First Time Travel to Southeast Asia: Travel With a Tour or Go It Alone?

Girl wearing daypack in Southeast Asia
You’re going travelling in Southeast Asia! You’ve booked your flights, you’re starting to do some research, and you’re getting a little bit anxious. There’s so much information out there, so many conflicting opinions. What’s a first timer to do? You’re travelling on your own, which is more than a little daunting in itself. Your mum is not overly happy with the situation and sends you links to news articles that are quite frankly freaking you out (not that you’d let her know that!). What if you don’t meet any cool people to hang out with? Will you eat every meal by yourself? Go to bars by yourself? What is you have to pretend to be someone you’re not to fit in with the ‘backpacker crowd’? Firstly stop! You’re going to be fine. Just the fact that you’ve made the decision to book a flight and travel the world says that you’re the type of person who’s going to love backpacking in Southeast Asia. So now the big question is should you go it alone, or do it with a tour group? Here are some things to consider when weighing up the options.

Transport Costs in Southeast Asia

Travelling Independently… Travelling around Asia using public transport is cheap. Sometimes you’ll find there are local options and tourist options, but the tourist options are still cheap as chips, especially in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. You’ll need to research which are the best companies to use. Some can be great, but some can certainly be below par in terms of Western safety and mechanical standards; cramped, slow (or way too fast!). This is particularly true of India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, where driving is the worst we’ve come across! What’s guaranteed during your travels in Asia, is that you’ll also spend quite a lot of time trying to sort out how to get from A – B and public transport is only an A-B service. You won’t get to stop for photo opportunities or points of interest along the way, but you might get taken to shops where the driver gets a kick back to earn him a few extra bucks! You’ll often be dropped at a bus station a couple of kilometres outside of town and need to navigate your way in. If you haven’t got accommodation already booked a taxi driver will usually be more than happy to take you a hotel, but this might not be the most reliable recommendation! Travelling with a Tour Company.. When you travel with a tour company, you can check that their transport has high safety and quality standards and that they use private transport and well trained drivers. Being a tour, they’ll often stop at scenic places along the way to take photographs, so you’ll see more and break up the journey, arriving at your destination ready to go. You will pay more, but many people prefer this option as you won’t have to bite your nails the whole way to the next destination! When it comes to accommodation, most tour companies build this into the cost of the tour or offer preferred accommodation options that they’ve quality checked.

Planning and Time

Doing the organising yourself… If you’re the type of person who loves planning and putting the time into researching each destination and finding out all there is to do and see so you don’t miss out on anything, then you may be happy to do it by yourself. Some people love learning all about destinations in advance, planning routes, and reading online reviews and forums. Or perhaps you have a lot of time to travel and you’re content to wing it without doing any planning or research at all! Leaving the task in someone else’s hands… If you don’t have inclination to spend a lot of time researching or a lot of time to travel but you still don’t want to miss out on anything, then going with a tour could be the right option for you. More and more people are backpacking for a shorter amount of time, taking two or three weeks out of a busy career, and understandably so, they don’t want to waste any moment on the planning aspect of travel, which can be time consuming in Asia. Some of you just want to relax and be taken care of – and that’s cool! The good thing is that tour companies do all the hard work for you! They’ve been everywhere and seen everything, so that what they put in the itinerary is what they consider a ‘must see!’ All you need to do is find the company that’s a good fit for you and they’ll do the rest.

Meeting Other Travellers  

Going solo… You’re going to meet people whether you travel by yourself or with a group. There’s something about travelling solo that opens you up to meeting so many more people. So don’t worry about that! If you travel on your own you’ll meet lots of people along the way going in all directions. You might choose to join them, you might be going a different way and you will have a couple of great days together, or just one night. People will come and go and you’ll have a great time. Travelling with the comfort of a tour… If you travel with a traditional tour, you’ll stay with the whole group for the whole time. You’ll forge some really strong friendships and connect with people from all over the world. But what if someone annoys you or you don’t get along with everyone? This rarely happens since everyone is there to have a good time. But this is when travelling with a flexible tour company like Stray Asia has its benefits. Don’t like someone in the group? Hop off at the next destination, then get back on the next bus with a different guide and a whole new group! It’s the best of both worlds!

Places to See

Choosing your own ‘must-see’ destinations… As mentioned previously, if you’re going it alone, you’ll need to do a lot of research and chat to a lot of travellers to figure out which places you want to visit and in what order.  It’s up to you which recommendations to listen to and which ones aren’t for you – everyone has a different opinion and the “banana pancake” trail through Southeast Asia is well trodden. Booking a tour with a set itinerary… If you choose to go with a tour company, take a look at the itineraries carefully.  Compare a few different itineraries to check that they visit all the places that you want to go.  You want to hit all the highlights, but try getting off the beaten track too.  See something a little different so you can be the one who gives future travellers recommendations!

Travel is an Education

Regardless of how you do it, you’re going to learn so much from travelling. You’re going to learn a lot about yourself, about the world, about other cultures and about people. Learn from experience… If you travel unguided, you may also learn some lessons you didn’t want to learn, but you’ll quickly learn how to trust your instinct, spot a scam and how to look like you’ve been there and done it before. Learn from experts… If you travel with a guide as part of a tour group you’ll learn a lot about the countries you’re travelling in and the local culture, particularly if the company you choose employs local guides. With a local guide, you’ll learn some of the lingo, what to order in a restaurant (there’s more to Asian cuisine than Pad Thai and green curry), the best local places to see and you get to ask as many questions as you want!


There are many different ways to travel, and what’s right for one person might not be right for someone else. Sure, you can travel on your own cheaper, do lots of research, learn lots and grow as a person from doing things independently. Or you can travel organised and stress-free, meet great people, learn lots from a local guide and feel safe exploring Asia. Or – you can do both! Book a guided tour or flexible bus pass for the first part of your trip until you feel confident navigating on your own, then do a portion of it yourself! Who has done both? What do you think? Stray Asia is a flexible tour company that specialises in hop-on, hop-off travel passes through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. Tours are led by local guides, and activities and accommodation can be booked as you go, giving you the flexibility to book for yourself or ask the Tour Leader to book it for you. They also offer packages that include accommodation and a selection of top rated activities, perfect for those who want everything sorted for them.

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