Guided vs. Independent Travel: Which is Best for You?

Independent vs. Guided Travel
Kraig Becker

One of the biggest dilemmas that any adventure traveler face is whether or not they should travel independently or hire a guide. Both options have their pluses and minuses of course, and it is easy to see why some struggle with deciding exactly which way to go. But before you decide for yourself, here are a few things to consider. 

What is Your Level of Experience

Your previous level of travel experience should be taken into account before making the choice to travel independently. If you're new to the world of adventure travel, it is generally recommend that you get a few guided trips under your belt before electing to go completely on your own. After all, this isn't exactly the same type of experience as taking a relaxing escape to Paris or Rome. There are plenty of things to be convcerned about when first learning the ropes, including what gear to bring, how to pack, where to go, and so on.

Why not let someone else organize the logistics of the trip, while you focus on keeping yourself happy, healthy, and fit. After you've gotten a sense of what to expect on these types of excursions, and gotten comfortable with the challenges that come with adventure travel, you can always decide to forego the use of guides in the future, and wander completely on your own. 

What is Your Destination?

Another factor that should be considered when deciding whether or not to hire a guide is where exactly you'll be traveling. Some places will require you to have a guide with you at all times, while others don't enforce such stipulations. For example, a climb up Kilimanjaro is not possible unless you go with an accredited guide service, although you'll have no problem hiking to Everest Base Camp completely on your own should you choose to do so. In Nepal, there is a good infrastructure in place that allows independent travel, even if visitors are encouraged to go with a group led by a local guide.

Before setting out on a trip, do some research to determine the rules and regulations. You may not have as much leeway as you might think. 

How Safe is Your Destination?

If you are traveling to a destination where it isn't always safe for foreign visitors to go on their own, it might be a good idea to hire someone to show you around. A reputable guide can steer you away from places where things might get a bit dodgy, and will know the best times to visit the important sites without running into questionable characters. A good example of this is a place like Egypt, which is generally safe for travelers, but there are still areas that are best to avoid. A good guide can navigate you about in an efficient manner, while still showing you everything that you want to see.


How Much Time Do You Have?

If you're on a tight schedule, hiring a guide can help maximize your time while visiting a destination. They'll know the most efficient ways to not only navigate through cities and the countryside, they'll also be able to cut through bureaucratic red tape too. You can spend a lot of time and energy just trying to accomplish those same tasks yourself, which can often be a frustrating and time consuming task. On the other hand, if you have a flexible schedule, and aren't necessarily rushed, there are some rewards to be had by taking your time, moving at your own pace and schedule, and generally enjoying the flexibility and freedom that comes with traveling independently.


What's Your Budget?

For many adventure travelers, not hiring a guide often comes down to how much money they can save on a trip. Guides can be expensive, and that can eat into your overall budget for doing all the other things that you want to do while visiting a country or destination. Knowing how to travel on your own, and being confident enough to do just that, can certainly save you lots of cash. Of course, the tradeoff is convenience. Without a guide, you'll be organizing transportation on your own, figuring out the best ways to navigate through the place you're visiting, and collecting all of the permits and other documents you might need along the way.

That can all be taxing, time consuming work, which many would prefer to leave to a professional who does it for a living. 

What Type of Experience Do You Want From Your Trip?

Ultimately, the choice for traveling independently vs. hiring a guide can come down to knowing exactly what you want to get out of your trip. If you're looking for a sense of cultural immersion and exploration, going it alone may be the best approach. If on the other hand, you want to learn as much as you can, and see as much as possible, in a limited amount of time, hiring a guide is probably the best way to go. A good guide has endless stories and an amazing amount of knowledge, allowing you to learn a lot more than you would if you were just reading it from a guide book.

 On the other hand, there is nothing like the sense of satisfaction you'll get when you realize that you can go just about anywhere completely by yourself, and without the need for someone else to show you around. Adventure travel is often about pushing your personal boundaries, and nothing does that more completely than taking a journey independently. 

In the end, there is really no right or wrong way to travel, just variations of what works for each of us. For some, that means hiring guides to show us around, while for others it means going it alone in places that are completely unknown and foreign. Sometimes, a mix of both approaches works well, hiring a guide for a portion of the trip, and wandering untethered too. Hopefully you'll find which approach works best for you, and continue to seek new adventures in your wanderings.