Independent travel is basically about sorting things out on your own and travelling a bit more with an eye on street level, rather than up on the 100th floor looking down. Do we do it to save money? No. We do it because makes our travel experience a million times better. Honestly, it does. It certainly can save us a lot of money (a huge bonus) or you can still spend a squillion dollars if that’s your thing.
It is about us putting a bit of effort into understanding where we are going and not being afraid to be out amongst it. It gives us flexibility, a bit of adventure and heaps of options. If you only have ten days off work and just need to go lie by a pool, then totally go for that package holiday – but otherwise, think about organising it by yourself and being flexible about what will happen when you get there.
Logistically, independent travel means that we find the flight itineraries, buy tickets, organise our accommodation and internal travel, figure out language, money, what to see and where to go… and how to cope with whatever awaits. Most of the time just doing the bulk of organising stuff when we get there. We live in an age of information and it’s all brilliantly, readily available.
How do we do it? This isn’t an exhaustive list, but for starters…
We use traveller blogs and forums a lot e.g. for South East Asia, Travelfish is great. Lonely Planet’s Thorntree world-wide forum has been doing this for years and is still a key player (though some of the old hands on it can be damn snarky to newbies, which has put a lot of people off), Wikitravel can be good, especially on occasion for smaller off-grid places. Individual blogs, fellow travellers (once you are out there) and specialist blogs (on places) all have been invaluable at certain times on certain trips.
The flying bit. With flight apps/websites now you can scan routes and prices in about 1 minute (when I’m watching TV, I’m constantly checking ‘Dublin to Tangiers’, or ‘Cancun to Amsterdam’ just to see who flies there, the crazy routes and how much it costs). We mainly use two of the biggies (Skyscanner and Google Flights) though make sure you check the airline websites also. And dealing direct with airline websites is often the only option for the smaller internal carriers (and can offer great deals). You won’t get information on these from a travel agent.
Where to stay. Booking.com, Agoda, AirBnB, TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, Wikitravel etc. are all helpful. So are the traveller forums. We try and choose locally owned, smaller guesthouses/hotels, hostels and inns. We don’t do dorm beds anymore (too old, people snore too much) but it’s rare to find a hostel now that doesn’t have double rooms and ensuites available. We avoid franchise hotels and resorts. We go to them on occasion, when we need to shut the door on a place because we are tired and overwhelmed (it happens). The fact they are great for offering a sanitised, slightly removed experience away from the local culture tells you a lot.
You can spend as little as 30 mins checking into all this and booking a trip, or spend days doing research if you are a travel geek and just love reading about places. Part of the adventure of what we do is the planning and execution of it. But it’s the experience on the ground when we get there, that makes travelling independently addictive. This trip, we’ve added housesitting to the mix. That’s another blog post yet to come. Get out there and enjoy it. The world is not a scary place and the people in it are worth being amongst.