Packaged Tours versus Independant travel - Tips and Tricks

The Contiki Bus, Glenshee, Scotland

An age old question is should you do a package tour, or do everything yourself as an independent traveller? In my 20's, I did quite a few packaged tours (with Contiki). I travelled to Great Britain, the Hawaiian islands and both islands of the Long White Cloud (New Zealand). For most of these packaged tour holidays, I travelled as a solo traveller. I found this to be the easiest and safest way for me to travel as a young female. However, by the time I had reached my last organised tour, I really had had enough of the 'package tour'. I was sick of being taken to places I didn't want to go, and not spending enough time in places that I did. I also didn't like the fact that they would take you to these 'factory outlets' where you were encouraged to buy something or rest stops were at 'expensive' shops so you could spend more money at another 'captured market'. Lastly, I also realised, by travelling in a tour group - you mixed mostly with other tourists, and didn't necessarily get to spend alot of time with the locals. My British trip I spent more time with Americans then with anyone British!

Climbing the Fox Glacier, Lake Tekapo and cruising Milford Sound on the Contiki Tour

So this weeks blog, I am going to run past the positives and negatives of the package tour versus the independant traveller.

A Local Guide
Package tours always come with a complimentary local 'guide'. Interestingly, from my experience, that does not  mean  that person is a local or grew up in the area. The tour guide will usually point out places of interest and great places to eat.

For the Independent traveller however, they can get this information themselves via the internet, Tripadvisor and other travellers. I also use Google Maps and look up what the hotel looks like out the front, what the surrounding streets are like, and how to get to X,Y and Z. I remember being amazed to find Palm trees out the front of our Japanese hotel! [Who wins = Independant Traveller]

Copyright Google Maps. We stayed at the Hotel MyStays in Tokyo (located far right ) and you can see its not that far from Disneyland . Maybe a 20 minute trip (they also have a shuttle bus). Even closer to DisneySea!
Travel with like minded people
The Package tours generally contain people with the same interest as you and perhaps the same age group. Everyone is in a good mood generally as they are on holiday too and you get to meet people from all over the world. My Hawaiian Contiki tour I travelled over New Years eve for one tour with my new 30 friends and it was one of the most fun New Years Eves ever. You already had the party.

For the independent traveller, then you will only meet people you chance across in your travels. However, your contact with the locals might be longer and deeper then a general chat at a stop off location on the bus tour! [Who wins = Package tour for most fun]

Places to visit/ Itinerary
Package tours do take you to places that you want to visit.  But they also have a habit of taking you to places you don't want to visit (say Outlet shops) and don't spend enough time at the places you would like to visit. There is nothing more frustrating as being on an organised tour, being so close to X, but not able to visit as its not on the itinerary.

An important tip is to read the fine print on any tour brochure. If you read 'See' or 'View' on the itinerary -that doesn't mean you will necessarily get off the bus and do a proper visit. The word 'visit' means that! It is also a good idea to find out what the real itinerary is before committing yourself, so you know exactly how long you are spending somewhere and whether it is long enough. If not, maybe you are better off doing it yourself.

The Package Tourist has to accept where the tour bus goes. The Independant traveller of course can change itinerary on a whim. I did however know of one person who left their Contiki tour in Spain and opted for a cheap flight to the next destination, rather then an 8 hour bus trip with their tour group. They met up again with the tour group at the next city, and better utilised the time (8 hours) in Barcelona!  [Who wins = Independant Traveller]

Some would say that a Package tour is cheaper due to the large volumes of bookings. But I seriously question this. With the internet today it is easy to book your own flights and accommodation, check out transport options and plan what to do at a location - and still be competitive with a Package tour. Hotels that you book yourself often have 'early bird' prices too. The Package tour hotel may not be an ideal hotel you would stay at - due to location or amenities. The Hotels I stayed at on the package tours were often far away from the sights, to keep the price down!

This is important for things like Park Hoppers at the Disney Parks, and tickets for theme parks in general. Count up how many days  you really need and just see if the package is cheaper. Generally it is not - it is usually not as cheap as someone usually takes their 'cut' somewhere (travel agent  or the on-seller). It is also generally cheaper to buy tickets for multiple days rather then one day too, so factor that price saving in when comparing 'packages'. [Who Wins = Independent Traveller]

Time in Research
Travelling independently can mean a lot of research and planning, and some people don't have the time or inclination to do this. Some people are happy to do this and believe its half the fun -the planning of a holiday. The ideal clientele for the Package tour is for someone who is happier if someone else does the finer detail in planning and they just show up on the day. [Who Wins = Package tour, due to less time researching, and who has time these days!]

Getting from A to B
The Package Tour promises that you see certain things and you will get taken from place A to place B. So you know, in all likelihood, you will get to see X,Y and Z as they run the same tours over and over again. If the bus breaks down, there is another bus on its way! And yes, this has happened to me. The bus in Hawaii got a flat tyre on the way to our airport departure. We waited about an hour for the replacement bus organised by the tour company, but then we were off on our way again. We did miss our plane, but we were able to catch the next flight back to our destination. The Independant tourist however, with their itinerary untested, may not get to see  everything they wanted, but some would say that is part of the adventure. [Who wins = Package tour]

We did a few Packaged tours on our trip to the U.S. We went on a few day trips with a bus company. One trip was a Grand Canyon trip from Las Vegas, that went for over 10 hours. We saw everything on the intinerary that was wanted, but we found the retrictiveness of being stuck at an National Geographic Visitor Centre for a lunch stop, rather then inside the actual Grand Canyon park itself, quite stifling and bewildering (you can read about the Grand Canyon trip here).

We also did a package tour for San Diego Zoo, Universal Studios Los Angeles and San Diego Sea World - from Anaheim. These tours were only a day trip, went really well and basically were just a means of getting from A to B. The driver for the Universal Studios tour, was actually quite informative about how to tackle the park, recommending what rides to do first versus later in the day (Despicable Me, Simpsons and must do the Studio Tour).

For our trip to Japan Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, we chose not to do a 'package tour'. No Japanese tour did several days at Disneyland, and the prices for the package tours were extraordinarily expensive. We found it was very cheap and easy to get around Japan ourselves, booked our own accommodation and bought our own Disney tickets online. Also, I was a bit wary of the wording in the brochures that said 'view' and 'see' for Tokyo landmarks, so we did it alone and with no regrets.

As you can see from above, the Package Tour versus independent travelling came out pretty much even for positives and negatives with each scoring a 3/6 criteria. So really in the end, it just depends on how organised you want your trip to be, where it is going is where you want to spend your time, and whether it is actually saving you money to go!

It has been a big year for this blog! I started posting in May 2017 and the blog has since grown quite alot since then. Thank you to my readers first and foremost. Second, a big thankyou to everyone who has contributed to the blog this year!

I also have alot more planned for 2018 including more about Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Osaka (Harry Potter world) and Shanghai Disneyland!!

The Smith Family (Singapore)

L.C (Former WDW Cast member reviews on WDW and Universal Studios

Jungle Skipper
Melissa, from UTube
(Disney Cruises)
Emma and Anthony from @themeparkcouple(Twitter and Instagram)

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