipriano in Colombia. Otherwise, I much prefer to go with local friends, to see their everyday life. I also like to go independently, whether solo or with friends I may be traveling with. One big exception was in Iraqi Kurdistan when two of my friend and I travelled with Karwan – which ended up being an unmatchable experience.
I guess that why I don’t like organized or group tours is that I like to go with the flow – to have no plans and just see where the journey takes me. I also know that I have specific interests when I travel- and that’s mostly about seeing every day life and talking with people about their lived experiences. I don’t just like to observe a place, I like to engage.
So, when G Adventures asked if I’d like to go on one of their tours, I was at first quite hesitant. But as I learned about the company and the way they approach their tours, I was willing and excited to try it out. There were two main things that excited me about G Adventures before I even went on a tour. First was how they are local focused: they almost exclusively stay in locally owned hotels, eat at local restaurants, and all guides are from the places where they’re touring. This calmed me because it showed a conscious effort to make tourism less exploitative than it somewhat integrally is. The second was Planeterra – a not-for-profit founded by G Adventures that works with local social enterprises and catalyzes their impact by giving built in demand. They do this by sending their tour groups to homestays, meals, or shops run by these enterprises. Before I even went on a G Adventures tour, I visited Planeterra’s Senang Hati group in Bali, Indonesia- quickly fell in love, and wanted to see more.
Then it was time to pick a tour to go on. I wanted somewhere I was excited to go back to, a tour that included places in that country I had never seen, and one that included a visit to an awesome Planeterra project. Morocco hit all of those boxes, especially the Deserts and Kasbah’s tour. I was so nervous before arriving but it ended up being a perfect and eye-opening travel experience. Here are the four reasons why:
1. New Friends: I’m an introvert, which means that though I can be a loud and obnoxious center of attention, I more often need my own space and time alone. So the idea of being on a bus full of absolute strangers for a week was quite frightening. But then I met everyone and was pleasantly surprised at how interesting, friendly, and accepting they were. I realized that the kinds of people who sign up for a tour like this will tend to be more adventurous and open to being with others. In the couple months since my tour we’ve all still kept up on our group chat and I talk weekly with one of them!
2. Worry-free: From the moment the tour began, there was hardly anything I had to worry about. No desperate search for food, worrying about missing buses or train connections, or wondering if a site would be open. The G Adventures team took care of all of this and our guide, Yusuf, took such good care of everyone. He really wanted this to be a trip of a lifetime! Sure, having a set itinerary limits some of the exciting unexpected moments of an independently planned trip, but there was enough free time allotted for this to happen, and the ease of the rest made up for it.
3. Unique Access: A lot of the places that we went on our trip were off the beaten path or only accessible by long exhausting drives. In fact a few of my followers responded to photos of our camel ride in the desert saying that they wanted to see this when they were in Morocco but couldn’t arrange it themselves. It was also nice to be with a local guide who could tell us exactly what were local specialities and intricacies of the culture. I’m lucky to often be traveling with local friends, but know that’s not the experience of most people and my group was very appreciative.
4. Planeterra: In Morocco we visited the Meknes Community Center for lunch. This is a group that supports women and children in a small community outside of Meknes. They provide English courses and sewing courses to give women opportunities. They also have become a registered pharmacy in order to provide medical treatment and even have their own ambulance. Previously they relied strictly on Moroccan government grants. These can be tough to get, time intensive, and unreliable. So Planeterra helped them launch a lunch program with restaurant standard food preparation. Now the group serves two groups (usually 10-15 people each) every day. With the money from this they are able to be more self-sustaining. It was truly inspiring to speak with the women running this organization!
Overall, I loved my trip to Morocco with G Adventures and it made me rethink organized group tours. I love how seamless it made it in traveling to some interesting places and I enjoyed making friends. There were some downsides, like being taken to some places that I wasn’t interested in (so many shops!) and to some overtly tourist restaurants, but all the positives outweigh these .
I do still think that most of my time will be on independent travel. I like the freedom and control and ability to decide what I want to do each day only as it comes. However, I think for specific reasons an organized tour is great: for people who are uncomfortable traveling alone, for people who do not have much time to organize a tour, for people who want structure, and for people who just don’t want to worry while on vacation! I’ve been each and every one of those people at some time in my travels – so definitely see the value of getting on a trip again sometime soon!