¨You never travel alone. The world is full of friends waiting to know you.¨
The Advantages of Independent Travel
I also 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
I love independent traveling because I can spend as much time as I want:
- Exploring museums. I usually spend two to three times longer in museums than most other people.
- Making short day tours to nearby rural and suburban sites not accessible by public transport;
- Participating in small locally-based walking tours.
- Taking specialty tours (often featuring local food) designed to help travelers explore different culinary and cultural experiences.
- Hiring a car and driver (quite 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).
I always plan some independent travel time whenever I am on a trip over one month in length. 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.
I plan at most five hours of day of activities whenever I travel independently. I also plan some downtime into all my independent travel experiences to do laundry, chores, arrange tours, organize transport, and watch TV/read. (Usually one day a week).
Independent Travel 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 sights, particularly in Europe.
Group Tours Have Surprised Me
When I started traveling full-time in 2011, I discovered that some of the advantages that 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 about their destinations. Some travel experts say that you get more exposure to locals when you travel alone. I do not find this to be accurate
,either. All I can say for sure is 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 any 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).
- Tours, in my experience, are close to the same costs (sometimes even cheaper) as traveling independently, providing I stay at the same quality of accommodations as the tour. Independent travel can be less costly (sometimes considerably so) if you stay at cheaper accommodations like hostels, Airbnb, Couch Surfing, etc. Usually, I find that when people tell me that they saved money by traveling independently, they did not accurately account for all the costs. (One of the most common things that they forget is car-related expenses, i.e., rentals, insurance, gas, etc.).
Some Additional Posts About Lessons I Learned While Traveling Round-the-World For Five Years
- Fifty Plus Nomad’s Exclusive Traveling and Living Abroad Seminars: Let Me Help You Put Your Dreams Into Flight (Coming Soon)Take one of my two Fifty-Plus Nomad seminars in my home in Merida, Mexico. Benefit from my sixteen years of experience traveling and living around the world. Learn how to travel around the world long-term and live in different countries.
- My Temporary Home Base in Montreal: 10 Reasons I Loved Coming Home During My Five Year Trip Around the WorldDuring my round the world travels,, I was glad to spend tree months every year at a home base in Montreal. Not only did I grow very fond of Quebec and Eastern Canada but it was fun to just do day-to-day activities with friends.
- How To Avoid Loneliness During Your TravelsWhen I was traveling around the world as a young man, I frequently got lonely. When I was able to travel around the world again long term, I deliberately participated in group tours, cruises, volunteering, and learning vacations to avoid loneliness. It worked wonders for me.
- How Too Much Togetherness May Ruin Your Long-Term TravelsWhile too much togetherness hasn’t been a serious problem during my travels. I have met couples who had problems with too much togetherness during their long-term, round the world travels.
- Justifying Your Fifty-Plus Nomad Lifestyle: An Unexpected ChallengeI was surprised how often I had to justify my existence when I traveled around the world. Here are some tips in case you find yourself in the same situation.
- Paying More than Locals As a Foreigner: How to Deal with and Avoid ProblemsWhen I was younger being charged more for things than locals used to piss me off. Now I simply acknowledge it as part of traveling in third-world countries. I find the less it bothers me the less I attract aggressive vendors, too.
- Culture Shock: The Greatest Challenge for Long-Term Travelers and Expats?By far the biggest issue I had while traveling around the world as a younger man was culture shock. It even resulted in me making some major decisions, most of which I regret in retrospect. In my experience, many people suffer from culture shock while traveling around the world or living abroad but most don’t even know they are suffering from culture shock.
- Backpacker Syndrome: Why Travel Burnout is Usually Part of a Nomadic LifestyleI think every long-term traveler regardless of the budget will occasionally suffer from backpacker’s syndrome. I deal with it by slowing down, staying in my hotel for a day or two, or scheduling some new activities.
- Church Overload Syndrome: When You Just Can’t Stand Seeing Another ChurchDuring my five years traveling around the world. I occasionally suffered from mild travel burnout. Only once did I succumb to church overload syndrome because over time I have learned how to appreciate churches. However, church overland syndrome used to bother me frequently and it seems commonplace among other long-term travelers.
- Consider Resorts, Cruises, Festivals, and Amusement Parks in Your Long-Term Travel PlansWhile many travelers pooh-pooh resorts, cruises, festivals, and amusement parks, I enjoy them in small doses. It is fun to see the creativity of the developers and event planners. It is also a nice break from more serious and intellectual activities.
- Learning Vacations and Volunteering: The Most Overlooked Travel OptionsMy favorite type of group travel is volunteering and learning vacations. No aspect of group travel has so influenced who I am as a person and how I view the world.
- Independent Travel: Advantages and DisadvantagesDuring my five years traveling around the world, I spent about half my time traveling independently and the other half on group tours, cruises, volunteering, and learning vacations. I love the freedom to explore things in depth that comes with independent travel. However, I find exclusively traveling independently to get exhausting and lonely if done for months at a time. I also love the diversity of experiences.when I mix group and independent travel.
- Don’t Avoid Group Tours and Cruises During Your Round-the-World TravelOne of my biggest surprises in traveling around the world for five years was how much I enjoyed group tours and cruises. It is nice to have other people deal with arrangements. Many of the tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly. My fellow travelers were usually kind and interested in learning.
- Traveling in Developed Countries: Why it is a Myth that Traveling to Western Europe and Other Developed Countries is Boring and ExpensiveOne of my biggest surprises when I traveled around the world for five years was how much I loved traveling in the developed world (USA/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, Western Europe, Singapore, Japan, the UAE, etc). Until I began to travel around the world for a long term, I always thought the developed world was less interesting than in the third world. Now I find both equally interesting and enjoyable.
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Third World TravelI believe that everyone who has the opportunity to travel round the world should visit countries in both the developing, third world and the developed world (Western Europe, USA/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, etc.). This post outlines the advantages and disadvantages of third-world, emerging country travels.
- Round the World Travel: My Top 4 LessonsI learned four lessons from my five-year journey around the world: 1) Mix group and independent travel; 2) Travel to varied parts of the world; 3) Avoid travel burnout, and 4) Have a home base.