A First-Timer’s Take on Group Travel: What an independent traveler learned about the benefits – and cautions – of group travel

by Sue Durio on June 20, 2023 in Travels,

“Interested in Traveling to Greece Next Year?” That was the church newsletter headline that sent me packing for Greece. The 10-day adventure, coordinated through a leading group travel company, would combine three nights on a cruise ship with seven nights traveling by motorcoach to religiously significant archeological sites across Greece and Turkey. It sounded enticing, but as an avid independent traveler, I had never considered using a group travel company.

Travelers can count on group travel guides for insider tips on the best spots to take in stunning views like this over-the-water Mykonos sunset. Photo Carol Lesem.

Would this be a good fit for my penchant for spontaneous side trips and unexpected discoveries? How would I adjust to adhering to a daily schedule set by someone else? And would traveling with people I barely knew be just too much for the introvert in me?

Weighing those questions against the fact that I didn’t know the language or the area, the idea of leaving the logistics to someone else was appealing enough to seal the deal.

And, somewhere along the ports and backroads of Greece, I learned a lot about Greece, but also, more than a few things about group travel.

Insider Insights

Traveling with a group tour led by a professional guide takes the stress out of navigating unfamiliar areas like this crossroads in Veria, Greece. Photo Sue Durio.

Picture a lively party host who can weave historical and cultural insights into captivating stories — the kinds of things that otherwise would require significant research. Our travel manager shared sidebars about places we passed in route elsewhere, taught us Greek, gave us the meaning behind local customs and seemingly knew locals everywhere we went. If she mentioned she would be dropping by a certain taverna later, you’d be wise to join her for the best table in the house and an introduction to the owner or performers.

VIP Perks

Headsets connect tour managers with their groups and enable them to share fascinating history with travelers without interrupting other groups. From our guide we learned that an underground tunnel connected this ancient library at Ephesus with a brothel across the road. Photo Sue Durio.


Never having to shlepp a suitcase can spoil a person. In the early mornings before moving to another hotel, our group travelers simply set luggage outside their rooms, from where it was magically whisked away and loaded onto the motorcoach, only to be redelivered to our next hotel’s rooms. In a hotel like Kalambaka’s quaint Hotel Famissi Eden equipped with tiny elevators, this perk was especially appreciated.

Thanks to the tour company’s advance arrangements, the VIP perks continued. In Thessaloniki, for instance, we took over nearly the entire Palati restaurant to feast on a pre-arranged traditional Greek feast while being serenaded by local musicians. At the Acropolis and Ephesus, pre-purchased entrance tickets moved our wieldy entourage to the front of the lines, ahead of solo travelers.

Carefree Travel

Experienced tour guides arrange early arrival times at key sites like the House of the Virgin Mary outside Ephesus, Turkey, to avoid crowds and provide travelers with optimal access to sites. Travelers at that holy site quietly reflect on the wall of prayers where visitors of all faiths attach their petitions on cloth and paper. Photo Sue Durio.

Group travel is about letting someone else do all (or most of) the thinking. Planning road routes? Check. Need to locate a Buc-ee’s equivalent in Greece? Done. Between the expert drivers and the experienced tour manager, seemingly every possible detail is covered. Simply sit back and enjoy the ride.

What Else to Know

While leaving the planning and logistics to someone else has its advantages, it’s important to choose a group tour that is the right fit for your travel style. Here are some other things to consider before committing to a group travel tour.

Check the Group Size

Our Greek trip was large – nearly 80 travelers. Some tour companies limit tour groups to a dozen or fewer travelers, and some will customize tours to your group alone, and even to solo travelers. Remember: you will be with your fellow sojourners the better part of every day of your trip so choose a tour that fits your style.

Evaluate the Itinerary

Smaller cruise ships like the Celestyal Olympia often make two port stops daily in Greece, enabling group travelers to maximize their time. Photo Sue Durio.

Look closely at each day’s planned activities versus how much free time you’ll have. View a map to understand how long you are driving between destinations. Some tours, like our Collette tour to Greece, cover several stops in a single day, leaving little time for exploring on your own. If you are a traveler who loves spontaneity, a less regimented itinerary might be more to your liking.

Research Flights

One-stop booking may be more convenient but may also be less accommodating. Many travelers in our group were not able to choose seats, or to sit with their traveling partner, and the company only offered one upgraded (first class) seat price option. Take your time, ask lots of questions.

Assess Accommodations

Check the tour’s hotel ratings and locations. Visit their websites. Be sure they are in central, safe, easily walkable locations, like the Crowne Plaza Athens City Center where we stayed while in Athens.

Do Your Own Legwork

Don’t expect your tour company to answer all your questions. For our trip, pre-travel communication was limited. It was only through personal research that we confirmed things like passport requirements, dress requirements to religious sites and converter specifications.

Cover Photo Sue Dorio.

Freelance writer Sue Durio is a regular contributor to Texas Lifestyle magazine, where she shares her love for adventure travel and unique destinations. Contact her at www.linkedin.com/in/suedurio.