Wednesday, 27 August 2014

What style of travel is right for you?

As a travel agent I speak with thousands people about their holidays. What strikes me most in speaking with the public is a general lack of understanding about the modes of travel and travel styles available and how to know which one is right for them.

Chicken bus in Guatemala anyone?
It is completely understandable, there are literally hundreds of suppliers, airlines and modes of transport to choose from and that is what we travel agents specialise in. Finding the right trip for the right person.

Your first step in working your way through the plethora of options out there is to first find a good travel agent or do some serious online and guidebook research. A travel agent can easily provide you with all of your choices in wholesalers, airlines, itineraries, tours and cruise companies in one easy visit it is a one stop shop. If you want to be in charge of your own travel arrangements you can use blogs, guidebooks and travel supplier websites as a source of information but it is likely you will never find the whole range of your options without visiting an agent.

To digress a little, to find a good travel agent you need to go talk to a range of agents about your plans. You are looking for someone well travelled, well versed in the products available, friendly, open and honest. You will know them when you find them. They make you feel confident and comfortable with putting your holiday in their hands. Don’t go in firing prices from the internet at them to see who can save you 50 cents. You won’t reap any benefits from a travel agent whose primary skill is matching internet prices from the arrangements you sourced yourself, it is about so much more than that and the bigger picture is what travel agents do best and this is where they can save you money.

Once you have found someone you are comfortable with you need to start doing the hard yards. An agent can provide you with the information and the brochures, a good one will have travelled extensively and with many of the tour companies and wholesalers and can give you first hand knowledge of a large range of options but you are the only person who can truly assess what is right for you.

So what are the styles of travel and which is right for you. The styles range from fully independent travel along the lines of back-packing all the way to fully inclusive tour packages and everything in between.

So here it goes

Backpacking or fully independent travel

This style of travel is for the confident independent traveller. If you want to see a destination on your own terms, do all your own research and be free to do whatever you want whenever you want then this is for you.

You will need to start with a good airfare. The easiest way to do this is to decide where you will start and where you will end your travels and when. This way you can purchase an economical return ticket which is cheaper than purchasing one way fares (in most cases but not all). If you don’t want to fly back out of where you began that is fine you can purchase what they call an open jaw ticket (starts & ends in different cities) an open jaw return ticket is in most cases cheaper than purchasing two one way tickets. Whilst round world fares are not as good value as they use to be they are still the best price option for a traveller who wants many stops all over the globe. Find an agent experienced in these types of tickets to find the best way to milk these fares for all they can give you.

The pro’s of backpacking are:

  • It can be cheap, if you are staying in backpacker accommodation, utilising their kitchens and local supermarkets, eating at cheaper establishments and picking and choosing what activities and sights suit want you want to see and do you stand to save on dollars. On the other hand you can be fully independent and spend a fortune, it all comes down to what you choose.
  •  You won’t have to put up with other participants on a tour and their quirks.
  •  You are free to only see & do what interests you and stay for however long you wish. It is all about your choice.

The con’s of backpacking are:

  • Depending on your personality it can be lonely.
  • You will need to do a lot more personal research to find the best places to go, eat, play. Your guidebook and the internet will be your best friend.
  • You can easily miss those hidden gems a local tour guide may be able to take you to.
  • You will need a confident personality ready to tackle the local language and customs on your own. This is not for the shy or faint-hearted.

Resources for backpackers

  • Blogs such as Wandering Earl Legal Nomads and Nomadic Matt can be great places to get travel tips especially if you want to hit the road for an extended period of time.
  • Guidebooks like Lonely Planet will help get you where you are going.
  • A good travel agent will help you find the best airfares across the whole range on the market and find hidden freebies for your journey or you can try websites like Skyscanner or Webjet. Keep in mind that you are not protected by any consumer laws within your country when you book with an international company.
You know what this face says? It says backpacking can be bloody hard work but so worth it.

 Grassroots Adventures

Small group, budget adventures provide travellers with the feel of backpacking with some extra inclusions and the security of a local tour guide. They generally use local transport, budget locally owned accommodation and itineraries that are off the beaten tourist path.Whilst you will get a range of ages on these tours it predominately attracts under 35's. This could be a pro or a con depending on your needs.

The pro’s of grassroots adventures are:

  • The local tour guide is an expert in the region and knows all the best things worth doing so you don’t waste time doing things that are a tourist trap.
  • You can cover a lot of ground within a country all on local means of transport without the hassle of combating public transport yourself as you guide arranges tickets on the transport for you.
  • You can get into regions that are well of the worn tourist trail and your local guide becomes an intermediary between you and the local customs and languages.
  • You get a real feel for the culture and food as you are really getting amongst it.

The cons of grassroots adventures can be:

  • Depending on the itinerary you choose there can be some long days of travel of some fairly rough and ready modes of transport. So choose your itinerary wisely based on your expectations.
  • Accommodation can vary greatly depending on what is on offer in different regions.
  • You will need a certain level of stamina and fitness, this is not a sit on the bus & watch the world go by style of travel.

Resources for grassroots adventurers

Intrepid Travel are a fantastic operators offering adventures worldwide.
Geckos Adventures are another reputable company offering this style of travel.
I can highly recommend both of these operators from first hand experience.

Other companies include:
Juan, tour leader with Intrepid Travel in Central America. Not your average tour guide, this guy not only knows how to have fun but can show you the culture and the sights along the way, all from an insiders perspective.

Small Group Touring

Small group touring is very similar to Grassroots Adventures but is the next step up in terms of comfort and inclusions and encompasses a broader age group.

You will still be experiencing a destination on an intimate level with a mix of transportation and accommodation but in general everything is more comfortable e.g. 4 star accommodation, more chartered private buses and more included for sightseeing and meals. You will often get a local tour guide as well as a western tour guide.

The pro’s are really the same as those on the Grassroots adventures and the con’s well I can’t really think of any. I love this style of travel. I guess you would still need a certain level of fitness but moderate fitness would suffice.

Resources for small group travellers

Peregrine Adventures offer a wide range of small group touring worldwide
Travel Indochina offer a similar style of travel in Asia

I can recommend both these companies highly from first hand experience. Other companies include:

Backroads Touring offer small group touring of a high standard in the UK and Europe

Traditional Group Touring

The tried and tested organised tour is still a mainstay in the travel industry. Think of the tour buses in Europe screaming their brands on the sides Contiki, Trafalgar, Insight, Topdeck. These companies provide a safe, easy way to travel with a well versed western tour guide to provide your history along the way.

 Accommodation with the different companies varies from 3 to 5 star and pre-paid inclusions vary greatly so make sure you have a good talk about the differences with your travel agent.

The Pro’s of traditional group touring:

  • They are a safe, easy and fun way to see the major sights.
  • Your tour guide will have a wealth of knowledge to pass on to you and can be a great source of fun and entertainment.
  • Touring can be great for single travellers. You will have enough people with you to find a group that you connect with and avoid those who annoy you. You can even choose to share a room with a stranger to save paying the single supplement. They are also ideal for the elderly and first time travellers.

The con’s of traditional group touring:

  • You are restricted to the itinerary and sightseeing provided by the tour company. You will get some free time and touring choices but it is all highly orchestrated and scheduled.
  • Tours can be fast paced and generally only cover the major tourist sights. If you want to get off the tourist trail this is not for you.
  • After many days with the same group of people tensions can form and you are stuck with these people for the duration of the trip.
  •  There will be additional costs for sightseeing and entrance fees once on tour and this varies depending on which company you travel with so so be aware of your inclusions before purchasing.

Resources for touring tourists

Contiki and Topdeck both offer youth orientated travel worldwide. My first overseas trip was to Europe with Contiki and it was fast paced but fantastic.

Cosmos offers a products that is on the lower end of the price bracket with less inclusions and around 3 star but sometimes 4 star accommodation. I hesitate to say budget as it isn't like a grassroots adventure.

Globus and Trafalgar both offer mid-range touring options worldwide.

Insight Vacations offer a higher standard of touring with more inclusions, better hotels and more leg room on the bus.
Group Travel can be a great way to make friends...and on occasion an enemy or two (there is always one I tell you and they may even be in this picture)

The All Inclusive Luxury Tour

If you want to see the sights and do it in complete style with everything paid for before you go then you are after an all inclusive luxury tour. For those with discerning tastes.

You have all the hassles taken care of just as in traditional touring and the pro’s and con’s are very similar but in general all of your sightseeing and inclusions are included in your initial purchase price and the standard of service and your overall experience will be luxury.

The standards do vary even within the “luxury” bracket. For example Captains Choice charter their own Qantas planes in which you travel business class. This is not a level of inclusion to expect with all.

European River cruising is the current trend taking over the travel industry offering this high standard of travel and I would recommend APT, Scenic & Uniworld. Again all have their variances so talk to your agent.

Resources for luxury travellers

The Creme de la creme of the luxury travel market would have to be Captain's Choice who offer private chartered jet tours.

Uniworld offer European River cruises with uniquely European decor and feel. Winner of many Conde De Nast and other luxury travel awards they are my choice for European River Cruising,

APT Touring offer all inclusive touring worldwide as well as European River Cruises.

Scenic Tours also offer worldwide all inclusive tours including River Cruises. Having travelled with them in Canada, Africa and Europe I can recommend them from personal experience. Hotel choice, inclusions and service are of a high standard.

Offering luxury tours since 1962 Abercrombie and Kent are a good choice with a worldwide range of tours.

Peregrine Adventures Reserve travel program is also another good option for people wanting to really engage with the local culture but do it in style.

Dipping my feet in the waters of luxury travel at my private plunge pool at Tinga Private Game Reserve in Kruger National Park, South Africa

The Flop and Drop Holiday

The flop and drop is a single destination, often beachy but not always, total veg out of a holiday. You will generally buy this in package style with your airfares, resort and meals all purchased together. Modern mega cruise ships are an extremely popular getaway for the flop and dropper.

This is for the traveller who has had enough of the rat race and needs a week or two to read a good book, lounge by the pool and do nothing but relax. I tend to call this holidaying as opposed to travelling, there is a big difference between the two. This is not a trip for those who can’t sit still for 10 minutes.

The Pro’s of the flop & drop:

  • Relaxation, relaxation, relaxation

The con’s of the flop & drop:

  •  You are generally quite isolated from the local culture.
  •  Get your time frame right, there may be a limit to how much relaxation you can take.

Resources for the drop and flopper

You will need to get your hands on some brochures offering you a range of resort destinations and packages to choose from. A travel agent is the easiest source of all of your options and with the lovely bonus of a free brochure. In the end it won't really matter to you the consumer which wholesaler the agent books with, they generally all offer fairly similar deals. A travel agent can shop your package around the wholesalers to see what is on offer.

Lazy Daze in Belize

The Independent Holiday Package

The independent holiday package is for those who want to sightsee but not on a tour. Generally you will purchase flights, accommodation and day tours prior to going and this is where a good travel agent will be a gem in making recommendations on time frames and things to see & do. It is the best of both worlds, on the day tours you have the local guide to show you the sights and the rest of the time you can be free & easy.

The pro’s of the independent holiday package:

  • A good balance of free time & touring based on your tastes.
  • You can choose what suits you to do & see and in what time frame.
  • A great family holiday as you can cater for all individual tastes with your custom itinerary.

The con’s of the independent holiday package:

  •  You can be a little more limited in modes of transport. It isn't so easy to just jump on a local train or bus without a local tour guide providing assistance especially in non English speaking countries. You may end up flying a lot of legs that you would do overland on a tour missing out on seeing the countryside.
  • Sometimes you can miss those more obscure places only known by the locals without a local tour guide.
  • If you are on your own it can be a lonely experience you may want to pad out your itinerary with more day tours to get that social contact.

Resources for the Independent Holidayer

Like the flop and drop this is a package best booked booked through a travel agent who can source wholesale package. They can supply you with a brochure with the range of products e.g. hotels, tours, day trips. You can then pick and choose what you want and have it package up into one easy to pay for deal.
Qantas Holidays tends to have a broad range in this field and their brochures are readily available through a travel agent.

To book this type of package on your own you will need to contact every individual hotel and tour supplier or go through various companies like Viator and Expedia to piece it all together. It is quite a task.
USA, the perfect independent holiday package destination

That about covers the major styles of travel, I am sure I have missed some as everyone has their own idea of the ideal holiday. Oh I just of another style but am too lazy to go back and add it in, expedition cruising. Small ships with a focus on culture, history, flora, fauna. A much more educational experience than traditional cruise ships.

I know I am a big fan of the grassroots adventures & small group touring.  What is your idea of the perfect trip?

I also realise this article sounds a little like an ad for booking through a travel agent. Whilst not my intention I do like to highlight it as in these days of the internet the skills of the travel agent are being glossed over.

Consumers now have access to making bookings themselves which is an amazing tool but the travel agent is an phenomenal resource of information and can access a whole world of options, prices and deals you may never know about without a visit. They have made a career of travelling and talking travel. What better place to start your journey than a place where travel is someone's whole life and all they do all day is talk travel.
I know that has so much value to the clients I service everyday and it would be so sad if that avenue for travellers was lost.

Originally posted on Wednesday, 27 August 2014 by


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