Taking an organized tour in India

Before I get started on this post I want to highlight that my trip to India was a holiday and not a blog trip or a sponsored trip. I’m not trying to sell tours here but I’ve had so many people ask me how I found it and if I would recommend it so I wanted to share my experience and my honest opinion.

“An organized tour?” I heard the skepticism in my friend’s voice. “With old people…and a coach…and a guide waving a flag?”

I sighed as I had to explain for what felt like the millionth time that it wasn’t THAT KIND of tour. While I did see a couple of massive tour groups like this, thankfully, it wasn’t the kind of tour I took and definitely isn’t the type I would recommend to anyone.

My tour in India

I travelled with Intrepid to Northern India and the tour I took couldn’t have been better. We were a small group of six people plus our leader which is lucky because there can be up to 12 people in a group. We were all mixed ages ranging from about 22-55 and we got on brilliantly. I’ve heard people say before that the older people in the group are often the most fun and this was so true with my group. Anyone who has travelled the world and is still exploring in their 50’s will always have some great stories to share. We also shared a passion for adventure and an eternal quest to find a cold beer after a busy day (something which can be very challenging in India!) We didn’t stick together 24/7 and would often split up to do different things.

My Intrepid leader, Pancham
My Intrepid leader, Pancham

Our leader, Pancham, said that 75% of the people taking tours in India are female, presumably for the safety issues for women. Pancham was great because he was there when we needed him without being the type of tour guide that organizes everything for you. He was a typical Indian food-pusher and would insist on ordering piles of food for us to try. I found that India people love their food but love nothing more than sharing it and urging you to eat more and more.

Pancham was great from a safety point of view too. I found it hard to tell who was genuinely being friendly in India and who was out to scam me and Pancham soon sorted out the scammers.

Why did I take a tour?

I decided to take a tour because I had just two weeks in India. Two weeks is such a short amount of time to see even a fraction of this huge county so I knew I needed to be efficient and organized with my time. The only problem is, efficient and organised isn’t something I do very well and India isn’t exactly well know for this either!

I knew that trains, buses, day trips and accommodation should be booked in advance to ensure there weren’t any wasted days but attempting this from the UK turned out to be a nightmare. Some trains had to be booked months in advance due to Holi Festival and some hotels don’t have websites to get anything booked at all. Yes, India isn’t always the easiest place to travel.

After a few evenings spent pawing over my Lonely Planet and swearing at my computer, I gave up and decided that a tour was my best option.

If I had a few months in India, I would have been more than happy to go with the flow but you can’t do that when time is precious.

Of course, there are some safety concerns too. At the time I travelled to India there seemed to be a report of a new rape on the news every day. I was travelling with my boyfriend so felt perfectly safe with him but I would have been extremely nervous travelling alone.

Visiting the home of a local family and learning how to cook a traditional Indian meal (which is anything like a chicken tikka masala!)
Visiting the home of a local family and learning how to cook a traditional Indian meal (which isn’t anything like a chicken tikka masala!)

 Pros of a tour

  • You can see as much as possible in a short amount of time.
  • You don’t have any stress when organising and don’t have to spend hours researching and booking (I know some people love this part of their travels and I still did heaps of research, it just wasn’t compulsory!)
  • If you’re travelling solo you’re not alone and you’ll meet some awesome people.
  • You have a local guide to help make restaurant suggestions and give insider tips on what to do. They can also tell you how much things should cost so you don’t get ripped off.
  • If any planes or trains are delayed or cancelled you don’t have to deal with it.
  • You get to interact with the local people more because tours often include homestays or visits to local families.
  • You get to find out about things that regular tourists don’t know about.

Cons of a tour

  • It’s pricey!
  • You could potentially hate everyone in your group. You don’t have to stick with your group all the time but long journeys with annoying people feel so much longer.
  • You don’t have as much freedom. If you love a place and want to stay longer or if you hate a place and want to get out of there ASAP, you don’t have the option and have to stick to the group itinerary.
  • It can be tiring. Seeing something new everyday is awesome but it can be exhausting. Expect to need a holiday after your holiday!

 Choosing your tour

There are hundreds of tour companies out there so do your research on the company as much as the actual tour. I’ve only ever travelled with G Adventures and Intrepid before and can recommend them both. Their trips and prices are very similar and both companies focus on ethical, sustainable travel that gives back to the local community. Try to use a company that has local guides because it helps to put money back into the local economy and they know the area better than anyone else.

I’ve also taken short tours with local companies that I’ve booked while I’ve been away. The local companies have always been as good as G or Intrepid but keep it in mind that sometimes the person that sells you the tour will speak perfect English but your actual tour guide won’t. If you love charades, it isn’t a problem.

Would I recommend a tour?

The Travel Hack in India

If you’re short on time but want to see as much as you can then I 100% recommend taking a tour.

If you’ve got plenty of time and want to explore at a slower and more relaxing pace then I 100% don’t recommend a tour. Day trips are still available if you fancy a few action packed days but I feel like you get more out of it if you do everything for yourself.

So what about you? Have you ever taken a tour or would you consider taking one in the future?

If you have any other questions, pop them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you.

 

TheTravelHack

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a professional blogger and has travelled around the world in search of stylish adventure travel. Monica has recently had her second baby and is determined to prove that travelling with a baby is possible!

SHOWHIDE Comments (20)
  1. I’ve never booked a tour with one of these companies, but I often go on smaller tours and excursions once I arrive in a place because it’s not really feasible to do it any other way. Sometimes a guide is absolutely necessary. I can imagine it’s good to have some of the pressure taken off planning things and to just go with the flow. Especially when you don’t have much time, you’d miss things if you tried to do it all yourself.

    1. It definitely took the pressure off. Yea, I’ve booked short tours once I’ve reached my destination and I’m always telling people how easy this is to do. You don’t need to organise everything before you leave and sometimes it’s way more fun to do it on the spur of the moment.

  2. Visiting homes of locals is the best way to understand a country and also the people. Pancham looks like the person who knows this things. Nice picture of the Indian lady cooking food.

  3. I also took a tour with Intrepid in India last year, and Pancham was my tour leader! I thought he was great. I did the Rajasthan tour and really enjoyed it. You are spot on with the pros and cons and I am glad that I had the male members of the group and Pancham around. I have been slowly blogging about India still even though I went last year. Will you be writing more about your trip?

    1. Hey Terri, that’s such a coincidence that you had Pancham too! He was such a great leader wasn’t he. Pancham said that the Rajasthan tour was his favourite and I’ve heard such good things about it that I definitely want to go someday.
      And yes, I’ll definitely be blogging about my time in India more. I have so many stories to share! I look forward to reading more from your trip too.

  4. We did a tour for part of our time in Africa because it, too, can be a challenging place to travel. We used Resposible Travel to find a group to go with for our wildlife safari and for our cultural safari, an experience I cannot recommend highly enough. Both tours were more expensive than traveling on our own but still reasonable and for the service and experiences they provided (which we would likely not have had on our own), well worth it.

    1. Sounds brilliant. I agree, sometimes it is more expensive but it’s totally worth it to avoid the hassle. It’s especially worth it if you’re on a shorter holidays and don’t have the time to deal with anything going wrong.

  5. My mum and I took a private organized tour in India in 2011 and considering we only had 5 full days to cover 3 cities, it was worth every penny. The guide took care of us and had everything arranged for us. As we had to go Nepal after India, this was very helpful and saved us a lot of time and worry. On top of that, for safety reasons, I didn’t want to do it alone, better safe than sorry.

  6. Other than a day trip I’ve never done a group tour for the cons you listed above. I recently spent five weeks travelling India with my boyfriend which we organised as we went along which was surprisingly easy in South India – we could book most trains and buses a day or two in advance. Our main plan in North India was to tour Rajasthan and we spent two days solid in Delhi trying to organise a private 12 day tour. We got there eventually as we didn’t know who to trust and it was so much cheaper than a group tour with G or Intrepid.

    1. Oh the joys of having 5 weeks to travel. Very jealous! It’s good to know it’s easier to travel independently in South India. I’d love to go back and visit the south someday.
      Definitely agree, booking a tour once you’re there can work out cheaper, especially if you’ve got the time to look around and negotiate.

  7. I also took an Intrepid tour (Classic Rajasthan) my first time in India for similar reasons – for the security, I had 4 weeks in total for travel (including getting there and back), and was frustrated trying to organise travel myself. It was brilliant!
    I spent another 10 days in Gujarat with a friend after the tour, by then was fairly confident with how things operate in India.
    An Indian co-worker has since told me the price really isn’t unreasonable because all transport and accommodation is included, plus some of the place we went – and enjoyed the most – she’d never heard of, and they definitely aren’t in any guidebooks therefore I would never have found them as an independent traveller.
    I’m actually taking another Intrepid tour (Southern India) when I return later this year – can’t wait!

  8. hi I’m doing the Intrepid tour in 2 weeks – i’m so excited. i have a full day spare in Delhi and was wanting to go to the markets to buy some indian pants and Salwar dresses. which market is best and safe for a 54 year old woman for these in Delhi and also jewellery and scarves thanks so much. I was so happy to find your blog – it’s wonderful and congrats on the baby. cheers Julia

    1. Hi Julia, thank you very much! Delhi is huge so it really depends where you’re staying. But so many markets sell clothing like this that any market nearby will be great for you. I’d ask the staff at the reception desk of your hotel and they’ll be able to help. There will probably be a few to choose from. I hope you enjoy your tour!

  9. Hi! Love your blog!
    I will be booking a trip to South India (Bangalore,Mysore etc) with Thomas Cook tours at the recommendation of an Indian friend. For this leg of my trip I will be traveling alone with my ten year old daughter so safety and organization are important to me. Looking forward to a jeep safari with her!

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