Travel is such an amazing experience that will enrich your life in ways you never thought possible. If you’re a reader of this blog, the chances are likely high that you agree with me on this point. That being said, if you’ve never traveled before, I know it can be a little bit intimidating looking at all of the things that need to be prepared before you can go on your journey of a lifetime.
I get it. There’s the question of where to go, when to go, how much it will cost, where to get the best flight deals. Is it worth it to fly nonstop for a little more money? What area of town should I stay in? Will I need a car? How will the driving laws in my destination differ from at home? Hotel or Airbnb? Hostel? Which one…there are so many! How will I stay on budget? Will I need to apply for a visa before I go? The questions go on and on.
For me, planning a journey is part of the fun. I love learning all about where I’m about to go, scoping out the perfect Airbnb, reading about unique local attractions and cuisine. It can still get a little daunting, however, since I’m 100% do-it-myself when it comes to my travels.
Today I want to talk about the pros and cons of completely planning a do-it-yourself adventure vs. purchasing a packaged deal or tour. Both have their upsides and downsides, and depending on your experience level, budget, and desires for your trip, you may be better off with one over the other.
I’m going to talk about this one first because although I have been on packaged trips in the past, I far prefer to do it myself and this is the way I travel 99.9% of the time. When you completely plan a trip on your own, you’re responsible for every little detail of the journey, from picking travel dates, choosing the best flights, picking your accommodations (and researching which accommodations are best for your budget and situation), arranging transport from the airport, arranging transport around town and between destinations if necessary, renting a car, finding places to eat, exchanging currency, applying for visas if needed (and researching the visa requirements), etc. etc. etc. If you throw landing in a foreign country where they speak another language to the list, it can get pretty daunting.
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That being said, I’ve found that doing it myself allows me to learn quite a bit about my destination before I go. I’m forced out of my comfort zone and required to maybe learn a few phrases of the local language. I don’t always find success, either. Let’s talk about getting hopelessly lost at Tokyo’s Shinjuku station after about 15 hours of flights, airports, security lines and navigating the Tokyo subway system on no sleep and an upset stomach. All I wanted was to find my Airbnb and lay my head on a pillow, but I couldn’t find my connecting train. I eventually gave up and hired a taxi, using a printed copy of the building’s address in Japanese to let the driver know where I was going. When we arrived at the building, I still couldn’t find the place and got nervous until I realized the entrance to the building was in the alley behind us. These kinds of things don’t happen when you’ve got everything all nice and neatly arranged with a tour company, but then again, a tour company won’t give you a whole Tokyo apartment for $70 per night either. Plus, figuring out how to get into my home for the week was part of the adventure.
Many people won’t want to travel like I do. I tromp around town with a huge backpack on, stuffing myself in crowded subways, figuring things out on the fly and all on very little sleep. Then again, you can’t beat the prices I consistently find, thus allowing me to have traveled internationally time and time again. I just visited my fourth continent recently and have a goal of visiting all seven in my lifetime. Travel and adventure is in my blood.
I thrive off of the adventure, and the challenge is all part of the experience. I like being forced to learn local customs, fumble my way through a foreign language, and spend time wandering aimlessly around looking for things. I’m also on a mission to see the world, and that doesn’t come cheaply, so I’ll take any opportunity I can get, even if that means some less than desirable situations from time to time.
Do it yourself travel planning, while more time consuming, is incredibly rewarding. You are completely free to do whatever you want to do, to discover whatever you want to discover, and to spend your time in any manner you please. If you find a place you like along the way, you can spend the whole day there. You can even come back again the next day if you like. It’s a choose your own adventure and the choices are endless. The kinds of experiences you’ll have with this kind of travel can be pretty incredible and you’ll find pleasure in the small things. Some of my favorite memories of traveling include an hour spent wandering in a Japanese department store, the afternoon spent sketching at a cafe in a small town outside of Amsterdam, the day we decided to rent bikes in the Dutch countryside, or the last minute decision to extend a layover in Dublin by three days in order to explore a little bit of Ireland. I cherish the memory of getting lost in Sydney, resulting in a stop where I had some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted, or the four days I did nothing but tromp around on foot through Paris, heading in random directions. These are the kinds of experiences you won’t have on a tour or with a tightly controlled itinerary, and they can be some of the best memories of all.
Packaged deals and tours.
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the idea of dropping yourself in a a foreign land without much of a plan and “seeing what happens’, you’re not alone. A lot of the people I talk to cite this as a major anxiety and for some, a reason not to travel.
I get it. Not everybody feels secure in an unfamiliar environment. I would still encourage these people to travel if they get the chance, though. There really is nothing like seeing a new place for the first time and discovering a new culture.
That’s why packaged deals and tour operators exist. They are here to take the guesswork out of the travel experience. These kinds of businesses can plan as much or as little of your trip as is necessary to make the experience smooth and comfortable for you. I’ve used packaged deals in the past when I’ve determined that I would actually save money on the deal. What I did was have them just take care of things like visa applications, flights, airport transport, and hotels. I didn’t book any excursions, which they also offered, because I wanted to figure things out on my own. These kinds of packages are highly customizable and can help you take the guesswork out of your trip. There are also full service tours where they take care of everything. You just need to show up at the airport and follow their instructions and it’s all handled. For me, that feels restrictive, but if you’re nervous or interested in meeting other people while you travel, go for it!
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks or likes to do in their travels. This is your trip and you should do what will make you most comfortable and what you will enjoy the most. If you’re feeling nervous about planning everything but don’t want to go with the full guided experience because it feels too restrictive, there are always in-between steps. Travel agents and tour companies can customize a trip for you according to your specific desires and needs. Maybe you just need somebody to help you work out all the logistics? They can do that! On the other hand, if you’re feeling nervous about wandering off by yourself, a group tour might be a good way for you to get out and see a bit of the world. You never know, once you have a taste of what it’s like to roam around in another country, you might just decide you’re ready to strike out on your own the next time around.