If you’re going for a trip to an unknown place, you mostly have two options to think about. Do you want to plan the trip yourself entirely? Or do you want to visit the travel agent down the street so you do not have to bother with the planning?
Well ultimately it is a personal decision. However, it is important to understand what you want exactly. Are you looking for a trip where you can just relax and have everything given to you on a platter? Or are you the more adventurous sort willing to plan the trip beforehand, but also allowing time to plan during your journey as well?
While the first option may be the most comfortable, it may not be the most educational. Holiday packages are usually restrictive for various reasons, and though you may not want to move a finger to do anything, are you sure this is really why you want to travel to a new place, when you can probably go to a five-star hotel in your city and just live there for a few days?
Here are some of the reasons a pre-planned travel agent itinerary may not provide you the most unique experience.
1. If your travel agent itinerary includes sightseeing for 2 hours, it will be 2 hours. You might have wanted to check out other areas there, but you cannot. You’ll have to go back to your hotel to relax. You’re restricted by time (and a guide). You’ll basically have to go everywhere the guide takes you.
2. You will be with people from your own country. Yes, naturally you will not be the only person on the planned itinerary. Usually on such trips, prices are low because of the number of people opting for the package. It’s your decision whether or not you want to spend time interacting solely with people from your country, or the locals in the country you’re visiting. The former option really does not help in widening your horizons, but if it makes you comfortable, that’s your choice.
3. In some cases, you cannot choose the kind of food you want to eat. In one such package from India to Uzbekistan, I saw that on every single day (apart from one out of 5 days), the holidaymakers opting for that package would be taken to Indian restaurants in the locality. That was kind of shocking. If you’re in a different country, avoiding local food is actually a waste of an experience. In Uzbekistan why would you eat Indian food when you can try Uzbek food?
4. If your holiday package itinerary covers places A, B, C and D, but you’re very keen to visit place E, you cannot. It isn’t on your itinerary!
5. You will never be able to have some of the more memorable experiences, such as catching the wrong bus and getting lost, or discovering a better spot from where you can get the best view, or finding the right restaurant, or making a local friend.
6. You cannot suddenly change your travel plans. If you think that place A should be covered tomorrow instead of place B, you cannot do that, because your holiday package features a fixed itinerary. There is no such flexibility.
7. The souvenirs and mementos you will buy are largely restricted to the places you will be taken to on your package itinerary. These places will in most cases not be off-the-beaten-track, and you will probably end up paying more.
8. Package tours also focus on luxurious and semi-luxurious hotels. This may be distracting as you might be tempted to test the swimming pool, or try out the spa. There goes the chance of having an ‘experience’ of the country you’re in. Swimming pools and spas are not necessarily unique as you can find them everywhere in the world.
9. You’ll never be able to go to that awesome spot the local fruit seller told you about the previous day. Though talking to a local makes you discover more things than you read in travel books and magazines, you’re bound by your holiday package!
10. If you go to a gigantic site such as Angkor Wat or Polonnaruwa, your travel agency guide may just show you the ‘important’ things, while leaving out the others. Since you’re short of time on that kind of itinerary, you have no choice but to visit these limited sites and take pictures. If you’re on your personal itinerary, you can choose to wander among the ruins for as long as you want, reading signs and understanding what you’re looking at, or you can simply feel like Indiana Jones, experiencing ‘first-time’ discoveries in these places.
In some cases, choosing a holiday package tour is inevitable. Entry restrictions for Bhutan for 99% of the world comes to mind, where you must book with travel agents otherwise you will not be let into the country. If you also think you’re coming to relax and do nothing else, your travel agency will take care of everything, and that kind of package may be perfect for you. It might also be recommended in cases where you’ve visited a country before and seen its sights, and now you’re just returning to relax completely.
However, if your reason for travelling is to experience culture, the way of life, the sights (not just the important ones, but the neglected ones too), the cuisine, and the countryside, a pre-planned travel agency itinerary is no good.
If you think such an itinerary is the best value trip you’ll get, you might have to reconsider. A bit more searching and reading up on the place you’re planning to go to can make your personally planned trip much cheaper and enjoyable.
What’s life without a bit of uncertainty after all?