While there’s certainly a time and place for guided travel, I’m a big proponent of independent travel.
It is easier to do what you want when you want to do it. It’s cheaper (so you can travel more!). It keeps more of your money in the local economy (a key component of responsible tourism and one of the ways of preventing the world’s tourist destinations from becoming exact replicas of each other). You’re much more likely to have an enriching experience where you can interact with local people and learn about their language and culture (as opposed to hanging out exclusively with people who are pretty much exactly the same as you, and seeing things that someone else thinks you should see).
The challenge with independent travel is that it takes more planning (and/or comfort flying by the seat of your pants!). This isn’t always easy:
- Lots of travel information encourages you toward organized travel — to book through a western tour operator, to buy an all-inclusive package, to stay at chain hotels, and to book a group tour for seeing the sites. There’s a time and a place for this kind of travel, but certainly not for every destination or for every trip.
- Plus, the internet likes to make you think that most places are unsafe or too difficult to do on your own. This is rarely true.
As a frequent solo traveller (and travelling whilst female, at that), I can vouch for the fact that there are very few places where you need a tour.
Of course, independent travel does depend on your comfort level with making your own decisions and for having the time and patience to fix things when mistakes inevitably happen. But the mistakes are rarely serious, and they often have the added bonus of introducing you to something you wouldn’t have seen or experienced if everything had gone according to the original plan.
These articles are also specifically aimed at independent travellers:
- The essential steps for travel planning (for Passport Health).
- Machu Picchu without a tour — how to get there, get your tickets and keep your costs low (especially useful for solo and budget travellers).
- The best order to see Peru‘s highlights without getting sick: How to see Peru without getting altitude sickness (for Passport Health) — some of the guided tours get this order wrong, leading to more fatigue and headaches than you need at altitude.
- Taking the bus in Panama City, Panama (even if you don’t speak Spanish).
- How to survive a long layover in Mexico City’s airport.
- How to travel respectfully in a Buddhist country.
- How to help — not hurt, or be hurt — when travelling: Think you’ve been conned? (for Silkwinds, Singapore Airline’s regional in-flight magazine).
- Stuff I like, including World Nomads travel insurance, Tangerine banking to avoid foreign transaction fees, and RoadID safety bracelets.
What tips do you have for successful independent travel?
Where do you think it pays to take an organized tour or package instead of travelling independently?