There are, I have found, two schools of thought when it comes to travel — the Package-Tour-school-of-thought on the one hand and the Do-It-Yourself-school-of-thought on the other. Some people swear by package tours while for some others, a DIY trip is the only way to go.
Here’s my take on the pros and cons of each school of thought:-
Pro: Cheaper. Generally speaking, you get better value for money if you take a package tour. Travel agencies get very good rates for airfare and accommodation due to the sheer volume of their bookings, as well as the fact that they book everything way in advance.
Con: Inflexible. Since everything has been booked and fixed in advance — the outbound and inbound flights, the hotels, the places to visit, the amount of time spent for each location — it’s very difficult, if not just plain impossible, to change any portion of the itinerary, to extend/shorten your stay or to add another destination to your trip.
Pro: Everything’s Pre-arranged. A lot of people find it very convenient to go on a package tour because everything’s already booked and planned. There’s no need to think about what to do next or where to buy tickets or how much time to spend in a particular museum. Just hop on the bus, follow the tour guide, meet at the prearranged time and place, go back to the bus.
Con: Everything’s Pre-Arranged. There’s no room for spontaneity. When the tour guide says it’s time to go, you have to go. Otherwise, you risk getting left behind.
So how to make the most of a package tour?
- Do your homework. Get several quotations, dissect the itinerary, ask for the detailed schedule. Some trips devote more time to sight-seeing, with very little time for shopping. Other trips just make time for a quick photo shoot in major places of interest, then leave you for half a day of shopping. Make sure you know what’s in store before you sign up for that trip.
- Go with reputable travel agencies to avoid getting ripped off. Don’t be enticed by super cheap prices. Remember: if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
- Ask for referrals. Ask your friends for their recommendations. Nothing beats first-hand information. Just make sure it’s recent information.
Pro: Flexible. Since you are your own travel agent, you can do whatever you please. You can stay in a swanky hotel on your first night, move to a Christian hostel the next, then lounge in a houseboat the night before your departure. If you find Museum A too boring, cut it short and move on to Museum B. You can visit the usual tourist haunts or opt to go off the beaten path…or have a bit of both.
Con: Can Be Pricey. DIY travel is not necessarily cheap, especially if you book at the last minute or plan your trip during the peak season.
Pro: You Fix Your Own Itinerary. There are no tour guides to boss you around. You can stop for coffee anytime, anywhere. You can take as many photos as you want and stay inside Museum C until the guards have you force you out physically.
Con: You Fix Your Own Itinerary. DIY trips can be a logistical nightmare, with a thousand and one things to take care of: plane tickets, bus tickets, train tickets, museum tickets, museum days and hours of operation, maps, etc. etc.
Some tips on making the most of your DIY trip:-
Do your homework. Read travel guides, browse the internet, take time to read reviews but take each review with a grain of salt because people have different needs and individual expectations which may not match your own. Save time by using HotelsCombined.com, since it searches different hotel reservation websites simultaneously to help you find the lowest hotel rate instantly.
Plan your trip. Sit down with your travel companion(s) and agree on your itinerary, perhaps compromising along the way. If you know what exactly where to go and what to see, it would be easier to decide if it’s worth buying museum passes or bus passes as compared to individual tickets.
Chill. If things don’t work out as planned, don’t get all worked up. After all, it’s your trip and you can change things as and when you want to.