Reading Time: 3 minutes

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Is it better to travel with a program or on your own?

Photo by Claudia Lee

Programs make for a more enriching experience

Travel programs are of vital importance to the young traveller because they let you experience a new location in a way that would be otherwise inaccessible to independent travellers. Local tour guides with extensive firsthand knowledge of local culture are a lot harder to seek out on your own. 

Through my own experience with a top educational travel company called Explorica, I’ve discovered that travelling with a structured program is definitely worth it. It has very few drawbacks and, for the most part, allows travellers the hassle-free vacation they’ve always wanted.

I used Explorica as part of a big high school group of 12 people, including teachers, that travelled to Greece last March, and it was probably the best choice we could’ve made. The company arranged excellent hotels and flight times and worked with the tour guides to make the best use of our days. 

Amazingly, in the nine days we were in Greece, we saw much of the country and most of the iconic Greek sites: the Acropolis, the Oracle at Delphi, Ancient Olympia, and Corinth Canal, to name a few. We were exposed to Greek culture by a local guide who knew the country better than any free tour guide ever could. 

There were a few disadvantages—following a tightly packed schedule meant we were up very early every morning—but the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks. We ate authentic Greek meals, viewed ancient Greek sites with in-depth details by expert guides, and, should we want to visit something we didn’t have time to see on the tour, we were given a few hours of free time every day to explore for ourselves.

If a program doesn’t sound like the right fit for you, or you want a more relaxed experience with the ability to choose the sites you visit, I’d highly recommend at least consulting a travel agent. They’re extremely knowledgeable and can help you plan a trip to suit your needs. You have less of a daunting process ahead of you because they do the dirty work.

Seeing through the eyes of the Greek was an experience I’ll always cherish—and I couldn’t have done it by myself.

—Drew Ayotte

Go it alone to save money and meet more people

Will the hostel be clean? Is the city easy to navigate? Will I be able to get around even if I don’t know the language? Is it safe to travel alone? Should I take a bus, train, or plane to get there? 

These are the questions that make us doubt whether we should attempt to plan an entire trip on our own, or just give in and book an organized tour with our nearest travel agent. I’ve done both, and the DIY approach is hands-down the way to go. 

First of all, it’s cheaper, and students will appreciate savings anywhere we can get them. So, unless you’re travelling with a really large group (think 15 or more), planning your own trip will be infinitely cheaper than booking one through a travel agent. You’ll be able to shop around various websites to get the best deals, or have the option to spend the night at the airport to catch a flight to your next destination at the crack of dawn to save a little cash. 

You also get to do what you want. When you sign up for an organized tour you’re basically signing away your freedom for the duration of your trip. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll be in an amazing place seeing amazing places, but your tour group will basically be herded around like sheep from one site to the next. If there’s anything I’ve learned throughout my travels it’s that the unexpected, carpe diem-esque (or, if you prefer, YOLO) moments throughout your trip are the best parts. These moments make the best stories. 

Another perk is that you’ll meet more people. You’ll probably be staying in hostels to save money, and hostels are the best way to meet people from all walks of life, many of whom you wouldn’t have met had you been confined to a small travel group and a lonesome hotel room. 

Travelling isn’t supposed to be easy. Planning a trip on your own and figuring your days out on the fly are sometimes challenging, but ultimately these things will make your experience more memorable. Forgoing formal travel programs will save you money, introduce you to more people, and leave you with a sense of ownership over the twists and turns of your adventure.

—Katherine McCarron