I’ve just finished a 10 day group tour of Morocco, and wrote about some general impressions of the country here.
I’m a very independent traveller, usually travelling alone, with my partner or with friends, setting our own schedules and itineraries, so it was a new experience for me joining an extended tour with people I didn’t know. I’ve done plenty of one day tours as part of a group, but this was the first time I have travelled for such a long time with so many other people.
This isn’t a review of the particular tour I did, or the destinations, so I won’t be discussing the tour company, or specific details of the itinerary. This is more to help those who may be independent travellers themselves, who are considering a group tour.
So why did I decide to do this tour, when I always travel independently?
- I knew there was a lot of the country I wanted to see
- It would be reasonably difficult to get from place to place in a fairly limited time by myself
- I didn’t want to have to spend every day thinking about where to eat, what to see, and how to get there, as I’ve been doing that every day for a month on this trip already; I’m a bit of a control freak but for once was happy to let someone else make the decisions for me.
By the way, this tour was marketed as an active, relatively inexpensive tour (we stayed in three star hotels each night) to a 21-39 age group. My parents have done those luxury riverboat cruises through Europe sipping champagne with other well heeled, middle aged travellers — this was nothing like that.
So in no particular order, here was my experience.
It’s an efficient way to see a big place
We covered a huge amount of the country in the 10 days, hitting up at least six major cities/locations. Although I would have liked more time in some places, we saw everything I wanted to see in Morocco, so I was very satisfied with that.
With someone else doing the driving, making the decisions and choosing each stop, I could sit back and relax. The days were very long (more on that later), but much of the time getting from place to place was spent looking out the window, watching Netflix, or napping.
I would have struggled to see the same amount of the country if I was driving myself.
But groups are slow and inefficient
Perhaps my biggest frustration with the tour was how much time was wasted every single day because I had to move at the speed of the slowest members of the group. Everyone wanted to do things at different times, so we would stop every single hour to ninety minutes for bathroom breaks during the day, even though not everyone needed to use the bathroom each stop.
And a ‘five minute bathroom stop’ would take the group at least 20 minutes. And this is every 60 to 90 minutes.
I realised you can’t get groups of people to do anything quickly.
I pride myself on being organised, efficient and punctual (both when travelling and at home), but there were members of the group that were none of these, and I hadn’t anticipated that most people don’t travel like I do. For a weekend trip to a European city, I can see a lot of it in 48 hours — I only really stop to sleep. But I realise most people don’t travel like this.
If I’m lying on a beach in a Pacific Island I’m happy to spend hours doing nothing, debating what to have for lunch, wandering aimlessly, etc. But when I only have half a day in a busy Moroccan city, I want to be as efficient and see as much as possible. I don’t want to spend 90 minutes lingering over lunch — I want to get moving, and make the most of the very limited time we had. I would rather race around for six hours than wander slowly for twelve.
Regardless of what time our tour guide advised us we would leave the hotels each morning, whether it was 6am, or 9am, certain members of the group would always be late. And no matter how long or short the breaks during the day (i.e. for lunch or to use the bathroom), the same people would hold us up. Over the 10 days I would estimate I wasted probably 30 hours waiting on other people when I was ready to go. I would have happily spent that time blogging, however instead this time was spent either waiting to leave a restaurant, or standing outside the bus waiting for it to be opened, etc. It wasn’t productive or enjoyable time, it was literally standing around waiting for other people.
I’m not sure if these members of the group had poor time management, or a lack of respect for the rest of the group — I suspect it was a combination of both, but it was very frustrating to waste so much time each day when the schedule was already so rushed — it made the long days even longer.
I met some wonderful people
The group was diverse with people from around 10 different countries. We did take a few days to get to know each other but there were several people I really clicked with, and hope to stay in contact with. There was an older woman from Mexico especially who was an absolute hoot, and we had a good laugh together while doing things like riding camels through the desert.
So how do you get to know anyone within a larger group really well in just 10 days? That leads me to my next point.
The older I get, the less interested I am in meeting new people
I’m interested to know if you guys feel the same.
There were 33 people in our tour group, which I realise is too many (and I would definitely aim for a group size of less than 20 people in future). Noting above that I did meet some wonderful people — I wasn’t that interested in getting to know most of the group personally in a relatively short time frame.
There were a few in the group I didn’t even speak to once.
I’m fine making small talk as an icebreaker, but I also think I’m a pretty good judge of character, and while some people I instantly connected with, many I didn’t. I’m old enough/cynical enough to realise I won’t see most of them again. I have a great group of very close friends in both London and Australia that I’ve known for years and don’t really feel the need to expand my friendship groups.
So I didn’t feel the need to devote energy to people I didn’t feel I clicked with, and there’s only so many people I could ask about where they went to school, before I lost interest. I may seem selfish and socially awkward saying all this, but next time you are in a large group of people you don’t know, note how many people in the group you feel like getting to know in a short space of time.
I was perfectly happy getting to know a few of them really well and by the end of the 10 days we had formed our little group of 8 (within the group of 33) that spent time together getting to know each other better.
10 days wasn’t actually 10 days
As part of the ‘I’m happy to hand control over to someone else,’ I hadn’t studied the itinerary closely since booking the tour many months ago. It was marketed as a ten day tour but the reality was it was only eight days.
Day 1 was just a quick initial meeting of the group with an optional dinner, and Day 10 was simply an included breakfast with an airport transfer — we didn’t even see the guide on Day 10.
And seeing that much of Morocco in just eight days meant…
It was exhausting
You would think sitting on a bus all day either staring out the window or napping would be easy but it was much more tiring than I expected. The tour went at a very fast pace which I guess made sense given most of the group were in their 20s or early 30s, but I found it exhausting at the age of 34.
12 hour bus rides and 5am wake up calls were not uncommon. I feel like I’m getting too old to stay up to 5am on a night out these days, but I’m equally too old to be getting up at 5am!
I realised I should have spent at least 14 days covering what we covered in 10 to relax and enjoy it more at a slower pace. I’m not sure if all tours operate at this pace, but its definitely worth understanding how long each day will be and how much free time there will be because we had very little and this was a common complaint amongst the group. Looking back at the advertised itinerary for future dates for this tour it doesn’t mention anything about what times the groups would be spending at each place.
There were several days where we would be on the move for 12 hours with only an hour of free time at the end of the day.
That’s not really a holiday for me.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
I’m interested to know if this is normal on an organised group tour, but our daily schedule was repeated to us by our guide about 10 times each day in excruciating detail.
I would have been perfectly happy simply to know what time we needed to leave the following morning and then only receive the information about the next stop, but we were continually told over and over every single thing we would be doing that day.
By 9am each day I could recite from memory exactly where, when and what we would be eating for dinner that evening.
I enjoyed the tour and Morocco, even if it didn’t really feel like a holiday. I’m definitely more a ‘relax on the beach with a cocktail in hand’ than a ‘get up at 5am for a 12 hour bus ride with 30 other people’ sort of person, but I realise some countries are best seen when someone else organises the logistics. I think it would have been equally exhausting doing all the driving and decision making myself, even over 14 days.
Would I recommend group tours? I would for certain countries, but I’m not sure I would actually recommend the specific tour I did, because the group size was too big and the pace was too rushed. For Morocco I would recommend a tour:
- With less than 20 people
- Spread over 14 days
- With plenty of free time
Do you like group tours, or are you an independent traveller?