Destination Unknown: Traveling Independently, To Go or Not to Go

October 9, 2012 Satu Vänskä-Westgarth

Destination Unknown: Traveling Independently, To Go or Not to Go

There are many ways to travel. I try to keep my eyes open. Respect the local culture and people. Learn something new. And avoid leaving a big footprint in the nature.Most of the time I do this by traveling independently.I don’t necessarily get a better deal by organising everything by myself, nor have I the experience or in-depth knowledge a good travel agent does. But often I travel with my white water kayak, snowboard or bike. These are the kind of vacations that can not easily be booked through an agency, especially when I want to visit friends along the way or start the holiday from point A, and finish in point C or D. Sometimes I even want a quick one-night stop by a spa along the way, if my husband humours me and my desire for bit of luxury after a week or two in the outdoors. Usually he does!Now that we have a small baby girl traveling alongside us, we have expanded the kinds of vacations we take. We’ve been to a beach holiday with lot of activities in Portugal. And we’re looking into long weekend breaks in foreign cities where we could spend time as a family and still do some activities or experience something new.Hence I’m not ruling out package vacations. They have their time and place and maybe I should test them out as I have very fond memories of package vacations from my childhood. But for now, here are my reasons for choosing to travel independently, and couple of things you should consider if you are planning your own independent vacations, even if you are not trying to get a white water kayak checked in on your next flight!

Why to Travel Independently

There are many reasons why traveling independently is the way to go. Here are the most important factors for me.Flexibility. You can do what you want, when you want and where you want. That’s the essence of traveling independently. If you change your mind about staying in the location you are, it’s not a big deal, just pack your bags and move on to the next destination. There are no organised excursions at any given time  and no timetables (other than the ones you make for yourself). And this is what I LOVE: flexibility, also known as freedom.Experiencing more of the local life. This is unavoidable when traveling independently. Most likely you will take public transport at times or stay in locations or in accommodation that are not full of fellow travelers from your home country. You will see how locals live, maybe learn word or two of the local language (sometimes you have to, whether you want to or not!), and possibly even make new friends that make you return time after time to the now familiar vacation spot.Adventure. The adventure begins already before you book anything when you start thinking where to go and maybe check out images in Pinterest or Instagram for some inspiration. And when the location is set, then comes the adventure of deciding where to stay, how to get there, what to do and where else to go. The list is endless, really, and quite the task which can literally take up hours or days, if you get drawn into the adventure of pre-planning your vacation.Effortless. You don’t HAVE to plan. You can just book the cheapest flights you find, arrive at the destination and take it from there. No timetables, remember?Price. Sometimes, but only sometimes, traveling independently can cost you less. Why I say sometimes is that if you calculate value for the time YOU spend planning your holidays, the cost of traveling independently may exceed that of a package vacation. But yes, if you only look at the price tag it is very likely that your independent vacation is very affordable.

What to Consider Before Traveling Independently

Independent traveling is not for everyone and if you are not into the following factors at this point, check out what your local travel agent has an offer and try to go solo another time. Even though independent travel is an adventure and in the end, easy to organise, there are couple of matters you should consider.Time-consuming. Even though the traveling itself doesn’t necessarily take anymore time if you  by yourself have planned it, the planning does, as I mentioned earlier. It is easy to spend hours in choosing the right hotel, the right destination, the right transportation. But hey, that could be just me! I always want to be aware of all the possible options.Essentially, you are on your own. Vacations don’t always go smoothly and if you are traveling independently, there is nobody to blame or call. However, in the end of the day you are not totally on your own. There are always people you can ask for help and as long as you have a reasonable travel insurance, help is on hand.
So, to go or not to go, what’s your choice? Do you prefer traveling independently or with an organised group? 
All the images are from our recent independently organized trip to Portugal , , ,

Satu Vänskä-Westgarth

Satu Vänskä-Westgarth decided to take a year off from her nine to five marketing executive life in Finland early 2009 to travel with her kayak, bike or skis and sometimes without. "One year" turned into a new lifestyle as a travel writer, accompanied with a not-so-British entrepreneur husband from Britain, who seems to spend more time outside the borders of his homeland than within, and their baby, who has already spent more months outside Norway than at their home in Norway, where the family resides at the moment. For more stories from the road, visit Satu’s blog Destination Unknown and connect with Satu on Twitter @SatuVW.

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