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Tours Vs Off The Beaten Path. Which Do You Prefer?

by margaret 26. January 2012 10:21

There are many different kinds of travelers out there. There are those that love a nice relaxing cruise, those that love to be pampered in a luxury hotel, travelers who will visit a city based on its restaurant options and people whose goal it is to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. But while there are a lot of varieties of travelers, it generally comes down to two varieties: Those who enjoy being part of a tour and those that enjoy going off the beaten path and creating their own adventure.

My first experience with travel abroad came right after I graduated high school. One of my close friends and I booked a two week tour throughout England and Scotland. From getting on the bus in London, visiting a farm outside of Edinburgh, seeing Loch Ness and finally making our way down to Stonehenge, it was an amazing experience. My favorite parts of that tour however were the times we had to ourselves to just wander around the town that we were visiting for the day. Before even boarding the bus in London, we decided to forgo the dreaded hop-on hop-off bus within the city and make our own tour of London. While we may have missed a few things, we had a nice walk around and ended up in a few quant neighborhoods we may have otherwise missed (ie: real London).

While over the years I’ve definitely become an off the beaten path traveler, I can see where some of the benefits of having a tour guide came into play. While I’ve always loved and had a sincere fascination with the UK, I learned a lot from our tour guide Andrew (yes, I still remember his name) and we were directed to certain places to visit during our stops that we may have otherwise never heard of (like the most amazing gingerbread we’d ever had in Scotland… we ate all of ours plus whatever we picked up as souvenirs before making it back to London!). Tours are great for people who don’t necessarily want to plan their travels on their own, or for those that may not have all the time in the world to do the research before their trip. They’re basically paying for someone else to do the planning, research, hotel booking and of course the driving. They rely on the tour guide to tell them about the place they’re visiting, where they should go and what they should see. And there’s of course nothing wrong with that.

However, there are many benefits to traveling off the beaten path. On my last trip through the UK in April of last year, I took an amazing road trip through the Galloway Forest, discovered different parts of north Wales and spent a week as a ”local” in Liverpool. Yes, we had to do some of our own research first, and no there wasn’t a tour guide to give us the history of each location visited. But we were so excited about the trip that we did our own reading before we went to educate ourselves about where we wanted to go. Even better, we were traveling at our own leisure, not on a schedule as you do with a tour group. Of course, thanks to technology, we were able to look up things as we went along as well.

My advice for traveling off the beaten path?
Just rent a car and go! With a GPS, a successful
tour on your own is always possible.

Another great off the beaten path trip I took was in Phuket, Thailand in 2008. Villas in places like Phuket are affordable, relaxing and luxurious. However, Thailand is quite an exciting and exotic country to visit, and you’ll definitely find more interesting things if you step away from the villa for the day (as hard as it may be). During this trip we rented a car for a few days and simply drove around Phuket, visiting beaches the resort doesn’t transport you to and heading into villages and towns in the area. We came across a local market (selling some rather interesting food on a stick), contributed to the building of the Giant Buddha and discovered some amazing restaurants. Overall, while the villa was an amazing place to stay and spend a couple days relaxing, it was great to get out on our own and explore the area.

Found at a market in Phuket
while exploring Thailand.

But while one style of traveling may be for you and another style for your friends or family, we can all agree that getting out into the world is always an experience no matter how you do it. But how do you prefer to travel? Are you a tour bus fan or an off the beaten path traveler?

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Tags: england, off the beaten path, phuket, scotland, thailand, tours, travel, uk, wales

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