Newbie’s to international travel often ask journey experts whether to book with a tour or go it alone. The majority would opt for independent travel on most occasions, and here’s the seven reasons why you should travel independently…
Risk management professionals bandy about terms such as ‘risk averse’ and ‘risk hunger’. Risk aversion, obviously, is the avoidance of risk and uncertainty, while risk hunger indicates an eagerness to innovate and choose options offering potential benefits.
Independent travel is a bit like that. A lot of people struggle to break out of their comfort zone and would opt for a booked tour as a safety net against culture shock. I strongly recommend a risk hunger approach to travel. Unshackling yourself from a cocoon of comfort is infinitely more satisfying and the rewards will astonish you!
Deciding on a destination; researching the best places to visit; finding a unique boutique hotel; reading reviews about restaurants that appeal to your culinary tastes; all adds to the excitement! What is it that cancer survivor Greg Anderson said? “Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it”. Travel should not be chalking up hits on a travel kill sheet; it is a journey of enlightenment best savoured slowly.
Travelling independently empowers you to visit the places you want to see, at your own pace. Sure, you get tailor-made itineraries that will zip you past all the major attractions wherever it is you want to go, but it is their itinerary and you go along for the ride. Tour itineraries are subject to dictatorial time constraints with an often-heard complaint from high-paying customers rushed onto the departing bus, “I wish we had more time here!”
When you opt for a tour you also tie yourself down to whatever restaurants, bistros or trattorias they choose to stop at. At best you can expect something edible but boringly bland to placate the culinary restrictions of all the individuals making up the tour group, or at worst… I probably don’t have to spell that out. Suffice to say that an oft-heard complaint is that the food on tour was, well, booooring!
Travelling independently is almost always cheaper than booking a tour. While major tour groups have more bargaining power in achieving lower booking fees, they have significant overheads that supersede any savings you may have made as a result of their market competitiveness. No… booking accommodation, transport, meals and tours yourself will make a much smaller dent in your wallet.
One has to acknowledge the contribution tour companies make to the general financial wellbeing of host countries by providing employment opportunities. However, the financial benefits gained from attracting international tourism often end up in the pockets of large corporations situated elsewhere, not reaching rural or impoverished communities most in need of a financial fillip. The hill villages around Sapa in northern Vietnam come to mind as an example. Treks through the verdant rice paddies populating the Sapa valleys are easily booked from Hanoi or even overseas. But while you pay a Hanoi operator $200 for an overnight stay in a Black Hmong village, the family where you reside may only get $2 worth of compensation.
The moral of the story? Book yourself, with local people, when you get there to ensure you tourism dollars end up where it makes the greatest difference to the lives of people.
Let’s face it, one of the major reasons a traveller visits another country is because it is different from what he or she is used to. It is exciting to see how other cultures do things. What they like to eat, how they relax, who they socialize with, how they cope with the challenges of a rapidly changing world! Knowledge is locked up in culture and the more we are exposed to cultures different from our own, the more we benefit from life experience. After all, if you don’t know Teh Tarik exists, how will you ever experience the burst of bubbles on your upper lip when you take the first sip?!?
Group travel anesthetizes you to the cultural dynamics passing by the window; independent travel boldly introduces you to the fascinating people that populate the landscapes you record on your digital camera. Get out there and meet the people – it will probably be the highlight of your journey!
astonishedXpression is a veteran global journeyman who has travelled independently from the frozen steps of the Great Wall of China, through the mass of humanity in India to the searing plains of the desolate Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
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