8 Reasons to Love Travelling With a Tour Group

I find a lot of travelers have a stigma against tour groups such as Contiki/G Adventures/Trafalgar etc. When I worked at a travel agency, I found a lot of the time if I suggested a tour to people they would shut down the idea with excuses like “I don’t want to be stuck with a large group of people” or “I don’t want to be on a tight strict schedule”. While these may be good reasons, there are also a ton of good reasons that a tour is actually a really good idea.

1/ It can be less expensive.
A lot of people look at the cost of the tour in a brochure and assume it is too expensive. In a lot of cases it is actually cheaper to do a tour, as tour companies negotiate contracts with accommodations/excursion companies etc to get a really good discount. Also a lot of tours also include breakfast daily, and while it may not seem like that big of a deal, trust me it sure does add up over the days!

2/ You get to meet new friends.
This may be a more obvious advantage of a tour, but I find it a lot easier to make friends on a tour than in a hostel. Not all people are like this, but I still find it awkward to go start a conversation with a bunch of random people in a hostel common room. At least on a tour your catching the same transport, staying in the same places and often doing the same activities together so it is a lot easier to make friends with everyone.

My amazing Contiki group in Toledo, Spain

My amazing Contiki group in Toledo, Spain

3/ A great introduction to an area you have never been before.
I first went to Europe on a Contiki tour. Even though we only had a couple of days in each place, it gave me a good idea of where I really want to go back to! Barcelona for example- 1.5 days was not enough, so I can’t wait to go back and spend a good week there. Where as Nice didn’t really do much for me and I am not too fussed if I don’t spend much time there again!

4/ It can be safer.
Some countries – India, China, the Middle East – I personally would not feel safe doing on my own, especially as a solo female traveler. Having a tour group means you always have friends to watch your back, and a tour guide that knows the ins and outs of the area and will only take you to places they trust.

5/ You don’t need to stress about not knowing the language.
Sometimes it can be fun going to somewhere you don’t speak the language, and try to communicate with people and test your skills. However it isn’t always that fun when your trying to cross borders, or have any run ins with scary looking security guards etc – at least you will have your guide nearby that can do the translating for you!

6/ Perfect if you want to see a lot but only have a couple of weeks vacation leave.
Tours are planned out so you get to see the areas best attractions in a limited amount of time. It cuts down time visiting disappointing places that weren’t worth the time, time spent trying to work out which bus or train to catch, or time spent trying to find a vacant yet reasonably priced clean hostel.

The lines for the Colosseum were about 200 people long at 8am!

The lines for the Colosseum were about 200 people long at 8am!

7/ Get the expertise of a guide who knows the area like the back of their hand.
Sometimes a local may recommend you a bar or restaurant that they love and think you would really love it as well – except you get there and it isn’t really your scene at all. A guide not only will have great knowledge of the city you’re in and great places to go, but over the tour they will also get to know you as well so they can recommend a place they know you will love.

8/ Get to know the locals.
G Adventures is especially great at this one – they will organize a nights home-stay on a lot of their trips, or dinner at a local families home or similar. These kind of things can be a bit trickier on your own – there is couch surfing and sites as such, but if I am spending a night with a local family in Vietnam or Kenya I know I would much prefer to have a tour companies seal of approval on the home!

 

I am also a huge fan of solo travel don’t get me wrong! But I feel like more travelers out there need to give tours a chance – they may be pleasantly surprised!

 

P.S This post is not sponsored in any way- all opinions are my own! 🙂

 

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Summer Days = Happy Days

The last week I was lucky enough that my days off were the days with the best weather! As I have been having a lot of farewells for close friends I have made here in Whistler, it has meant a lot of late nights and on my days off not really being up to doing a huge amount. I am so thankful I have all these beautiful lakes near by to enjoy my days at, opposed to just staying at home in bed all day! (in saying that, this is all I have done today… thanks to a very large housewarming last night and the fact I’m sick!)

Lost Lake is about a 30 minute bike ride away from my house, and Blueberry Docks at Alta Lake is just a 5 minute ride. Both lakes are as equally gorgeous, and I have the shots to prove it!

 

Blueberry Docks at Alta Lake

Blueberry Docks at Alta Lake

The view over the golf course on the way to Alta Lake

The view over the golf course on the way to Alta Lake

Lost Lake Again

Lost Lake

Lost Lake

Lost Lake Again

The Start of Something New – Whistler Summer 2014

The sun is making frequent visits, the bears are awake from hibernation, the largest mosquitoes I have ever seen are buzzing around – must mean it is almost summer!

May is a month of a real mix of weather- some mornings it is 3 degrees and then the next day it will reach 20+ degrees. It is about as unpredictable as the weather in Wellington in the middle of summer- but that is spring for you!

I started my new job at the end of April. As it is the dead season here, the hours have been really low and after moving into a new house and paying my one months rent in advance/bond/supplies/a bike to get to and from work, I have really had to watch what I spend more so than usual. I am so blessed to have a job already though as a lot of my friends haven’t found work yet, or their winter contracts ended on April 21st when Whistler mountain shut and their new jobs don’t start until the end of May/June when summer properly kicks in.

Apparently, this year a LOT more people have decided to extend their stay in Whistler for summer than in previous years which is why the jobs are harder to come by. On the plus side though, that just goes to show summer in Whistler really must be as amazing as everyone says it will be!

The last couple of weeks when I haven’t been working, I have mostly just spent my days at the lakes. Unlike most places, there isn’t really anyone around stopping you from drinking in public, so most people bring some beers or ciders down to the lake to spend the day and play some frisbee or footy. Lying in the sun, drinking a cold cider and reading my book made me really appreciate where I am in my life right now. I keep having thoughts through out my time here about how I am across the other side of the world earning next to minimum wage, struggling to keep any savings of any sort, and not really progressing a life long career as such. But when I was relaxing at the lake I realized I am so much happier in my life right now than I could have been back home (although if my friends and family were closer by that would be perfect!) It’s only a year of my life where I am not earning much money but I get to work in a fun job with no stress and great people, I get to spend my days off at the lake or hiking one of the many stunning trails, or trying my hand at downhill mountain biking. I live in a town where it feels like FOREVER if I haven’t seen one of my friends in a week, and if I am bored of staying at home one night there will always be something happening in the village. Also if I get sick of the bubble, Vancouver is only 2.5 hours away and I can get my city fix!

As summer starts to roll in, I thought it would be the perfect time for a fresh start- no more comfort food so I lose the few pounds I put on over winter, get outdoors more and make the most of the amazing scenery around me, and focus on my blog a bit more and show it some TLC! Even though I am definitely no WordPress Wiz and it took me ages to work out how to make the changes I have made on the blog, I am pretty proud of my end result! Next step – taking the course A Beautiful Mess is offering on blogging, and hopefully I can work towards getting my blog to the next level. So stay tuned in the hope I can actually do this! 🙂

 

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Summer Days at Alta Lake

 

Weekend Getaway to Seattle

One thing I love about North America is how easy it is to take weekend trips away. Sure it is easy enough in New Zealand as well, especially with such a small country that doesn’t take long to get around, but when you have lived there 20 years it is quite easy to of seen most of the country!

Last weekend I made the most of my couple of days off between jobs to pop down to Seattle for a weekend. Only a short and inexpensive trip from Whistler, I had no excuse not to tick it off the bucket list!

I slightly stupidly thought it would be a great idea to go out the night after my last night at work and to celebrate new beginnings – a fun night, but not such a fun trip to Seattle the next day. A 2.5 hour bus ride to Vancouver (with a wait for a replacement bus as ours broke down), then a 4 hour bus ride to Seattle, then a half hour walk about 20 blocks to my hostel. Needless to say, when I arrived at the hostel at 7pm I was ready for dinner and bed.

 

The hostel I stayed at - City Hostel Seattle. It definitely lived up to its award for Best Hostel in the USA in 2012- probably the nicest dorm I have ever stayed in!

The hostel I stayed at – City Hostel Seattle. It definitely lived up to its award for Best Hostel in the USA in 2012- probably the nicest dorm I have ever stayed in!

 

The one good thing about an early night and turning down offers to go to gigs/parties with the others in my dorm was that I got a whole day worth of sightseeing in the next day. With only 1.5 days in Seattle, I had a lot to squeeze in!

My day started off with what I thought was a visit to the worlds first Starbucks. When I got there, it didn’t look very old and it was pretty flashy but it was on the corner of 1st Ave which is what Google told me. So I ordered my Skinny Misto (the closest thing you can get to a Trim Flat White over here) and went off to explore Pike Place Markets. It wasn’t until about half an hour later when I found the REAL first Starbucks – the line out the door and half way down the street gave it away!

Over my short time in the city, I managed to fit a lot more in than what I was expecting and never even felt rushed. I managed to explore Pike Place Markets, see the Bubblegum Wall, get a coffee from the real first Starbucks (on the Monday morning when there was no line whatsoever!), visit the Space Needle, go to the EMP Museum, take the Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, and take a ride on the Ferris Wheel on the waterfront. Oh and stock up on the cheap makeup (of course).

The EMP Museum and the Space Needle

The EMP Museum and the Space Needle

Pike Place Public Market

Pike Place Public Market

 

Some of whats left underground in Seattle after looters took most of what was left in the 1950s

Some of whats left underground in Seattle after looters took most of what was left in the 1950s

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour was definitely one of my highlights. The history of Seattle is pretty incredible – and the tour guides

told it in a way where someone of any age would enjoy learning about it. The guides were really humorous and informative. At the end of the tour I found out it was our guides first day taking a tour on his own – I was well impressed!

The Underground tour takes you underground (funny that!) to the level where the city was originally back in the 1800s. Due to constant flooding they needed to raise the city, which is Seattle as we know it today. It is really interesting  to explore the underground and imagine how life was in the city back in the day – there was a time where all of the shops were underground and the street was above them, so you would literally have to climb up and down a ladder off the side of the street to get to the shops!

 

Amazing sculpture inside the EMP Museum

Amazing sculpture inside the EMP Museum

The other highlight for me was the EMP museum. Even from the outside this museum is incredible! The museum focuses on music, pop culture and film which is the perfect type of museum for me! I didn’t actually know before I visited that Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix were from Seattle, and seeing the exhibits for them really gave me a new-found appreciation for their lives and their music.

The whole museum is really state of the art – the top floor is dedicated to music, and you can go into all these little studios and play guitar/drums/bass etc and record music, or you can learn how to mix on turntables. There is even a concert experience where you go in to a room and play on a stage and it is as if you are playing for a live audience in a concert! I am personally not talented in any way shape or form when it comes to music although I did have a go on the turntables, and although I just made sounds like a dying rabbit it was still a lot of fun.

 

 

Seattle in a whole seemed like an amazing city. In saying this, I was lucky enough to experience two beautiful sunny days which apparently isn’t a frequent occurence – a lot like Vancouver weather. The city reminded me of my home in Wellington – great coffee, cute boutique stores, a beautiful water front and really quite windy. It also had a really similar vibe to Melbourne, especially with the Pike Place Markets being very similar to the Queen Victoria Markets.

Coffee at the first ever Starbucks (the right one this time)

Coffee at the first ever Starbucks (the right one this time)

Outside the incredible EMP Museum

Outside the incredible EMP Museum

Seattle's waterfront is stunning on a sunny day.

Seattle’s waterfront is stunning on a sunny day.

Now it is back to the real world for me, although since I have returned in the space of a week I have started a new job, moved into a real house (no more staff housing for me!) and said goodbye to some of my close friends who I have made over the last 7 months in Whistler.

There will be more to come in regards to my Whistler life soon! The internet isn’t set up at my new house yet so for now I am having to resort to the internet at the library (which wouldn’t be a bad thing except I have just spent the last 1.5 hours sitting next to a REALLY smelly man!)

 

Ciao for now!

Emily