The Best Group Travel Companies For Single Travellers Over 50

Are you considering taking a group tour as a solo traveller but are unsure how to go about it or if it will be the right fit for you?

I am a massive fan of group travel.

More often than not I travel independently. However, over the past two decades, I have opted to join a group travel tour close on 20 occasions.

For the most part, these group tours have been excellent experiences, allowing me to gain a deeper understanding of local culture and history and to make lasting friendships with fellow travellers.

As well as being a relatively hassle-free way of travelling, group tours are a superb way for a first-time solo traveller to get their feet wet before striking out independently.

hikers who are part of a group travel for singles tanding on stone steps against a deep blue sky
Group tour on Nepal in 2006 (by now, the perm was long gone)

But is group travel right for you as a single traveller and, if so, which are the best tour group operators? And what should you look for when choosing a group tour company, especially as a solo traveller over 50?

Available group travel companies cater to a range of travel styles and budgets. As with most life choices, ultimately the deciding factors will depend on your personal preferences and priorities.

But wouldn’t it be better if you could make that choice armed with some more information?

This is where I can help you.

In this article, I will identify the best group travel companies for singles, with a focus on midlife solo travellers. I’ll also tell you why you should consider an organised tour and what to look for in a group travel company.


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infographic of trends in over 50 singles travel including group travel
The Rise in Over 50s Singles Travel Infographic

Which are the best travel group companies for over 50 singles?

I’m going to nail my flag to the mast from the outset.

Based on my experience, the best travel group companies for singles over 50 are Explore and Exodus Travels.

These two tour group operators offer the following:

  • Small group sizes
  • Good value for money
  • Older age demographic
  • Different styles of travel to suit all solo travellers
  • Flexible booking conditions
a group tour with people posing in sri lanka
On an Exodus group tour of Sri Lanka, 2017

 

However, Intrepid and G Adventures are also worth considering

These offer:

  • Small group sizes
  • Adventure tour focus
  • Range of travel style to suit all single travellers

 More about all of these companies later.

Why should you embrace group travel as a single traveller?

There are multiple benefits of joining a group tour as a solo traveller.

Firstly, it’s super easy. Someone else takes the pain out of organising your trip. You merely rock up at the airport for your flight.

And as your itinerary will be put together by someone in the know you can be confident that you will cover the ‘must-see’ sights.

Tour leaders are a mine of information and there’s an excellent chance that you will gain more cultural and historical insight from group travel than if you are left to your own devices.

But for me, the main benefits of organised group travel are its time efficiency and the opportunity to meet like-minded people.

As a working person, the efficient use of time is the greatest advantage of group travel.

As your land arrangements are taken care of, you can hit the ground running.  And as group tour itineraries are smart about how they structure their time, you can cover larger distances and see more things in a shorter space of time.

This is an enormous boon for working people trying to shoehorn as much into their previous annual leave as possible.  

Loneliness and not being able to share the moment is one of the biggest disadvantages of travelling alone. Not a problem with group travel, as instant companionship is part of the package.

people sitting around dining table on group travel for singles tour
Group travel in Turkey

In my experience, bonds form quickly and often more intensively than in ‘real-life’, and sometimes parting from the group at the end of the tour can be a wrench. An added bonus is that some of these relationships persist once back on home soil.

There’s safety in numbers and if you are anxious about your personal safety when travelling alone, the security of a group tour may be the answer for you.

Finally, 2020 has shown us that travel can be a precarious pastime. 

The coronavirus pandemic forced me to curtail a solo trip travelling across Japan by rail. With my return flight cancelled and precious few alternative options available, finding a way home resulted in a few more grey hairs, whilst teaching me some valuable travel lessons!

Contrast this with a small tour group I chatted with as I was boarding my plane home. Yes; they also had to cut short their holiday. However, Wendy Wu Tours, their group travel company, took care of all of the arrangements for them.

I confess that I was more than a little bit envious

My experiences of group travel

It all began in New Zealand on a short Contiki bus tour of the South Island.

This was party bus central and although this was huge fun as a thirty-something, I wouldn’t want to repeat it in my 50s.  My liver couldn’t take it.

My next group travel experience could not have been more different.

The place was India, the group tour operator was Bales Worldwide (subsequently acquired by Virgin Holidays), the style was affordable luxury. Not exactly getting down and dirty with local people, comfortable air-conditioned coaches whisked us from one 5-star hotel to the next.

Subsequent group tours have been more modest, largely travelling with Explore and Exodus Travels and visiting destinations from Iran to Libya, China to Sri Lanka.

a group of travellers by a desert in peru
Group travel to Peru

How to choose a group travel company for singles 

 Group travel is a thriving market with multiple operators offering an enormous and evolving range of group tours that singles can book.

Although my favourite group travel companies are Explore and Exodus, I wouldn’t automatically restrict my choice to these two companies.

More about that later.

Before you click on that ‘Book Now’ button there are important questions you need to first ask yourself.

What is your budget?

How much do you want to spend? There are group travel companies to accommodate all budgets but it’s important to work out what your total costs will be before committing to booking.

Try to figure out if the group tour represents good value for money. You don’t want to pay over the odds for the company’s overheads, so ask yourself if the price of the group tour reflects the standard of accommodation for example.

Check if there are fees that you will need to pay on arrival. Is everything that you want to do included in the baseline tour price or are these subject to an additional fee?

A group tour that appears cheap may not be such a bargain once you factor in everything.

Is a single room important to you? 

If you have ever travelled alone, see if this seems familiar.

You arrive at your hotel and, as a solo traveller, you grudgingly hand over a sizeable single supplement for the privilege of having a room to yourself. Inevitably, this is one of the worst rooms in the place; a poky space not much bigger than a broom cupboard overlooking the rubbish bins in the dank alley alongside the hotel.

But you take it on the chin, accepting that this is the unfair price you pay to reap the benefits of solo travel.

Tour operators and hotels justify this extra charge on the grounds that the fixed cost of servicing a room – bed linen, cleaning, utilities, maintenance and so on – is the same, regardless of how many people are occupying it.

On a group tour, to avoid paying a single supplement you can opt to share a room with a fellow traveller of the same sex.

I have always opted for a room to myself but that’s just me. A close friend, who has been on multiple group tours, always takes a chance on it and has never had a bad experience.

However, on a group tour of Guatemala, a fellow traveller had the roomie from Hell.

woman standing in doorway of a shop in guatemala
Not her!

If you choose to share a room and there’s no one available on the group tour to share with, you get a single room without having to pay a supplement

Place your bets now.

If you crave privacy, check that the group travel company will allow you to have a single room (some of the budget to mid-range operators mandate room sharing).

If you want a room to yourself, how much are you prepared to pay for a single supplement? As there is a wide variation between operators, it is tricky to generalise. Typically, the single supplements run at between 20 and 30% of the base cost.

The high-end operators have been the most responsive at waiving the single supplement. However, the baseline cost of these group tours is more.

Although the majority of mid-range group travel companies charge a single supplement for sole occupancy, in many cases this is quite modest and it won’t break the bank to pay extra for a room to yourself.

Bonus tip!

Keep an eye out for offers and flash sales. Sign up to travel companies’ newsletters to be in the know.

How many other people do you want to be travelling with?

Group size is a huge consideration for me.

Ideally, I look for a group size of between 8 and 16.

Any less than this, if there are a few difficult people in the group, their impact is magnified.

Once the group size starts to exceed 20, it’s more difficult to get to know people and the tour leader opts for more touristy restaurants purely to accommodate the size of the group.

Smaller groups also tend to be much more mindful of the impact on the environment.

small group of people travelling on a tractor
Unusual transport option on a group tour

Do you mind how old your fellow travellers are?

The demographics of your fellow travellers is an important consideration.

Is the tour geared toward gap-yearers in their 20s or young professionals? Families or retirees?

As a traveller in her 50s, this is another important criterion for me. My ideal group travel experience is not ending up with on a Contiki tour bus (other group travel companies are available) rammed with partying Generation Z’ers

Not that there’s anything wrong with Contiki. Far from it.

When I used them for a few days in New Zealand and they were absolutely fine. But that was 25 years ago when I was much younger and wanted a different group travel experience.

But group travel preferences go a little deeper than simply a desire for a quieter holiday. Ensuring that the group demographics reflect your own gives you more a fighting chance of finding common ground with your fellow travellers.

There are a few quick ways that you can check if the group travel company will be a good match for you.

Check out the “About” page on the tour companies’ website which usually list their guest demographic. Images from their tours are also a good indicator.

Another clue is to look at the accommodation. If the tour uses budget accommodation –  hostels or guesthouses – it is likely to be geared towards younger backpackers.  Tours featuring fancy hotels are more likely to attract older travellers and families.

If all else fails and you are nervous about who your fellow travellers may be, pick up the phone and call the tour company. I’ve done this in the past, and they were able to provide basic demographic information without falling foul of data protection issues.

How important is the standard of accommodation to you?

As fancy-schmancy hotels push up the price of group travel, these are more commonly offered by high-end operators. At the opposite end of the spectrum, low-budget group travel companies use dorms, guesthouses, or tents?

Mid-range companies in my experience tend to use a mixture of accommodation styles. For example, I went on an excellent group tour of Sri Lanka in 2017 which housed us mostly in luxurious hotels but throw in a very basic hotel midway through the tour.

Does the group tour company use local guides?

Your tour guide can make or break a trip.

For example; Roshan, my guide in Sri Lanka was excellent. Not only did he have exemplary organisational skills and explained everything clearly, but he was also committed to giving back to his local community.

two men having a mock fight sitting on tree trunk
Roshan demonstrating Sri Lankan games

However, I’ve been on other group tours where the guide was disinterested (Cuba) or nursing a crashing hangover from celebrating Chinese New Year whilst showing us around the temples of Angkor (Cambodia).

In my experience, local guides are the best.  Many companies now use local guides but if you are unsure call the customer service line to check.

What is the group travel company’s commitment to travellers’ safety

This has never been as important as in this era of the coronavirus.

It’s always been the case that the group travel company should follow the required safety requirements and have the appropriate accreditations. But Covid-19 adds another layer to safety considerations.

Any group travel company worth its salt should have a coronavirus safety charter. Look out for the following:

  • Safe destinations – ensuring that the country is deemed safe to visit according to advice from Government bodies, Covid infection rates, entry requirements and availability of medical facilities
  • Cleaning protocols – check that enhanced cleanliness and hygiene safety measures will be in place and that local teams will quality check accommodation, transport, restaurants and venues prior to travel.
  • Group size and checks – a smaller group size has never been so important. Are group members asked to complete a health declaration prior to travel? Will temperature checks be in place?
  • Self-isolation – in the event that the group needs to self-isolate, will the company offer support?
world globe covered in face mask and coronavirus particles

Is there a coronavirus travel with confidence pledge?

Given the uncertainties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, does the group travel company offer booking flexibility and financial security?

In the current climate, ideally, you should be  looking for the following:

  • Guaranteed refund if the trip is cancelled by the operator for any reason
  • Guaranteed refund if the trip is cancelled by you because you have Covid-19 or are asked to self-isolate
  • Flexibility to transfer your trip free of charge no later than 21 days before departure for any reason

Check that UK companies have ABTA and ATOL bonding for full financial protection


This checklist should put you in a better position to decide the best group travel company for you as solo traveller.

Broadly speaking there are three categories of group travel for singles:

  • Small group tours
  • Bus tours
  • Overlanding experiences

Let’s take a look at each of these and consider the best options for over 50 singles travel.

Types of group tours for single travellers

Small group tours for solo travellers

For me, this is the number one choice for group travel for over 50 singles.

With small group tours, you will be travelling in a group of 8  – 18 people, sometimes fewer, very occasionally more.

On a trip to Thailand and Cambodia with Explore Worldwide, there were just six of us. But on another trip to Morocco, we numbered 20.

You never can tell.

This involves mostly private transport, with a few local options thrown in.

Many small group tour operators will offer different tiers of trips, the cost of which is largely determined by the quality of digs. Both mid-range price tours and the more comfortable options are suitable for travellers over 50 singles.

Whilst the more expensive trips may attract older travellers, this is not always the case. The group tour to Sri Lanka was one of Exodus Travels’ Premium trips and the age of my fellow travellers ranged from those in their 30s right up to early 70s.

Equally, it’s not a given that the mid-range price tours will be exclusively filled by younger travellers.

In my experience, the mid-range price small group tours attract a wide range of age groups from millennials up to retirees. Accommodation tends to be clean and comfortable and, if you are lucky, you will be treated to a luxury stay for a few nights.

image looking up at a group of people and interior dome of mosque
Tour group photo, Iran

My favourite small group tour companies: Explore Worldwide & Exodus Travels

My favourite small group tour companies are Explore and Exodus Travels. I have notched up a dozen trips with them, evenly split between the two companies.

That, in itself, suggests that there is not a lot to differentiate between these two operators.

Both companies offer well-balanced itineraries across the globe. Broadly speaking Explore and Exodus Travels cater to the same market and some of their itineraries are strikingly similar.

The baseline price for Explore trips tends to be less but check for optional activities that will attract additional fees.

EXPLORE WORLDWIDE: HEADLINE FACTS

  • Established in 1981
  • Group size: 6 – 20 people. Average group size is 12.
  • Proportion of solo travellers:  60% of those on Explore group tours are single.  Tour groups usually comprise a good mix of solos, couples, and friends travelling together
  • Age demographics:  Explore’s group ours attract travellers of all ages. On those that I have joined, ages ranged from 30s to those in their 60s. 
  • Local guide on all tours
  • Commitment to sustainable travel and having a positive impact on local communities. The company’s main focus is climate change.
  • Trips are classified by pace: full-on, moderate, relaxed
  • Accommodation graded as simple, comfortable or premium
  • Frequent traveller loyalty scheme –  5% discount after four trips; 10% after nine trips
  • Excellent book with confidence assurances

EXODUS TRAVELS: HEADLINE FACTS

  • Established in 1974
  • Group size:  6 – 20 people
  • Proportion of solo travellers: 50% of those on Exodus group tours are single.  Tour groups usually comprise a good mix of solos, couples, and friends travelling together
  • Age demographics: Exodus’s group tours attract travellers of all ages. On those that I have joined, ages ranged from 30s to those in their 60s. 
  • Local guide on all tours
  • Commitment to sustainable travel and having a positive impact on local communities
  • Premium holidays allow you to discover the world from a more comfortable base each evening
  • Excellent frequent traveller loyalty scheme –  5% discount after two trips; 10% after seven trips. In addition to these discounts, the higher tier loyalty scheme includes greater booking flexibility.
  • Online forum and departure lounge to get to know fellow travellers before leaving home
  • Excellent book with confidence assurances

My favourite small group tours that I can recommend

Choosing my favourite small group tour is a little like choosing your favourite child. But if I was pushed to make the choice, these would be my top choices.

MOROCCO WITH EXPLORE

man in blue berber robes pouring tea

This was one of my first group travel experiences and one of the most memorable. The itinerary was fast-paced – I needed a rest when I arrived back home! – but unbeatable in terms of sheer variety and fun. It’s also inexpensive.

SRI LANKA WITH EXODUS

This Premium group tour allowed us to appreciate the diversity, culture of Sri Lanka in considerable comfort. We weren’t lucky enough to spot leopards in Yala but you can’t have it all!

 

GUATEMALA & HONDURAS WITH EXPLORE

brightly coloured bus in a street in guatemala

Visiting Guatemala with a few days in Honduras, this trip combined visits to indigenous communities in the highlands around beautiful Lake Atitlan with those to the early Maya cities of Tikal, Quirigua and Copan (Honduras). The best of Central America in a nutshell.

CHINA WITH EXPLORE

This 15-day tour of China was fast-paced but ticked off many of the country’s highlights, including the Great Wall and Xian’s Terracotta Army. To break the pace, it included a relaxing cruise along the Yangtze.

panda chewing on bamboo

Other small group travel companies for singles over 50s: Intrepid and G Adventures

In the interests of transparency, I confess that I have not yet travelled with G Adventures or Intrepid. However, I know people who have used both companies and would travel with them again.

The main reason that I have given them a wide berth is that their portfolio has been geared towards the 18-30 crowd.

Until now, that is.

In the last few years, both companies have expanded the breadth of their offerings to attract older customers, with a higher comfort level and premium accommodation. Because of this shift in focus, Intrepid and G Adventures and are now credible group travel options for singles over 50.

Cost-wise they are very comparable

INTREPID: HEADLINE FACTS

  • Established in 1989
  • Group size: An average of 10 people on a group tour
  • Age demographics: The average age of Intrepid’s travellers is 44
  • Local guide on all tours
  • Adventure travel focus
  • 3 grades of trips: Basix, Original and Comfort
  • No loyalty scheme currently in place
  • Increased flexibility with booking conditions due to the impact of  Coronavirus (COVID-19) although not as comprehensive as that offered by Explore and Exodus

G ADVENTURES: HEADLINE FACTS

  • Established in 1990
  • Group size: Up to 16 people per tour but the average is 10 – 12 people
  • Age demographics: The average age of travellers across all of G Adventure products is 44. On its National Geographic style trips, this rises to 59.
  • “Locally-based” guide on all tours (it’s not clear if this is the same as a local guide)
  • Adventure travel focus
  • Offer tours in a range of travel styles
  • G Adventures offers returning customers a 5% discount of their next trip if they submit an evaluation form within four weeks of the completion of their tour
  • Increased flexibility with booking conditions due to the impact of  Coronavirus (COVID-19) although not as comprehensive as that offered by Explore and Exodus

Finally, let’s take a brief look at two other types of group travel for singles: overlanding and bus tours.

Overlanding Group Travel for Singles

Don’t expect 5-star hotels on overlanding group tour.

By day, you are likely to be travelling in a converted truck. By night, you’ll be sleeping under canvas or in budget hotels

Group participation is the norm on overlanding group travel and you will be expected to roll up your sleeves, from cooking to pitching your own tent.

However, if you don’t mind more basic conditions and getting stuck in, overlanding is an effective way of covering a lot of ground on a modest budget, especially across vast swathes of Africa, Asia and South America.

And as all meals are usually included, budgeting is easier.

Overlanding is not for me – I’m not keen on their larger group sizes – but may be an option for those seeking more adventurous travel.

33% of travellers with Dragoman, the most well-known overlanding group travel company, were 25 – 44 and 42.5% were between 45 to 64 years old. (AITO data 2018).

Bus tour group travel for singles

At the budget end of the market, bus tour group travel has much in common with overlanding trips.

Group sizes tend to be large and lively. Accommodation is basic which is reflected in their price. The guides are not always locals.

Two of the big players in the budget bus tour market – Topdeck and Contiki – cater to 18 -30 / 35-year-old travellers only.

Higher-end operators such as Titan Travel, Saga Travel and Trafalgar Tours, offer bus tours that are geared towards older travellers.

Again, group sizes can be large, but the group tours offered by these companies have more of a focus on cultural immersion than partying and include more upscale accommodation.

Group travel for single midlife travellers: Final thoughts

Sadly, group travel has become synonymous with coachloads of camera-wielding tourists on a mission ‘to do’ a country in a few weeks.  This is not necessarily the case.

blue bus with a red cross going through it

Yes; there will be some large coach tours that stick to this traditional model of group travel. Equally, there will always be travellers who want to tick off tourist destinations en masse and be taken to restaurants serving familiar food.

I’m not passing judgement on this. What I am saying is that small group travel offers an alternative to travelling in a coach with 40 other travellers. They aim to offer more authentic travel experiences, use local guides and have better eco-credentials.

If you are contemplating travelling alone for the first time, joining a small group tour is an excellent way of doing this is a safe and supported way. Just make sure that you do your homework before handing over any of your hard-earned cash.

Even though I am a seasoned independent solo traveller, I would have no hesitation in booking another small group tour. Based on my experiences, as a solo traveller in my 50s I would look at Explore or Exodus Travels in the first instance, followed by Intrepid and G Adventures. 

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