“You never travel alone. The world is full of friends waiting to know you.”
Independent Versus Group Travel Over 50
Independent Travel Over 50: Advantages
Like many of my fellow Fifty Plus Nomads, I love traveling independently. I have spent approximately the same amount of time traveling alone as participating in group travel since 2011. It is great to have the freedom to leave someplace if it is not as compelling as anticipated or to spend more time if someplace is especially interesting.
I particularly enjoy spending time alone in large cities. Most of the time, I visit cities alone for one to two weeks. Cities, for me, are exceptionally well suited to independent travel. I usually stay in a hotel in or near the center of the City to quickly get around by walking, public transport, or short taxi rides. One of my favorite experiences is just looking out the window and seeing the different architecture, streetscapes, etc., in various cities worldwide. Each City looks and feels unique to me.
Why I Love Independent Travel Over 50
I love independent traveling because I can spend as much time as I want:
- Exploring museums. I spend two to three times longer in museums than most others.
- Making short day tours nearby rural and suburban sites not accessible by public transport;
- Participating in small, locally-based walking tours.
- Specialty tours (often featuring local food) are designed to help travelers explore different culinary and cultural experiences.
- Hiring a car and driver (relatively inexpensive in Emerging Countries) and exploring at my own pace.
- Meeting locals informally and learning how to navigate around the City by myself. (Some of the cities I have visited this way include Lima, Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, Copenhagen, Prague, Berlin, Sydney, Palermo, Bangkok, Mumbai, Vienna, and Dubai).
The pace of most group travel activities can be overwhelming. Tour companies and learning vacations often schedule more than eight hours each day of activities. This pace gets exhausting after one month. In addition, sometimes I find it hard to keep up with the fast walking pace of many groups, mainly when the group comprises younger people. I always plan some independent travel time whenever I am on a trip over one month in length.
I plan at most five hours of day of activities whenever I travel independently. I also plan some downtime in all my independent travel experiences to do laundry, and chores, arrange tours, organize transport, and watch TV/read. (Usually one day a week).
Independent Travel Over 50 Versus Traditional Group Tours and Cruises
When Is it Better to Take a Traditional Group Tour or Cruise?
I like to take long group tours when I want to visit many places spread over a long distance in a short time. When I travel alone and try to visit many places quickly, I do not see as much as I would on a group tour because I:
- Spend too much time just traveling and waiting for transportation.
- Wait a long time in line to get into the sights, particularly in Europe.
Group Tours Have Surprised Me
When I started traveling full-time in 2011, I discovered that some of the advantages I anticipated from independent over group travel turned out to be false. These include:
- I do not learn more (or experience the destination better) traveling alone than with a group. You can learn a lot from the guides on group tours. They are experts at their destinations. Some travel experts say you get more exposure to locals when traveling alone. I do not find this to be accurate, either. I can indeed say that I experience more problems and frustrations alone. (Usually, serious issues are few and far between. Some experts think these problems and failures reveal a lot about the place. I find that they show more about my pet peeves and personality defects).
- I did not find that traveling alone helped avoid crowds better than going with a group. You only avoid crowds if you arrive at a site right after it has opened or is about to close. Better yet, visit less crowded places. (To find these places, Google something like ¨Alternatives to Machu Pichu¨. By the way, most group tours include lesser visited, alternative sights on their itineraries).
- Independent travel can be less costly (sometimes considerably so) if you stay at cheaper accommodations like hostels, Airbnb, Couch Surfing, etc. Tours, in my experience, are close to the same costs (sometimes even more affordable) as traveling independently, providing I stay at the same quality of accommodations as the tour. Usually, when people tell me that they saved money by traveling independently, they do not accurately account for all the costs. (One of the most common things they forget is car-related expenses, i.e., rentals, insurance, gas, etc.).