Travel Companies vs. Going It Alone

In my Grandparent’s lifetime, our perceptions of what makes a holiday has changed dramatically. When they were my age, it was the norm for families to pack up the car and head to their nearest stretch of coast, picnicking on the beach and camping in the adjacent field. The thought of taking their children abroad was a strange concept – hugely expensive and not available to the majority. This was also true for my parents, myself and my sister – we enjoyed many holidays exploring Devon and Cornwall, in particular, before our first trip to France in the mid-90’s.


My Grandparents (left) and Gt.Uncle and Aunt


Grandad with my Mum and Uncles

Whilst these types of holidays are still popular, there is now such a vast range of alternative options. Global travel has never been more accessible and we are definitely seeing more of a global community emerging. When I announced my upcoming travel plans, SIX friends immediately offered support telling me that they have friends in X,Y,Z countries. The world has never seemed so small.

There are SO many companies nowadays, that specialise in organising trips for those of us between the ages of 18 and 30. What they offer ranges from arranging flights and hotels, organising work placements, planning itineraries and everything in between. You can basically pay someone else to organise your entire trip, or you can pay them to assist you with a certain aspect of it – whatever you choose, the idea is to guide you in the experience. Whether it’s your first time travelling, or you just like the comfort of the certainties that come with such organisation.

Alternatively, you can go it alone. My cousin did just that (well, she travelled initially with a friend, but they did so independently) and ended up spending the best part of 18 months living in Central America. My cousin HATES tourists. I know, technically, she was a tourist during that time, but she worked hard to avoid tourist traps, escaping in to the local communities and eventually winding up living in a coastal village community. There she organised a number of projects to “enrich” the lives of the locals and help them help themselves. It helped that she is a fluent speaker of Spanish, but still, her aim was to embrace the life of a local, immerse herself in the culture and get a ‘true’ experience of life in Belize and later, Nicaragua.

Whilst my cousin would probably argue that her way is the way to travel, I see it as one way. Certainly I don’t think that anyone would truly experience the Thai lifestyle – for example – by staying in hostels with fellow westerners and touring the country as a group, dipping in to the local culture as part of a planned daily excursion…but maybe their idea of travel is to SEE things, to taste the food, to observe differences. I think that is okay. I think whichever way you choose to travel the world, is okay – it is, after all, your experience. Providing you respect the local people, culture and customs, you go with an open mind and (to further overuse a well used quote…) you leave behind nothing but footprints and take nothing but memories (and maybe a few lessons) away with you.

San Francisco 2014

My family have never been package holiday goers, choosing self catering every time. When I moved out to Kuwait I had the certainty of accommodation and a job, but everything else was independent – including the travel I did from KW. This next trip then, will include  my first experience of “organised travel”. I’ll be flying out alone, staying with family and then meeting my home-family out there for Christmas – something I am SERIOUSLY looking forward to. However then I’m staying on, spending a week in one of Sydney’s hostels with other travellers as organised by a travel company, before starting a job out there for who knows how long! Week 1 follows a group itinerary, aimed at introducing us to life in Sydney and acting as a “getting to know you” period; beyond that, I guess it will return to independent travel, as we all continue to do whatever we set out to do there. I’m excited, but also a bit nervous; a bit like “first day of school” nerves, where you worry if you will fit in, if you will get on with the other travellers, etc. Then again, we have at least one thing in common…

Let me know what you think! Do you book a flight then see what happenes when you arrive, or do you prefer a more scheduled approach to travel? Have any of you worked or travelled abroad with the help of companies such as Gap360, BUNAC, STA Travel?

I look forward to hearing what you think!

Em xx




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