I want to start this piece with a question.
When planning on traveling to a country or destination, has lack of knowledge or anxiety of how you will get around made you change your holiday to somewhere “easier,” or worse still, not travel at all? If this has happened at least once to you, I encourage you to read on.
With the exceptions of the extreme travel enthusiasts, this is an issue that will crop up from time to time, whether you’re acutely conscious of it or not. I must confess, this has happened to me, and I don’t mind saying that I wasn’t all too pleased that I let this affect my travel decisions. It wasn’t until later that I acknowledged that this “anxiety” dictated my travel plans, and since I have a severe case of “fear or missing out” (aka FOMO), I can’t help but imagine what I missed out on! While this FOMO is not a primary driver for most of you, the point I’m trying to make is, why let the possible adventure of a lifetime (or at least unique experience or opportunity to eat something weird) go begging, because the well worn path with it’s predictable outcome offers you the path of least resistance.
I bring this subject up because, although it hasn’t hampered my traveling too much thus far, there was a specific trip I intended on embarking on, and because of the situation described above, I altered my travel plans and I was left wanting. This is not to say it was a bad trip, but because I let this unknown dictate how I embarked on my trip, I was left feeling not completely happy with the method I chose to travel. To highlight, this was in the form of an organized tour (my first one) over self-directed travel. I love self-directed travel. It completes me. The fact that every move, every decision you make opens myriad doorways to new and exciting opportunities. Choosing the tour option was against everything I stood for (and still do). While I still managed to get out on my own and plan my own things, being led around and sticking to a pre-determined schedule just didn’t mesh with me. I understand that for a lot of people, having the planning and organization responsibilities transferred to someone else allows them peace of mind to enjoy themselves while on holiday. It is the unexpected obstacles, ritual of planning and spontaneity that I so thoroughly enjoy while overseas. If this sounds like you, we are one of many kindred spirits.
If tour travel is your bread and butter, is there a specific reason for this? I’ve noticed that the demographic for those that frequent the travel packages and organized tours are couples 40 years and over looking to have a worry-free adventure, wary solo travelers who are traveling abroad for their first time and the 20 somethings on Contiki looking to party every night with same people in hopes of sharing their STD’s with the group. I have friends my age who went on their first big trip as part of Contiki. They were in a couple (now married) so sleeping with the first row of the bus to the back wasn’t at the top of their priorities (as far as I know). They went to some amazing places around Europe and came home just beaming! They had been looking forward to this trip for a long time and the schedule of the tour allowed them to go overseas without worrying about how they were going to get around to their destinations. I quizzed them about their travels when they got home, and while the report was positive, they straight away identified the pitfalls of being in close quarters with the same people for over a month. They had some funny stories of things going wrong, things going right and all accompanied with the excitement of traveling to somewhere new, but what kept popping up was this lockdown situation with the group.
As a rule, you don’t get to choose who travel with on tours (unless you invite 20 of your closest friends), so regardless of how fantastic the people are who you are touring with, there will always be this friction due to extended time in close quarters. I actually had another friend say to me, if he could handle traveling with his girlfriend for 9 months around Europe without having any major arguments, he would put a ring on her finger. They’ve been married now for 5 years and have 3 kids, but I digress. So back to my Contiki friends, what kept coming up when talking to them was their new found desire to carve out their own path overseas. I was delighted to say the least! When traveling around by yourself (or in a couple) and you don’t like the crowd you’re around, you just leave. That’s it. Problem solved. But hey, each to their own. If this doesn’t dissuade you from tour travel, then there is some other value that you get from this type of travel that far exceeds any of the pitfalls described above. Good for you. What do I think? Never again!
A funny thing happens when you take the adventure into your own hands, it’s like a law of attraction. Like minded people begin to gravitate toward you, and you to them. There’s always a couple of douchebags in the mix, you can’t get away from that. But you notice this gravitational pull. If you don’t have and open mind or close yourself off, these people will drift on by. As long as you possess this open mind these people will remain in your orbit and you will reap the true benefits traveling has to offer. I found the more I put myself out there, the easier and easier it became. It’s like anything right, practice makes perfect, and nothing is more potent than positive reinforcement.
I have some friends who are just animals when it comes to solo travel, nothing fazes them. What’s that, only a couple of grand in the bank? Perfect, every meal and roof over my head will be a welcome challenge. Oh, so the surf at this spot is amazing, and there’s a greater than 50% chance you’ll be robbed? Even better, just pack light and never sleep. Only when you start pushing the boundaries a little bit, do you find out what you’re really made of. I’m not quite there with traveling to destinations that are in the middle of a civil war, but I do enjoy having little mini adventures in the middle of my adventure as a whole. Does this sort of thing get you going? Or does the peace of mind take precedence?
This empowerment of venturing into the discomfort zone has changed and improved my travel adventures beyond belief. I was once subject to only traveling if I could convince my friends to come along with me, or would only travel if my friends had organized a trip already. To me, this mirrors the concept of tour traveling (only a lot more fun), with its group orientation, and sticking to fairly broad schedules. The similarities are that your friends (or tour group) are your safe haven when abroad and a means to fall back on when things get too tough or unfamiliar. Think going to a social event and only relying on your friend group for communication and a good time. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to share experiences with my best of friends and have stories to look back on in years to come, but wouldn’t you rather go to the adventure and quit waiting for it to come to you?? As testament to this self-directed travel I have traveled to somewhere around 40 countries spanning North America, Europe and South East Asia. I have met the love of my life on the road in Indonesia. I found a career in Resources thanks to a chance encounter on the ski slopes in Japan. I forged life long bonds living in a van driving around Europe for half a year. I have seen and done things that I find hard to believe sometimes. This is not bragging about how awesome my travel is or anything pretentious like that. This is what travel has given me. What has travel given you???
Does this inspire you to branch out? Is this what you do already? Are you a self directed traveler or lover of tour groups? I want to hear your stories and what you think are the best ways to explore this blue marble of ours.