How a Group Tour Changed My Whole Approach to Travel

When my vacation plans changed at the last minute, I finally decided to try a group tour for the first time.

Intrepid Travel family tour in Morocco (Photo: Intrepid Travel)
Intrepid Travel family tour in Morocco (Photo: Intrepid Travel)

I’ve always considered myself a fiercely independent traveler. I’ve navigated more than 50 countries on my own, and while I have sometimes booked short excursions, usually for a day, it had never occurred to me to book a group tour. That changed when I decided to take two of my children on a family tour with Intrepid Travel.

I had originally planned on spending our winter break in the Middle East, but changed my mind at the last minute due to safety concerns. Because of the abrupt change, I knew I wouldn’t have time to plan an itinerary, book hotels, and arrange transportation before our departure date. However, I didn’t want to let that stop me from having an adventure. I’m glad I took a chance on a group tour because it changed the way I travel. Here’s how.

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The Trip Planning Was Incredibly Stress-Free

Our group tour with Intrepid Travel enabled my family to have experiences we never would have done on our own (Photo: Jamie Davis Smith)
Our group tour with Intrepid Travel enabled my family to have experiences we never would have done on our own (Photo: Jamie Davis Smith)

I spent a little time comparing tour companies, but quickly honed in on Intrepid. The company offers a variety of itineraries for families at different price points, and a few of my friends had been on tours with them before and had a good experience. I also liked that Intrepid offers specialized tours for different types of travelers, including family tours

At first, I was planning on taking an “original” style family tour but upgraded to a “comfort” tour, which included more activities and meals along with upgraded accommodations. Although it cost more, the company’s 10-day Morocco Family Holiday tour was still within my budget and looked like a good value. 

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Once I committed to a tour, my planning was essentially done. This was a huge relief. I normally spend hours searching for hotels, figuring out some must-do activities in every location along with some off-the-beaten-track attractions, researching transportation options, and gathering restaurant recommendations. Although I often find this process fun, it’s also time-consuming and can become draining for trips that involve several stops.

Even though a group tour was not exactly what I would have planned on my own, Intrepid’s Morocco itinerary was fairly close. I thought giving up some control was well worth the trade-off of not having to do all the planning on my own. Because Intrepid uses local teams based in their tour destinations to plan trips, I also hoped that having a local involved would bring me to places I never would have found on my own. 

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Instead of reading hotel reviews and booking entry tickets, I spent the weeks leading up to my family vacation learning more about Moroccan culture. I knew this would enrich my experience more than figuring out all of the details that are needed for a trip abroad to run smoothly. I’m usually a mix of excited and stressed in the week or two leading up to a big trip. This time I was mostly excited, and my stress was at a minimum. 

While I won’t stick exclusively to group tours in the future, this trip taught me to not sweat the small stuff so much. I don’t need to spend so much time finding the perfect hotel or restaurant to have a great trip. 

The camel ride on Intrepid's Morocco Family Holiday was a memorable highlight for my kids (Photo: Jamie Davis Smith)
The camel ride on Intrepid’s Morocco Family Holiday was a memorable highlight for my kids (Photo: Jamie Davis Smith)

Group Trips Are Fantastic for Solo Travelers and Parents Traveling on Their Own

Before I had a family, I often traveled on my own. While I enjoyed solo travel, it was lonely at times, even more so when I stopped staying at youth hostels and lost access to the fantastic communities they provide. Now I frequently travel with my two younger children. They are fantastic travel companions, but on longer trips I sometimes find myself longing for adult interaction or an extra pair of hands. Additionally, even though my kids usually get along well, they sometimes get sick of each other in the absence of any other playmates. 

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On my Intrepid trip, I had other adults to talk to throughout the day. This was a refreshing change from my usual experience of going a week or more without speaking to another adult for more than five minutes, usually for transactional matters like checking into a hotel. My kids also quickly made friends with the other children on the trip. Not surprisingly, all of the families on the trip had similar interests and an adventurous spirit. My children and I were the only Americans in the group and it was interesting learning more about life in New Zealand, Canada, and Australia from the other families we traveled with.

The parents in the group quickly started leaning on each other for support. One mom, also traveling alone with her children, asked me to take one of her daughters on an outing so she could get some one-on-one time with her other child. I asked a different mom to keep an eye on my son while I packed our things for the next day. It was nice not feeling like I was completely on my own. 

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This “it takes a village” spirit is something I want to bring with me in my future travels. Although it’s not possible to replicate the experience of traveling with other families, it is possible to seek out connections away from home. For example, on a recent trip, my son wanted to play soccer with local children who lived near our hotel. Instead of rushing him away so we could squeeze in another activity, I let him play. He wound up meeting up with the other kids every night we were there, sharing candy and communicating with an app. The nights playing soccer were a highlight of that trip for him, and something I probably would not have let him do before my experience with a group tour.  

A group tour allowed to me focus on making memories rather than the logistics of managing a vacation (Photo: Jamie Davis Smith)
A group tour allowed to me focus on making memories rather than the logistics of managing a vacation (Photo: Jamie Davis Smith)

I Appreciated a Slower Pace

I have serious FOMO and often pack too much into my days when I travel. When I first reviewed the itinerary for my trip, I noted right away that it had downtime and even an entire free afternoon built into the trip. While I know that many people enjoy this balance, I was worried I would feel bored and come away feeling like I had traveled halfway around the world and missed seeing all there is to do. 

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The reality is, it’s impossible to do everything. Trying is exhausting and impossible. There is always something left on the to-do list at the end of the trip. It was refreshing to go into a trip not attempting to see an entire country in two weeks and being okay with that from the outset. 

While there were a couple of other things I would have liked to have squeezed in, I was very happy with the balance of activities and downtime on my trip. Other than all-inclusive family vacations and trips to family resorts, I normally don’t schedule time to just relax while I am traveling. It was really nice to have time to read and play UNO with my kids. I also liked that Intrepid had a couple of optional activities for those of us who didn’t want quite as much downtime as others. 

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I do still feel pressure to see and do everything when I travel, but going on a group trip helped me see the value in traveling at a slower pace. Some of my favorite moments from my Intrepid trip happened during scheduled downtime, giving me and my children time to just enjoy being with each other without the pressures of work and school. It’s a lesson I’ve tried to carry with me as I’ve planned future trips. 

Learning from a Local Is Invaluable 

One reason I chose Intrepid is the company uses all local guides, and most tours use the same guide throughout the trip. While it’s obvious that learning from locals is the best way to get to know a country, I had underestimated just how valuable traveling with a local guide would be. 

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I learned so much about Moroccan culture through our tour guide, who was always willing to answer questions about his life and traditions. He even brought us to his family home to meet his parents and niece, which was a very special experience. Aside from being able to share the history of everywhere we visited, I also liked that our guide warned us about scams to watch out for, tipping culture, and advice on bargaining. He was also very helpful when it came to practical matters like finding an ATM.  

For future trips, I will be more open to taking guided tours with local guides, even if it’s just for a few hours. I will also make it a point to try to talk to more locals when traveling, as long as I can do so without bothering them too much.

Even though it wasn’t what I had originally planned, not only did I have a great experience on my trip with Intrepid, it has also forever changed the way I plan to travel.

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amie is a mother of four and a freelance writer. She lives in Washington, DC, but can more often be found wandering with her family and writing about their adventures near and far. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Fodors Travel, FamilyVacationist, TourScoop, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Yahoo, and many others. She is a USA Today "Top 10" travel expert.