What is your favorite way to travel? At a high level each trip probably falls into one, or a combination, of the following types: group tours, private tours, or independent travel. As a member of the Travelers’ Century Club, you have probably at one time or another tried them all. Like you, over the years I’ve tried them all and here is what I’ve found.
The great thing about group tours is how easy they make travel planning. In addition to logistics planning, the organizers often provide guidance on everything from packing tips to visa support. Tours will make sure you see the main sights for which an area is known. They know how long things take to accomplish and are able to plan accordingly to allow time for seeing the sights, meals, and sleep. Tours also come with a group of at least somewhat like-minded travelers to enjoy the trip with—after all you all decided to go on that tour, though there is also a flip side to that coin.
Why I don’t like group tours… They are of- ten a shortened version of what I want to see, cut out the off-the-beaten path things I find interesting, and by their nature spend a lot of time managing the group. Checking into lodging, meals, bathroom breaks, and just moving from place to place and rounding everyone up before leaving all takes time which is essentially downtime. They also have limited ability to deviate from a standard structure as they have a full group to accommodate and keep on schedule.
This method offers a mix of the group tour advantages with the flexibility of independent travel. They almost certainly allow you to do the most in the least amount of time. These tours typically start off with the goal of making sure you see the main sights that the area is known for, but as TCC members we may want to see some things that are not on the main lists. For example, while taking a tour recently from Lar- naca to Turkish Cyprus the guide was a bit surprised that a side trip to Dhekelia was a must. While traveling through
Moldova we dropped a museum day to add a day trip to Transnistria.
To get the most out of a private tour requires more pre-planning on your own to know if you want to see the standard sights or add to / sub- tract from the typical route. The agency will, of course, be able to fill whatever time and budget you have even if you don’t provide a list.
Why I don’t like private tours… They are the most expensive way to go and they are more personal attention than I like. I prefer to have my trusty guide book or research notes and in scavenger hunt fashion locate and read about places. In many museums the exhibits are well marked and I would prefer to read on my own and spend time at my own pace than to follow the pace of someone else, listening to their explanations.
For some places, a tour/guide is required in order to visit. Occasionally tours, large group or small private group, provide a cheaper option than independent travel due to splitting the costs when specialized transport is involved or to take advantage of the group rates tour operators get.Tours do a good job managing issues and keeping you safe. Difficulties from language and cultural issues become almost non-existent. On the other hand, you don’t get the experience that comes from personally navigating those challenges.
Independent Travel (my personal favorite!)
This is your trip so make it what you want and uniquely yours. Decide where to go, what to see, what to eat, where to sleep, and set your own pace. Just like with language learning, the best way to learn about a new place is to immerse yourself in it to get a deeper knowledge beyond visiting the main sights. By research- ing all this ahead of time, which may be time consuming but is not hard to do, you’ll arrive knowing much more and the plan can then be adjusted to accommodate new local information and opportunities. People love to show off their country to others who show an interest in it.Take advantage of that local knowledge as a way to learn about it! By doing your own research and working directly with local resources you’ll learn more about the country and likely remember more about it than you ever would by having someone else figure out the details for you.
These are my experiences and YMMV. Regardless of which mode of travel you like best, I think we can all agree the most important thing is to be flexible and open to things not going as planned and make the most of whatever opportunities arise. When we get locked into a specific outcome, we can miss out on other serendipitous possibilities that may provide the best experience of all.
Safe travels everyone!