So, you’ve decided where you want to travel – now you have an important choice. You need to decide whether you’re going to take a package tour or independent travel.
A tour may seem to have everything you want, but it can never be as flexible as independent travel. A tour locks you into schedules, prices, and guides. Independent travel is more difficult to plan up front, but gives you a double whammy of freedom and flexibility.
Until you’ve tried both, you can’t really imagine the advantages or drawbacks of either choice.
Well, I’ve tried both and I can say that my experience has left me a firm advocate of independent travel. Here’s why doing things your way and spending hours planning your trip is worth it.
Why Package Tours Suck
- Group decisions: Unless you’ve hired a private guide, you’ll be on a group tour where majority rules (yay democracy!). Deciding what to do with ‘free time’ could mean the group has to agree and, like it or not, you’re part of the group. Your time traveling could be taken up by activities you’re really not interested in.
Planning things on your own doesn’t guarantee you’ll love every moment you’re traveling, but at least you wouldn’t have to grit your teeth when your groups decides they’d love to visit yet another an over-priced jade factory.
- Fixed costs: Sure, it’s easy to rely on the tour operator to arrange all your accommodations, meals, and activities but it takes away something important – choice. Buy the package tour and your money is locked in up front, stamp it, no erasies. Negotiating to save money by downgrading or omitting activities usually isn’t an option.
With a trip you plan yourself, you have the chance to treat yourself or cheap out whenever you want.
- Inflexible schedules: Your ideal schedule may be close to a tour operator’s, but it isn’t flexible. Want to cut the museum visit short? Too bad. Want a longer visit in the market? Sorry, we’re leaving.
Your plan includes as much time as you want, at the places you want to go.
- Your group: Those smiling faces on the package tour brochure sure do look great, don’t they? The tour description will have you picturing yourself making fast friends with fun-loving adventurous people. Here’s the risk: your tour starts and you don’t hit it off with anyone in the group. Now you’re on a two-week vacation with people you don’t really like, let alone want to be Facebook friends with.
Independent travel can be lonely because it doesn’t give you instant friends, but the advantage is you can choose who to make friends with along the way.
- Being a target: If getting robbed while traveling isn’t high on your travel wish list, stay away from package tours. Large groups of foreigners are a prime target for vendors, hawkers, pickpockets, and rip-off artists. They’ll see you coming a mile away, ready with their friendly smiles and inflated prices.
Being independent means you can slip by the gauntlet of sellers, while they take on more profitable (and obvious) quarry stepping off the air-conditioned highway coach.
Things You’ll Love About Independent Travel
- It’s challenging: Who loves a challenge? You do, because you’re not a wussy-wuss. Taking a pre-planned vacation is like taking the escalator when there are stairs.
- Flexing your independence: Being lead around is easy, but you’ll want to make your own choices. More choices means more chances to see or do something amazing. That’s definitely what you want.
- Growing your pride: Planning things yourself gives you the chance to put together a plan that’s everything you want it to be. Be proud you can do this yourself.
- Testing yourself: Travel can bring out parts of you that you didn’t know existed. It might seem impossible now, but you can do things like take the train in India, eat fermented shark in Iceland, and bargain for a week-long stay in Thailand. These accomplishments make presenting to the board of directors or negotiating with your land-lord seem like child’s play.
So, what should I do?
OK, so I slammed package tours pretty hard. Despite the drawbacks I’ve listed, you can have a fantastic time with little effort. It’s just not my style.
Choose a package tour for:
- Busy lifestyles: If you work 80 hours a week, you probably don’t have time to plan your trip. If you can afford a tour and your time is too precious to spend surfing the internet looking for the best rates for everything, get a package tour.
- Strength in numbers: When you’re worried about how safe it would be to do things on your own, consider a package tour rather than independent travel. The safety in numbers will give you the peace of mind you need to properly enjoy your hard-earned vacation time.
- Convenience: I’ve got to admit, having a driver take to directly to tourist sites is can be WAY easier than navigating the public transportation system. It’s also great to not worry about where to eat, where to sleep, where to change money, etc etc. A package tour takes away a lot of small inconveniences that can add up during your travel.
If you’re not afraid of some a little work up front, I recommend planning your own adventure. In my opinion, the benefits of independence are worth the time you’ll put into it.
Here’s a planning tip:
Research package tours to plan your independent travel. Package tours typically find the top attractions and most efficient routes. Conveniently, tour companies put all this information together for you and post it on the internet. But instead of signing up, use their legwork to build your own trip with some personal tweaks.
I planned my trip to Morocco based on a package tour route, but instead of the desert I opted to see more cities. I used their tour to plan my own, and you can do the same thing.
Choosing a package tour saves time planning, but it won’t fit your uniqueness. Independent travel gets you exactly what you want.
Planning your own trip pays off, especially when you take advantage of a package tour to plan your own.
Whether you choose a package tour or independent travel for your next vacation, you still need to get everything ready at work before you go. Consider our career-minded advice, Smart Things to Do at Work Before Vacation.