As an experienced independent (and often solo) traveller I can honestly say that I’ve never looked over at the bus-loaded, umbrella led, or cruise ship labelled hordes, and thought…’I wish that was me’
Over-fed, over-protected and over-whelmed by more art and culture that you could possibly ingest in a fortnight, is it really necessary to: relinquish all decisions, grit your teeth at inconsiderate travel mates, spend in designated stores, get up before dawn, wear pastel non-crease polyester “suits”, tip guides for well-worn anecdotes and even be expected to sing songs on the bus!- because its too ‘dangerous’ not to?
For a country of 40 million sheep (New Zealand), is this just natural behaviour? Not for the youngsters that head off every year on their low budget OEs, or for our immigrant ancestors who risked everything for a new start. Without travel insurance, limo pick-up, internet bookings, credit cards or roaming mobile… they were truly brave…but now?
Admittedly those early settlers didn’t have to put up with security checks, standing around in their socks or being relieved of their toothpaste, but a tour can’t insulate you from those.
If you’re now getting off your sofa in indignation, spluttering that you’ve never bought the ‘polyester’, you will still recognise the tour attributes, because we’ve all done it. Before you right me off as completely intrepid, (or worse) and persuade yourself that you couldn’t possibly ‘go it alone’, let’s consider the most commonly cited excuses for travelling en-masse.
1.‘I’ll meet a lot of new people’ Yes you will! If you’re lucky there will be a couple you might even want to send a Christmas card next year.
2. ‘I’ll see more than if I was going independently’ Yes again. You’ll very likely cover serious mileage and “tick-off” a LOT of sights.
3. ‘I’ll just do the tour this time and then I can go back to the places I like’ So it’s just an expensive recce?
4. ‘I don’t speak the language and couldn’t communicate’ Then you’ll be just like every American.
5. ‘I’m not sure if my health is up to independent travel’ Well you’ll just get left on the bus rather than plan a couple of days relaxing.
6. ‘It would be more expensive to go independently’ Think again. Tours travel quickly, which means lots of internal flights and high-speed trains. Tours stay in mid-range accommodation; neither cheap nor luxurious.
7. ‘I’d be lonely/I don’t want to eat dinner by myself’ If you travel as a couple or group you are a self-contained unit, if you venture out on your own you are much more likely to meet people. It’s a matter of confidence; the more you push yourself out there, the more interesting you are.
8. ‘I’d be a target for scams and crime’ Sure you need to be wary and dust-off you self- preservation skills. You should definitely not take more luggage that you can carry/wheel and look confident– even if you’re faking it.
9. ‘My luggage will be looked after!’ Well yes…. more or less. It will be somewhere in that photo above.
10. ‘I haven’t got time to plan it’ In my experience one of your friends will be a planner. If not then a travel agent can be paid to do as much as you want.
So if this has got you inspired to ‘give it a go’ then I do have a couple of caveats. If you’ve never been anywhere more exotic than the Murray River, maybe India or Columbia are not the best first choices. And… never get so keen on saving money that you put your safety at risk. If it feels ‘dodgy’ then move – upgrade your hotel or hail a cab.
Who knows, you might discover that it’s very rewarding to take on with world without a ‘safety net’.