Excursionphobia – An Aversion to Organised Tours

It’s a made up word of course and unlikely to ever get accepted by the Oxford dictionary or the British Medical Association but excursionphobia may adequately describe an aversion to commercial tours.

Organised excursions are often a great way to get to know a destination, to understand the history and culture. An experienced and knowledgeable guide licenced by the tourism board will usually provide an informative and entertaining narrative.

Crowds of tourists on organised excursions at Knossos near Heraklion on the island of Crete, Greece on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Knossos, Crete

Those organised by tourisms boards can be a great introduction to a destination providing some ideas for further exploration later. Commercial tours however can be a little more of a lottery, there are some good operators which provide excellent excursions but sometimes they don’t seem to be offering the best value for money.

The most obvious disadvantage is that they are a business and their primary goal is to make money. This often means that they involve large groups, one guide having to deal with a coach load of more than 30 people. This always seems far from ideal, controlling big groups of individuals all who have their own interests, agendas and requirements from a tour. Keeping them all happy is quite a juggling act, it is especially difficult when photographers are in attendance as they tend to slow down the remainder of the group needing to take many images during the tour. This leads to impatience from the other tour members and especially from the guide.

Away from the tour at Knossos near Heraklion on the island of Crete, Greece on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Avoiding the crowds at Knossos

Needing to control their charges can also provide some amusement, guides resort to giving their group distinctive names, possibly due to an instantly recognisable group member. I can recall one guide in Egypt calling his ‘flock’ “boobies”, this was due to an attractive pair of girls, one of which was also well endowed in the chest department. His complete lack of political correctness had the group laughing throughout as whenever he stopped to speak with us he held up a guide book and shouted “boobies”! His genuine innocence about the potential offense it might have caused which made it even more amusing.

Avoiding the crowds at the Minoan Palace at Knossos near Heraklion on the Mediterranean island of Crete, Greece on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Taking the tour at Knossos

On another occasion a quite tough looking individual in Istanbul carried a small, bright pink umbrella lined with a frilly white lace. he held it up whenever we stopped. It was hilarious seeing this guy who could easily have appeared on a wanted poster holding up this very feminine brolly. It was especially funny as he was so big nobody could possibly miss him anyway.

Not all aspects of a commercial tour are as amusing however. Guides that resort to using whistles can be especially irritating. They are impersonal, their shrill blast shattering any peace and rounding up the group like lost sheep.

On a recent trip to Knossos, the Minoan Palace on the island of Crete our large group had to share the popular site with numerous other guided tours. The mythical labyrinth excavated by the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans was teeming with tourists crawling all over the site like ants. Most were on an excursion and as October is low season it must be horrendously busy during the more popular months.

Knossos near Heraklion on the island of Crete, Greece on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Mount Juktas in frame

Knossos was the main attraction of the excursion and the guide was extremely knowledgeable and professional however after collecting tourists from dozens of hotels on the way we appeared to only have time to see half the site. The guide was still describing some of the site attractions as we were departing the car park for Heraklion.

The Cretan capital provided some more amusement as he led us around the city centre like lost sheep. We must have been quite a sight however the locals are obviously used to it, ignoring us as we weaved our way through the crowds. We did however at least have sometime afterwards to explore the city on our own, which was a pleasant bonus.

Making money is what excursions are about, and often the itineraries seem more about potential commissions than providing the customer with a beneficial experience.

Every tour in Egypt seems to include a visit to a papyrus factory, after several visits and having the process explained on each occasion I could almost have produced a few scrolls of my own. Every destination appears to have its special factories to visit, glassblowing in Venice, cigar factory or rum distillery in Cuba. Actually scrub those in Cuba I could happily visit them all day.

Such visits are not always so welcome however, often the main attraction of the excursion is compromised to allow enough time for these factory tours. The tour operator receiving a commission for each visitor and probably for every subsequent purchase.

Tour on the ancient Minoan road at Knossos near Heraklion on the island of Crete, Greece Copyright © Mallory on Travel 2012

The Minoans were building roads before the Romans

It is an unfortunate consequence of booking an excursion which often cannot be avoided. Discussing the tour itinerary with a resort representative or various providers may allow for some choice and a possible way to avoid repeated factory visits. It is quite likely however they will be impossible to avoid as almost every provider includes them. It maybe necessary to ‘bite the bullet’ and accept they can’t be avoided. It is always possible those with excursionphobia can remain on the coach when it parks up for the fifth factory tour.

Personally however I prefer to skip the guided tour whenever feasible, a little research of the destination online or in a guidebook and get out to explore. This is often how many adventures are unearthed.

Tour in the harbour at Heraklion capital city of Crete, Greece Copyright © Mallory on Travel 2012

Freetime in Heraklion

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Comments 14

  1. brandy bell

    Excursionphobia! finally, a diagnosis. I’ve always felt that I was some anti-social monster, because the idea of being trapped like sardines, following an umbrella or (worse) tour operator with a whistle made my palms sweat. now I know there’s a name for it- and why shouldn’t the dictionary add it 😉
    thanks for the great article, lovely read!

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      Author
      Iain

      Happy to put a finger on the diagnosis for you, nope not just anti-social but wanting to make the most of your trip and get value for money. Those whistle blowers are the worst! I’m glad you enjoyed reading it.

  2. Finland Blog

    I dont go on the tour excursions,or mainly those that seem interesting.
    I prefer to get a book on the place I am visiting and find the real back-hole sights.It is far more enjoyable and as you pointed out you can discover some fantstic sights

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      Iain

      I hear what you are saying, choosing an excursion wisely when there isn’t another option can be worthwhile but nothing really beats getting out and exploring for yourself.

  3. Andrew

    I like the term excursionphobia…. I have been on one organised tour in my life, and never again…

    I now will do my own thing, in my own time and do my own research if need be……

    However I still have excursionphobia, but more in line with trying to avoid these tour groups whilst getting my photography done… it can however lead to some humour watching the guides trying to watch their flocks, as well as listening to the occasional lingual oddities some guides come out with…

    that said, if a place interested me enough, I would be prepared to have my own guide for a day….

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      Iain

      I’m glad you like it Andrew it does adequetely seem to convey the aversion to these types of tour.

      I guess for most of us taking a tour when necessary and choosing to do our own thing when possible is probably the most common compromise. The excursions themselves can provide some moments of humour …… but that is an entirely different post 😉

  4. Caroline

    This is so accurate. Every time I’ve been on an organised tour I’ve found myself wishing I’d taken the cheaper independent option! The problem is that there are so man different variables: the quality of the guide (they range from barely speaking English to being so full of knowledge that it turns into a history lecture), and of course the other tourists. The other problem I find is that all the groups seem to work to the same timetable, so will all be at one place at the same time.

    I’ll be avoiding if at all possible in future…

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      Iain

      It is really quite difficult choosing a suitable tour operator and I agree they can vary a great deal. It is a tough balancing act between too much detail and not enough. The more popular the attraction of course the more likely that it will be crawling with group tours of all sizes and descriptions.

  5. Kenin - The Constant Rambler

    We’ve avoided tours for most of our travel life, but there were a couple occasions where it was absolutely necessary and it turned out ok. We took a guided hike in Sitka, Alaska once and our guide was a very knowledgable local and she enriched the experience with just enough information. On the other hand, we also had a guide in the Yucatan once, that barely spoke english and didn’t know much about the ruins we were visiting. It really is a tough decision to make, and we try to go it alone on most trips.

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      Iain

      Excursions and guided tours can be useful Kenin as you say though its a matter of personal choice and too many are far from ideal. Choosing well is the most difficult decision to make.

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  6. Waldemar

    A TOURIST is a person who voluntarily and temporarily changes the place of residence and comes into personal contact with natural, cultural and social environment, thus satisfying his unique and individual tourist needs and being conscious of the fact that he transmits specific cultural values which give evidence of the environment that formed his personality and contributed to his upbringing.

    I cannot reconcile myself to the fact that too often do tourists unconsciously transmit such cultural values which show that they understand tourism only in economic dimensions – they pay and demand. Too often are tourists spoilt by tour operators and travel agencies – after all, tour operators and travel agencies are interested only in money and the only words they know are supply, demand, service, profits, tourist market and tourist product.

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