The trick with traveling independently is quite simple – light luggage. Keep your gear down to a carry on size and not more than 10kg (22lbs) and suddenly you have the freedom to walk away from the over charging taxi driver, the ability to take the bus not the hire car, to walk 3 or 4 flights of stairs in a budget hotel.
Independent travel is all about freedom – so why do so many people wander the world with over-sized bags – even the backpackers bury themselves under 70litre packs – and there is no way you need that much stuff! If you want to shop – leave it to the end and buy another bag to put it all in.
Photo:nhanusek via flickr.com
I think over packing is basically a symptom of fear and uncertainty - certainly some people’s need to be ready for any medical emergency is a direct reflection of this – and the profit margin.
A minimum of clothes means that you will dress basically the same everyday but so what? It seems a better option than carrying a week’s worth of dirty washing around the sights of Europe surely? The downside – well you do end up having to do a bit of hand washing every night and I do carry a pegless travel clothesline with me.
Yesterday I talked about independent travel and its advantages of it. But where do you start? Guide books? Internet? Today we really have information overload, the trick is finding the useful stuff.
First off ever since Thomas Cook put out his his first guidebook along with inventing the package tourism industry – based on trains in his day – guide books have created the tourist ghettos we love to hate these days. Lonely Planet says Koh Phi Phi is the most beautiful, undiscovered beach in all of Thailand – guess what – yup Koh Phi Phi is trashed with far too many visitors and little infra structure to support them (I mean rubbish collect and sewerage – not 5 star hotels).
Ko Phi Phi, Thailand Photo: Shadow or Light via flickr.com
But guidebooks take a long time to get to market – probably nearly 2 years from research to publishing. And in that time a lot changes – often its a matter of doing the opposite – Phi Phi is trashed – head on out – the locals have probably tied up as the tourists started staying away – now you have a nice place and fewer visitors!
I town is written up as not worth stopping at – stop there – you will probably be surprised. Also recognize the writers bias – if the writer is obsessed with nature and hates cities -and you’re the opposite the guide is probably not going to help very much
Independent travel is about taking the best from guidebooks and overlooking the rest. Guidebooks are useful – for high level initial trip planning – but not for the details – for the stuff like where am I going to stay – well that is best made up on the spot when you can actually see the room you are considering renting!
Sorry – its been a while since I posted – I will try harder. The trouble with travel is that sometimes I am planning or doing a trip and I am really into talking and writing about travel – and sometimes – well I am stuck working and I really don’t want to know about my favourite drug that I have withdrawal symptoms from !
Donkey Cars waiting for tourists, Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Anyway this is the start of several posts – which I’m sub-titling – independent travel. You know the type you do without booking it all with your agent before you leave home. Don’t get me wrong – I do do tours: I like hop-on-hop-off type tours for orientation in a large city I don’t know. I like tours on boats so I can dive or snorkel. I will sometimes engage a guide in a place like Angkor Wat so we can go where we want and get the low down and the transport provided.
I’m not anti-tour – but I AM anti the herd mentality of some tourists – it used to parodied as – “oh its Wednesday it must be Rome” but be restricted to older people who could afford package tours.
But more and more in countries like Thailand and Asia – I see the local entrepreneurs putting on “special tourist” buses which might even be cheaper than the already insanely cheap local buses – so that they can make money on the hotels, food and tours along the way. And then the tourists can’t work out why the country is so in your face sell, sell, sell. In fact in Vietnam it was the oder tourists who were travelling independently – and the backpackers who were quite literally being herded from one hostel ghetto to the next – just because they didn’t have the initiative to get off the Lonely Planet trail and do some real travelling.
So what does being an independent tourist involve. Well call me simple – but involves being informed and thinking for yourself. If the guidebooks says XYZ is the THE place to stay – you can be guranteed that it is over run with tourist hoards, over priced and poor value for money by the time you see the book, because of the thousands who have already acted on that very recommendation.
I often get off a bus and go with a hotel tout in Asia – the best ones are when they are working directly for the hotel – often the only thing wrong with the hotel is that its new or for some reason got missed from the guidebook. This generally means you pay the same or less than the popular place, but get a much cleaner, quieter and generally more pleasant stay.