Thursday, June 4, 2015

Guest Post: Lizandra Jimenez Rodriguez

I want to travel independently, does that makes sense?
Written by: Lizandra Jimenez Rodriguez

When traveling becomes a great passion, you usually keep a bucket list framed at your desk or in the lock screen of your phone. You never stop planning or deciding when, where, and how to get to the next place. There are tons of ways to travel, however, independent travel has been always a popular one for those seeking adventure, exploring on their own, or simply trying to get away from the traditional and superficial (for some) tourist routine. A myth we need to forget is that independent travel is not all about backpacking in Europe or climbing the Everest; in fact, it can be done in many ways including different levels of budget and luxury. Also, independent travel can be done solo or with an affinity group with a particularly crafted itinerary. This makes it very different from escorted traveling of course. Companies have understood how escorted traveling is not for everyone and today we see the promotion of flexible itineraries, where the traveler can customize it almost entirely and still have the best from both worlds: hand-holding in a foreign place but total freedom to do things at your own pace. Travel companies are becoming quite creative with showing travelers the multitude of options out there for “organized” independent travel, and how they can help. As part of their campaign A Better Way To Travel, Monograms (part of Globus family of brands) is one great example of how companies approach this on social media with original content marketing.

There are perks for traveling alone though, and it has nothing to do with you being an experienced traveler or new to this amazing hobby. Here are a couple worthy of mention:

You can focus on what your real interests are.
You choose your own distractions, your own pace, and your own level of interaction with the destination. This reduces friction when you decide to open to others, or try exotic culinary delights. Since you are escaping from your daily routine and do not plan to have a trip based on a daily routine, traveling solo reduces stress and helps you to connect with your inner self. Your itinerary becomes an on-and-off the beaten path journey seeking and finding the extraordinary. In essence, it means you will unobtrusively dive into your plans and enjoy a silence or a crowd.

You can have a budget as flexible or strict as you would like it to be.
Some destinations are more expensive than others, but I personally think it’s all about the type of experience and how pampered you want to be. Furthermore, those two factors will influence your budget the most. There is a lot to say about creating a budget such as choosing the best season, scheduling a super detail-oriented budget like an accountant, or just having the essentials and a ballpark figure to spend until it is all gone. I usually start with a checklist of the “must have-see-do” and I put the “maybes” on a separate column. All this, of course, after you can pragmatically calculate pre-departure expenses, air fare, accommodation and meals. Finally, it is always safe to leave some room for odds and ends that include all those miscellaneous things we travelers collect for ourselves or to share (postcards, souvenirs, extra toiletries, etc.).

However, independent travel takes a great amount of research to decide where and when to go somewhere. The Internet is inundated with travel blogs that are usually very helpful for finding information from fellow travelers that help prepare you in a way of what to expect or how to start planning. I have found a few of them to be particularly resourceful and helpful: Independent Traveler, Across and Abroad, Adventurous Kate, Bunch of Backpackers, among others.

One of the most common questions we ask ourselves lately is if we really need to see a travel agent for this, and the answer is … it depends. Yes, the Internet has lots of information and one-click online agencies to buy your packages or make tour reservations. But brick-and-mortar travel agencies still exist for the mere reason that talking to a specialist can make a difference. It does not mean you need to book from beginning to end, but a consultation session could help you organize ideas, learn about how to structure your itinerary, or simply realize there are some lightning or seasonal deals you can get. In addition, there are remote destinations in places like Africa, for example, where coordinating activities or accommodations over the internet might be a bit difficult. Instead, travel agencies usually work with wholesalers that can confirm these services ahead of time using their destination management team.

Cons about independent travel usually have to do with language barriers, interacting with local customs, finding your own way if you get lost, or planning ahead for contingencies in case something goes wrong. Yes, some things will go wrong sometimes and you need to be prepared. That would be one of the greatest pitfalls because if you did not organize using a backup person/company to call or you didn’t have travel insurance your trip could become pretty scary and/or end abruptly. Sometimes intuition, resources, or caution will not be enough while traveling independently. This is why I mentioned travel insurance. Notably outside your country you do not usually get covered by your health insurance provider. You are on an adventure after all, but you want to keep it safe at the same time. Be sure to choose an insurance company that covers reasons you feel might prevent you to start, continue or finish your travel once you are booked and ready to go.

On a final note, remember that traveling is not always about risks, budget, or the ordinary. Open your horizons, be safe and have fun. Learn where to indulge and how to save as well as where to jump and where to retreat. Who knows? You might end up choosing the life of travel where you can work, volunteer, and make your main income as a travel blogger or a photographer. Make each part of the world your home, literally.

Editor's Note: I'm going to Japan very soon. I plan to visit the cities below. I'll make an update after the trip. Happy Independent Travels!











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