10 Things I Hate About Group Walking Vacation Tours

There are many things I love about taking a group walking tour vacation. The guide has done all of the thinking and planning for me -- researching the walks we will take, planning the daily itinerary, booking hotels, transportation, and group meals. Even an independent traveler wants to take the occasional trip where they leave all of that to somebody else. I also love having an expert local guide narrate the history and culture of the areas we are touring.

But you pay a price for convenience and expertise beyond the travel fees. Here are my ten top pet peeves about group walking tours.

1
Their Pace and Distance, Not Yours

Group Walking in Sare, France
Group Walking in Sare, France. Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

Is this a walking workout or a tour? You need to ask that before you sign up. How far and how fast will the walks be? Walking tour group walks will be at the pace determined by the group leader, and may include stops along the way to discuss the history and scenery. You are paying for that expertise, and while it's one of my main reasons for joining a group walking tour. But those stops can lead to more standing than walking, and you aren't going to be getting the aerobic workout you may have wanted. You will be held back by the slowest of the group. On the flip side, you may also be more rushed than you wish to be, without the time you want to take photos, appreciate the views, or talk with locals along the way.

2
Where Are We Going?

Walk Planning and Mapping
Walk Planning and Mapping. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I like to know where I am going, and in this age of smartphones, I'm used to having full info at my fingertips. When you are on a group walking tour, your leader may not provide a map or directions for your walk. You have to trust that they are taking you to the best sights along the way. It's disorienting for me when I'm walking in an area that has no cell access to maps on my phone. You have to keep up with the group, and not get too far ahead of them, to make sure you find your way back to the hotel or bus.

3
Your Fellow Walkers -- and Few Locals

Cobblestone Path - Sare, France
Cobblestone Path - Sare, France. Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

You didn't choose these people as your travel and walking companions, but you are stuck with them for the duration. You can't get away from Sally with the annoying laugh and heavy perfume. You get tired of Pete's whining about getting up early and complaining about the food. When you are in a group, you are more likely to socialize with the group than meet local people in the area you are touring. By the end you may have made a new friend with Joe from Iowa, but not Jose from Barcelona. Your tour leader can tell you all about how local people live, but you don't meet any who show you their homes and actual life.

4
Waiting in Line at the Restroom

Waiting Line for Porta-John
Waiting Line for Porta-John. Wendy Bumgardner ©

"Stay hydrated!" our group walking tour leader admonished. But then the restroom stops were few and far between. To add insult to bladder discomfort, we were always lined up to share one or two stalls at each restroom stop. On my last group walking tour, the leaders framed the restroom stops as "coffee stops." Those who didn't need the restroom were encouraged to have a coffee, relax and chat. But I think I spent a third of my day waiting in line for the toilet.

5
Not On the Local Schedule

Puppet at Village Festival, Sare, France
Puppet at Village Festival, Sare, France. Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

You arrive at the town square and all of the shops are closed for siesta. It's Monday and the museum is closed. You are ready for dinner but the locals don't eat until after sundown. Your walk goes past Old Faithful geyser five minutes after the eruption and you can't wait around for the next one. While tour leaders try to get you to the right sights at the best time, you can end up at the right place at the wrong time. On the flip side, we happened to be walking in the Basque village of Sare, France on the day of their village festival to benefit the local school. Our group got to enjoy the pelote match, singing, dancing, marionettes, and the festival food booths. A perfect coincidence -- enjoy such things when you can!

6
Waiting for Stragglers

GGilboa Walk - Day 2 10K Asian Walking Group
Gilboa Walk - Day 2 10K Asian Walking Group. Wendy Bumgardner © 2010

In every group there is the person who is late for the group start, lollygags taking photos, strays away from the group, takes off up the trail and makes a wrong turn, etc. Sometimes, that person is you. It's just an inevitable part of group travel. Tour leaders can set expectations, but human nature means somebody has to be last -- or lost.

7
No Time to Shop

Market Stalls in Turkey
Market Stalls in Turkey. Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

I'm not a big shopper, but I like to take home a cup or ornament from each of my major trips. I went on a walking group tour in Jerusalem that gave us 10 minutes to complete any souvenir shopping we wanted to do, plus make a restroom visit! I didn't even have time to haggle over the price for the tiles I spotted at the closest shop. On a walking tour in Turkey, I decided to skip deeper explorations of the underground city in order to have time to buy the items I wanted at the bazaar up top. But I've also been on tours that took you to an "exclusive" shop for a long shopping stop. It shouldn't be a mystery that the shop owner gives a bonus to the tour leader to make that stop.

8
Group Dining Woes

Pinxto Bar in San Sebastian, Spain
Pinxto Bar in San Sebastian, Spain. Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

Curb your culinary expectations when you are traveling and walking with a group. Enjoying the local cuisine is one of my biggest joys of travel. Group meals are aimed for the common denominator. You rarely get the spicy, exotic, or unique cuisine of the area you are visiting. Picky eaters or people with food allergies either must make themselves pests in arranging for a special plate or forage for their own. When you are out on the walk of the day, you may be asked to grab picnic items at a store or be given a time limit to get food from restaurants around the town square. I've seen people hitting the Burger King rather than enjoying the local choices so they have time to shop for souvenirs.

9
Planes, Trains and Autobuses

Train
Train. Wendy Bumgardner ©

You have to get to where you are going to walk. Group travel means even longer waits for everyone's luggage to get loaded, with inevitable mishaps. You have less choice about where you sit on the train or bus when you are with a group. The person who gets motion sickness has to be accommodated. Walkers can get antsy during long transfers from place to place. When your hours on the bus or train far exceed your hours walking and touring at your destination, you start to rethink your itinerary.

10
Tourist Not Traveler

San Sebastian Walking Group
San Sebastian Walking Group. Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

In a group, you're a tourist, not a traveler. Even a small group will stand out as "other." Pickpockets and panhandlers are attracted like flies to honey. Prices mysteriously rise over what they charge the locals. You can only go to places that can accommodate the size of your group or the width of the tour bus that gets you there. If you want an "authentic" travel experience, don't go with a group.

11
And Now for the Positives

I put up with the drawbacks because there are great reasons to join in a group tour rather than going it alone. Here they are:
10 Reasons to Walk with a Group Walking Tour

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