¨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 part of a group since 2011. It is great to have the freedom to leave someplace if it is not as compelling as anticipated or conversely 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 so that I can 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 around the world. 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; and
- 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 that is 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 a lot of 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; and
- 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.)