Photo by Margot Pandone
There is a lot to be said for the package tour, particularly for someone travelling solo. It’s an easy way to make sure all your needs are met without having to stray too far. When food, accommodation and transportation are all included, there is a lot less to worry about and you can use your vacation time for just vacationing.
However, we do meet a lot of solo travellers on the road who shy away from the preplanned all-inclusive or package tour and decide to go their own way off the beaten path. For these people, travelling off the beaten path does not necessarily have to mean trudging through jungle for days to get to that untouched spot, or hunting for the empty deserted island beach.
It can be as simple as finding things out for yourself and doing the research to figure out what you want to see and where you want to go in one city, or a whole country. Or choosing your own hotel and figuring out how to take public transportation to get to that attraction or smaller town.
Photo by Chris Lawton
For myself, I have been travelling pretty steadily for the past eleven years or so and I have never taken a tour in my memory. It’s just my preference. Not only have I never taken a package tour or been to an all-inclusive, but when I am in a city, I would far rather prefer to get somewhere within the country, like a tourist attraction for example, on my own and without booking through a private tour company. The advantages to this are many but I think going off the beaten path has made me stronger as a person and as a traveller. Here’s why:
By doing my own research and taking the time to search things out on the internet, I can make sure I am finding something a bit more tailored to my interest.Maybe I don’t want to visit a certain factory on a day-long tour that includes a lot of stops.
In fact, I really don’t like these kinds of trips where you feel pressured to buy something from someone’s shop because a driver takes people here every day, at the same time, every day. It doesn’t feel like an authentic experience to me and I’d much rather figure out how to meet a less touristy local artisan who is offering a class or allowing me to get a bit closer to something less commercialized.I can visit as long as I want, and stay as long as I want and I am not beholden to someone else's schedule.
I learn more about the place I am visiting when I walk everywhere and stay off the tour bus.Okay sure, I might be missing the explanations and information you get on a tour but when I am walking around at “ground level” so to speak, I can walk through the neighbourhoods, visit the local supermarkets, the parks and see how people actually live.If I want to visit the sights on a tour, I can usually get to them myself without taking a tour bus.I’ve seen so many amazing things from just walking and wandering with my camera and usually this has been without any known destination or agenda.
I meet more people when I travel off the beaten path. Both travellers and locals.When I’m travelling in a big group, I don’t really get the chance to connect with anyone.When travelling to all the most touristic sites of a town, I find that the locals in this area are well accustomed to tourists and they are often all competing for the tourist dollar. In smaller towns I can talk to locals, get to know them better and get useful information about the area.On tours, you’re often visiting all the hits and being brought from place to place, never really getting to connect with anyone for more than an hour or two. Can you meet people at all-inclusives? Absolutely! But I prefer more spontaneous encounters where I'm not only meeting people from my own country. I can do that at home!
Photo by Crawford Ifland
Of course there are tours that are a bit more intimate and offer things like homestays and are smaller, but lately I’ve been seeing the rise of the big tour bus, especially in South East Asia and I wonder what people are getting from this?
Overall, I think travelling without a scheduled tour has made me more independent and adventurous, but I think it depends on the person and what you are looking for. I think as I get older I will be more interested in travelling to an all-inclusive and I also think they are great for the short trip, like when you just have a week to get away and you don’t want to worry about planning anything.
What do you think? Do you prefer travelling off the beaten path or in a tour group? Which do you prefer?