Decide what is important and then only pay for or spend time on those things! For me, this is the first, second, and third rule of travel. Let me give you some examples:
Dream big, list out what you really want to do the most, decide what is important to you and then build your plan backwards from that list. For me personally, it’s important that I get to see, do, and experience what I want to see and do, and not spend time and money on things that other people may find more appealing. Usually this means a pre-packaged all-inclusive tour is not for me. I prefer to do my own research and make the arrangements from start to finish. Usually, but not always, this results in a more affordable trip with less cost and a more memorable adventure. To give you one example, on my first trip to Central America I was able to go two weeks for the price of a discount tour I found advertised for half the time. On the other hand, sometimes it does turn out to be more expensive. On my trips to Jordan, Tanzania and Morocco, I had very definite ideas about what I wanted to do and see but I didn’t want to drive; so I planned trips and hired a driver. This cost more than a packaged tour, but I got everything I wanted, when I wanted it, how I wanted it, and on my schedule.
Tours are great for a lot of reasons. You may have a more social experience. If you don’t enjoy the planning, the work is done by someone else and you are just along for the adventure. And frankly some areas of the world and sights are difficult to arrange on your own. But consider, the farther out and further away you book that tour, the more middlemen may be involved and the more you will pay for the same experience. My mother and I stopped in Poland during a trip to Eastern Europe. We could have booked a comfortable, structured, uncomplicated tour of Eastern Europe and Krakow City tour from home, but we wanted to do it on our own. While there we wanted to visit the historic Wieliczka Salt Mine on the edge of the city. I wasn’t sure the best way to get there since we hadn’t rented a car, but as you walk around Krakow there are dozens of tours advertised for the salt mine. We almost booked one, but then I asked our hotel if there was any way to arrange the transportation and tour ourselves. It turned out that the bus to the mine stopped just feet from our hotel and cost less than $1. When we arrived at the mine we bought the standard admission ticket for the tour provided by the mine that everyone takes, even people who booked tours in town. The “tours” from town were just transportation to the mine. This was a wonderful lesson, in the end we experienced the same tour, got a little more of the city culture on the bus, were on our own schedule, and saved lots of money. Side note: if you are limited on time, skip the salt mine. They’re interesting and beautiful, especially the dramatic salt cathedral, but in the end it’s still just a salt mine.
Your trip doesn’t have to be “budget” or “adventure” or “city”. It can be what you want it to be! A few years ago, some friends and I took a trip to Macedonia (one of my all-time favorite destinations). After exploring Skopje, we took a few days to travel down to Lake Orhid (another highly recommended experience). To save unnecessary expense, experience more of the local culture, and meet more Macedonians, we decided to take the bus. On the way back to Skopje we got to talking with some gap year kids about travelling styles and recent adventures. They didn’t have a hotel yet and asked where we were staying. That night we were staying at a 4 star hotel in the city-center, way outside their price range. They were surprised and asked why we were on the cheap local bus, instead of a luxury tourist bus, on a package tour, or in one of the cabs that will drive you the 3 hours one way. At first I was embarrassed, but then came back to my mantra: it is my trip – my experience. Just because I am a professional woman no longer in my 20’s doesn’t mean I can’t have a local experience on the bus but also stay in a comfortable room just steps from the river and old bazaar. It also reinforced for me how important good, thorough research can be when planning a trip.
These are just a few learning experiences from my travels, your mileage may vary. If convenience, fewer details, regular meal times, and a built-in social network are important to you, then a professional tour package may be your perfect solution. If you want flexibility and adventure, then consider booking a flight and your first night in a hotel and wing the rest of it. If you want to be mobile and take local transportation, then pack light and find a laundry mat. But on the other hand if you want to look chic and have options, then ignore the dozens of travel blogs that purport to tell you the “right” way to pack and bring it all, pay the luggage fees, and probably a few expensive transfers.
Decide what is important to you! It might be, will probably be, different every trip. Once you know what you really want you can start to build your personalized journey of exploration. And if you want some help or a second opinion tailored to your dream, just let me know!