Packaged tours or DIY travel: which is better?

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Any trip involves a significant amount of time and preparation to plan. When deciding on going away, you have a choice between booking a packaged tour or do-it-yourself (DIY) travel planning. DIY travel planning involves planning your trip from scratch, including planning and scheduling all your flights, accommodation, travel insurance, transfers and activities yourself using the internet.

DIY Travel vs Packaged tours

Both of these types of travels will result in a pleasant trip. Each type has its benefits and costs. Let’s see what the considerations are when choosing between DIY travel and packaged tours.

1. Packaged tours

Packed tours have several costs and benefits.

1.1 Benefits of packaged tours

The benefits of packaged tours include the following:

Convenience factors

  • Packaged tours are perfect for new travellers who feel overwhelmed at the prospect of planning their trips.
  • With a packaged tour, you don’t have to worry about any planning. It is all done for you, which can be convenient, especially if you do not like researching and doing comparisons between different websites.
  • For solo travellers or extroverted travellers who don’t want to travel alone, a packaged tour can provide security and be a great way to meet new friends.
  • There is safety in numbers.
  • The transportation provided on packaged tours are very comfortable and convenient. Coach travel is usually on luxury buses with free wi-fi with enough legroom.
  • You never have to wait for public transport to move between sights and activities.
  • There are guided tours to suit different budgets and styles, from basic backpacker style tours to the luxury 5-star resorts and all-inclusive guided tours.
  • Some countries require the booking of an organised tour before considering your visa application.
  • Many packaged tours also include priority access to signature experiences to save time and stay on schedule.
  • Packaged tours may also include destinations off-the-beaten path that may be difficult to get to for DIY travellers.
  • The accommodation on packaged tours are usually quite comfortable and have been tried and tested by the tour operator.
  • As long as you stick to your tour group, you will not easily get lost. And if you do, the tour guide will look for you.
  • Depending on the type of packaged tour, you can have more peace of mind in that you never have to worry about flight delays or other surprises, with a packaged tour your tour operator will take care of any consequences due to unexpected circumstances.

Local expertise

  • Most tour guides on packaged tours are locals and have expert knowledge on places to visit, where to eat, etc. They can also give you insight into the culture of the people in your destination. This could be a way to discover hidden gems which can give you a more in-depth experience of your destination.
  • A packaged tour can make visiting a country where you may find communication difficult much easier since the tour guides can speak the local language.

Budgeting benefits

  • Usually, packaged tours include accommodation and transfers. Packaged tours may make budgeting for an upcoming trip easier since most items will be included, leaving little extra details for which to budget.
  • Signature experiences could cost less on a packaged tour since the tour operators have build relationships with suppliers and “buy in bulk”.
  • Once you have paid for your packaged tour, you don’t have to worry about exchange rate fluctuations requiring you to pay more for your hotel or sightseeing.

DIY TRAVEL CHECKLIST

1.2 Costs of packaged tours

Packaged tours also have some costs, including the following:

Lack of depth & flexibility

  • Some packaged tours cover many of the major sights and activities but are fast-paced with little time at each stop. Not only does this mean you may not see everything you wanted, but it can be exhausting.
  • With a packaged tour you may end up seeing sights you had no interest in or not seeing something you wanted to see.
  • Tour groups can be large at times, and you may not be able to ask the travel guide all the questions you want. Large tour groups can also waste precious sightseeing time if it takes longer to get the tour group together before leaving a stop.
  • These tours allow no flexibility for sightseeing options. With these tours, you will see the main sights in a city only. If you see something from the bus or near a sight your group has stopped at, you cannot go off to explore further.
  • Packaged tours can lead to frustration. Some people do sightseeing and browsing museums faster and then have to wait for the rest of the group.
  • Other travellers are not too fond of large tour groups since they can take over an entire activity or sight leaving little space for DIY travellers to explore.

Budgeting concerns

  • Make sure what items are included and excluded from a tour package as it is not always clear. You need to know what you will have to budget for outside of the price of the tour package.
  • Not all packaged tour have guaranteed departures. You may pay for your chosen tour only to find out that due to limited bookings it has been cancelled.

2. DIY travel planning

As with the packaged tours, DIY travel planning has many costs and benefits

2.1 DIY travel planning benefits

I love DIY travel. For me, it has significant benefits, which include:

Flexibility

  • You have complete control over your itinerary and can spend as much or as little time as you want at each sight. If you wake up one morning and feel exhausted, you can decide to have a quiet day instead.
  • Being in control of your travels, you may discover hidden gems and local favourites instead of just focusing on the best-known sights.
  • You don’t have to spend time waiting for a tour group to finish sightseeing at a stop before moving on.
  • Introverts may prefer DIY travel as they can control the level of socialisation they can endure on a trip.

Budgeting benefits

  • DIY travel gives you the ability to find cheaper deals, but this may take time and effort.

Local Experiences

  • Since you don’t have a tour guide to rely on, you are sometimes forced to reach out to locals, which can be an eye-opening experience.
  • It is easier to get lost on your own, but that also gives you the opportunity to get to know a place better!

Best benefit

  • Planning everything yourself can be an empowering and exciting experience.Planning a trip teaches you new skills!

2.2 Costs of DIY travel planning

DIY travel does have some negative aspects as well:

  • A trip to many destinations can be complicated to plan with many different elements to consider. Each element’s costs will have to be considered and preparing for these will require a significant amount of research.
  • Planning your trip yourself can take a very long time, especially if you like to explore many different options.
  • Being responsible for all the aspects of your journey can be overwhelming and extremely stressful. For many people, this would completely negate the idea of going away to relax.
  • You have to depend on yourself when there is a crisis during your trip – there is no tour guide you can turn to for assistance.
  • Waiting for public transport between sights and activities can waste precious time which can be frustrating.

3. Alternatives to DIY travel planning and packaged tours

There are some alternative options instead of having to just choose between DIY travel and packaged tours.

Shorter packaged tours

  • A packaged tour is ideal if you want to have a specific cultural or activity-based tour lasting from half a day to several days. If you like food, a food tour is an excellent example of a speciality tour.
  • Consider booking full or half day tours on your trip instead of a packaged tour that includes a multi-day itinerary.
  • Packaged tours that limit the number of participants may be a better option than large group tours.
  • Some packaged tours have a fixed itinerary, but also allow free days where tourists get time to explore their destination on their own. This could be a better option if you do want some flexibility to explore a city on your own.

Alternative options

  • I firmly believe that everyone should consider doing free city walking tours. Almost every famous town has free walking tours; these are usually run by volunteers or tourism offices.
  • For a more in-depth experience of a destination, consider hiring a guide. This will give you not only more insight into the destination, but the tour guide can provide guidance on other less known sights and activities in the destination and the best places to eat. Hiring a guide gives you complete control over your itinerary.
  • Another option you can consider instead of a packaged tour is is to hire a driver and a car. This is ideal if you visit a large country with sights that are located far apart. Even with hiring a driver, there is a choice between fixed itineraries vs flexible itineraries where you have more input into what you would like to see and do. If you get a driver that speaks English and knows his country well, you have found a treasure!
  • An alternative to a packed day tour is the popular Hop on, Hop Off buses that usually have a circular route that allows you to hop off when you want to spend time a specific stop and hop back on when you are done and ready to explore further. This is one of my favourite ways to explore a city when I don’t have much time.

4. The verdict

The best option will depend on the travelling you like. You also need to consider the following factors:

  • Legal requirements for visa purposes;
  • The duration of your trip;
  • The sights you want to see;
  • What pace you like to travel at;
  • Your budget; and
  • Your desired level of structure or flexibility.

Answering these questions will guide you in the direction you should take. If you just want to explore a destination without worrying about any of the arrangements, then a packaged tour is best for you. If you want flexibility and control over your itinerary, then DIY travel is the way to go. If budget is your deciding factor, first find a packaged tour you like and do a rough estimate of how much a DIY trip will cost you. Compare the results and see whether there is a big difference between the two.

Both result in pleasant trips…

A friend of mine usually uses packaged tours. She does not like making travel arrangements, especially when visiting more than one country on a trip. She has, however, told me that sometimes when she is on one of these tours, she would have liked more flexibility regarding sightseeing and exploring lesser-known restaurants and sights. She also wonders at times, whether she could have paid less by making her own arrangements.

My preference is for DIY travel planning with a scattering of shorter organised tours, depending on the destination.

The best way to find out what you like is to try both types of travel and then decide which one you prefer for future trips.

What type of travel planning do you prefer – packaged tours or DIY travel? If you prefer packaged tours, which tour company have you used?

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4 thoughts on “Packaged tours or DIY travel: which is better?”

  1. I mostly prefer DIY tools as it lets you explore lesser-known parts of the city, offbeat tours are really great to explore hidden gems.

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