Independent Travel

The typical dispute among travelers: what’s better – to travel in organized groups or independently. As I wrote in some of my blogs, the majority of senior seniors feel more comfortable when they join organized groups with tour guides.

However, since both types of traveling have advantages and disadvantages, I believe that for some adventurous seniors independent travel can be more rewarding than escorted group tours. On my trips around the world, I met many single seniors who went abroad by themselves and enjoyed their independence.

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10 advantages of independent travel
for adventurous single seniors

1. Freedom and flexibility

If you like the place, you can stay there longer.  During any of my group trips, I had numerous situations when I wished I had the freedom to do some things differently.

On our first trip to Europe, in 1987, we traveled by train, from Brussels to Munich. In Munich, we rented a car with a stick shift (rental vehicles with automatic transmission were not available). For two months we were driving through Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, England, and Holland. We took the ferry across the English channel and drove Dover to London on the “wrong side” of the road.

We found lodgings in small towns and villages, mostly in bed and breakfast places. It helped us to see and experience the local life in European countries. During this trip, we had many adventures, including spending a night in the car in the middle of a cow pasture.

2. You can choose your itinerary

During our trip to Uruguay we planned to spend a few days in Montevideo, and then take a bus to Chile over the Andes Mountains.

As soon as we arrived in Montevideo, we read in the English-language newspaper that the mountain road to Chile was entirely blocked by snow. It was in July (the middle of winter in South America). Immediately, we changed our plans. Instead of spending two weeks in Uruguay and two weeks in Chile, we decided to go to Argentina and Paraguay.

We took a bus to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. The bus left Montevideo late in the evening and had to arrive in Asuncion in the morning.

In the middle of the night, the bus stopped at some restaurant. It served excellent buffet with unfamiliar, but delicious dishes. Since my husband and I never eat late in the evening, this lavish buffet in the middle of the night felt like a wonderful sin.

3. You are not obligated to spend time
with people you don’t like

Occasionally we were unlucky to share the tour bus with some boisterous man. He would tell stupid jokes non-stop, laughing loudly, while the rest of us tried to doze or to listen to our tour guide.

My pet-peeve is chatty members of our group. We might have an informative talk by the guide in front of some architectural masterpiece. At the same time,  two or three people from our group talk loudly about shopping, the food they had yesterday, etc.

4. You do not waste time waiting for
other people from your group

On a recent trip to Buenos Aires, the whole group had to sit on the bus for almost thirty minutes, waiting for a man who was taking pictures inside the church. Because of that all of us were late for the performance which was scheduled right after the city tour.

In Morocco, after the group returned to the bus, two women suddenly ran out. The reason? They saw some scarves for sale and decided that they need to buy a few more.

5. You avoid the risk of getting a tour guide
who might spoil your trip

On a few of my group trips, we were not lucky with the tour guides. Some of them were lazy, or unprofessional, or indifferent, or disorganized. Those trips would be much better with a good guide, or if we would travel independently, using a tour book.

6. You can eat any food you like,
not just the food offered for the whole group

At the end of our first trip to China, my husband could not touch some foods served to our group. He joked that the same dishes followed us from town to town. To be fair, when our groups stayed in four or five-star hotels, the food was superb. We also knew that the food served to us was safe.

Traveling independently, we had many memorable meals. We tried local cheeses in Oslo, herring sandwiches in Copenhagen, rijsttafel in Amsterdam. In Dover, England, before taking a ferry to cross the English Channel, we had fantastic fish and chips, which we bought at a tiny hole-in-a-wall place. At bed and breakfast in a French village, we shared a goose dinner with local farmers.

7. You may choose activities you enjoy,
not the ones offered for the group

As much as we liked traveling in China, by the end of the first trip, we were tired of visiting the temples and gardens because most of them were built the same way. Traveling on our own, we would probably see only a couple of them.

8. You may skip visiting carpet,
leather, or silkworm factories

The itinerary of each escorted tour includes visits to factories and artisans shops. It is interesting to see how the silk is spun, carpets are weaved, pottery is made. However, after the demonstration is over, the shopping begins.

Usually, the tour guides give us way too much time to shop. One of the reasons – they earn up to 20{5ac18ef5c0a0a5bf7fd9603d93dd6afaaafb39abafb8ad2978dc6b95097c5ef0} commission from each purchase. Since we are not shoppers, we try to find a quiet place to sit and read. When we travel independently, we never visit such time-consuming sites.

9. You can meet local people or other
independent tourists, not just look at them
through bus or hotel windows

On an escorted tour, you don’t have time and the opportunity to pay attention to the people who don’t belong to your group.

10. You can choose or change the type of transportation

It’s up to you to decide how you want to move from place to place – by plane, by train, by bus, or by car.  You can even hire a car with a driver.

A few years ago, in a hotel in India, I started a conversation with a couple sitting at the next table. They flew from Auckland, New Zealand to New Delhi and hired a driver to take them around India. They said that they traveled in the same manner in Vietnam. We haven’t hired a driver in the foreign country yet, but we’ll do it someday.

What would I do differently if I would
travel to the same place by myself?

In Casablanca, I would visit the Rick’s Café. Opened on March 1, 2004, it recreates the bar made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the movie “Casablanca.” I would observe people gathering for the prayer at the Hassan II Mosque. And I would spend a few hours on the beach, just watching the locals having fun in the sun.

In Marrakesh, I would go a hammam (Moroccan bathhouse). Our local guide advised us not to go to any public bathhouse because we could catch some disease. I planned to spend several hours at the hammam in Marrakesh during our free day. Because of guide’s warning, I did not do it.

Next morning, I talked to two women from our group. They asked at the front desk of our hotel about the hammam which would be safe for foreigners. The concierge gave them information and also called the taxi. These women had a blissful day, enjoying every minute at the hammam. I was extremely envious.

I would spend more time in La Mamounia, the most exclusive (and the most expensive) hotel in Marrakesh. On my previous travels, I stayed in many fantastic five-star hotels, but La Mamouia dazzled me. This Moorish-inspired palace is surrounded by 17 acres of cultivated gardens with 700-year-old olive trees, palm trees, 5000 roses, orange trees, cactuses. The hotel has the enormous spa, several fancy restaurants, a huge pool with the ice-cream parlor next to it.

In Ouarzazate. I would skip this town altogether. The road from Ouarzazate to Marrakesh involved endless driving through the Atlas Mountains. There were some gorgeous views, but none of us enjoyed the ride on the curvy mountain roads.

Several people, including myself, got nauseous. If I traveled on my own, I would make a couple overnight stops to break the monotony of this long and tedious ride. Or if I knew beforehand about such a long distance, I would travel from Rabat to Fez, fly to Marrakesh and drive to Casablanca.
I would choose a hotel closer to the Medina and would hire a guide just for two of us. Maybe we would even walk in Medina by ourselves, using the map.  We would not waste two hours at the carpet store and could spend more time on the Medina streets.

In Burma (Myanmar). Our tour bus stopped at the “Marble” street. The whole area (pavement, trees, roofs, people) was covered by the marble dust. The dust was coming from the shops, where the craftsmen were cutting and polishing marble, making Budha statues of all sizes. The marble dust was flying high in the air. The whole street looked like a health hazard to me. Traveling by myself, I would never go to that street.

In Italy. I would spend more time in Rome. Even if we already know this city quite well (we lived there for a whole month at the beginning of our emigration from the USSR), we enjoyed every moment there.

In Ecuador. On the way to Cuenca, our group stopped for lunch at the mountain resort located in a small valley. The green mountains surrounded the resort on all sides. A narrow, fast-moving river ran through the whole property. Next to the main building was a paddock with a few grazing deer. I would prefer to stay at that resort for a day or two, not just for lunch.

Banos, another famous place in Ecuador, is very popular with local and foreign tourists. In this town, there are many thermal baths (Banos means baths) and massage places. I would love to stay in Banos for couple nights, partaking in all massage and water therapies available at a low cost.