For many millennials, their first step towards travelling the world is ordering that Contiki brochure online or chatting to an endlessly enthusiastic Topdeck promoter at a travel fair. It’s all made to look so fun and easy, being bundled onto a coach with 20-odd like-minded adventurers all ready to be taken on a wild ride across Europe, America or many other destination. Your accommodation is sorted, your food is sorted, you don’t have to figure out which sites you should be seeing, you’re guaranteed a party almost every night and all you have to do is whack down a deposit and turn up. Sounds easy right? Well it is… and there-in lies the problem.
One of the things we love the most about travelling is the challenges you face, whether its attempting to decipher a train timetable in an incomprehensible language, ordering a coffee in a café where nobody speaks English, or even just deciding how best to spend your day when you find yourself in a new city with the freedom to do whatever you wish. One of the most common responses we hear from people whose world adventures have been limited to what their Contiki allowed them to see is that they wish they could have spent more time in a city they really loved. Or spent less time dieing from a monstrous hangover caused by day after day of drinking and more time actually absorbing the culture around them. If this sounds like you, then maybe it’s time you considered spreading your wings and taking charge of your own travels. Whether it’s for 3 weeks or 3 months, organising your own trip isn’t as difficult as it sounds, and can often be far more rewarding, opening you up to experiences that simply couldn’t happen on a tour. To help you decide, here’s some of the best reasons why we think you should consider it:
You’ve reached the city you always dreamed of going to. You know all about the hidden gems and secret local knowledge and can’t wait to see what else you can uncover. Except your tour guide has instructed you to be up and at breakfast by 9am so you can be ready for the walking tour at 10am which will finish just in time for you to visit yet another basilica at 1pm which will carry you through til early dinner at 5pm because you’re going on an ‘awesome pub crawl’ at 7pm and won’t get home til 3am.
This quickly becomes a familiar routine on tour, and sadly that rooftop cocktail bar you saw on instagram or the secret underground techno club you heard about won’t be getting a visit from you. Big European cities are gigantic, cultural melting pots and to be directed as to what you can and can’t see can be a frustrating experience. By organising your own trip, you can spend as much or as little time doing whatever you want, and opens you up to discovering the true soul of the city. Soak up as much atmosphere as you like, nobody’s rushing you to be anywhere. This is what travelling is all about.
If you’re travelling through lots of new countries, cities or areas for the first time it’s hard to know which places you’ll love and which you’ll loathe. You might reach your next stop and be so uninspired you can’t wait to move on. Likewise, you might fall head over heels in love and be wishing you could stay longer. On a tour you’ve got no say in the matter, as the schedule dictates where you are and for how long, and when you’ve paid up for a month-long trip you can’t exactly abandon it midway through because you decide you want to stay in Barcelona for another week!
Independent travelling means you’re in charge of your own schedule and can spend time where you think you’ll enjoy it most. Didn’t see all of Paris in 2 days? Book a few more nights in the hostel and soak it up. Passing through Bruges and want to explore? Hop off the train and stay a few nights. Heard that your favourite DJ is playing next week at a festival on the beach in Croatia? Grab a ticket and get raving! All of this is just not possible on a tour, and can be unsatisfying if you’re the kind of person who likes impulsive decisions or going with the flow.
One of the biggest selling points for going on a Contiki tour is that you’re guaranteed to have a bunch of other like-minded people your age join you on your adventure. Except what really happens is you get caught with a group of borderline bogan antipodeans who aren’t any different from the people you hang out with at home and are probably more interested in a VB and a chicken-schnitty for dinner than whatever the local cuisine is. And you’re stuck with them!
It might take a bit more confidence, but making friends with completely different cultures on your own travels is immensely rewarding and is a chance to meet people from all walks of life you otherwise never would have. What might start as a passing comment to the local Italian bartender could lead to being invited to a secret sunset rooftop party with a few other townsfolk. Or a chat with that German in the hostel kitchen could see you staying with her friends in a ski chalet in the Swiss Alps. It’s no secret that tour groups can be viewed in a less than positive light by some Europeans and you’ll find that the locals will be much more willing to converse with you and share with you their lifestyle when you appear to be fully immersed in their culture. Every new city is a new opportunity. Step outside that comfort zone and see what awaits you.
Travelling with a tour-group can be a draining experience. Always somewhere to be, always something to see, always someone there wanting to chat… sometimes you just want some time to yourself to experience the world around you in your own way. We are increasingly becoming more completely connected to the world, with social-media exposing our lives and opening us to each other in ways never before possible. It can be hard to find time to switch off and reflect on yourself, your passions, your dreams and your pathway through life. Travelling is undoubtedly one of the best ways to do this and by ditching the tour, taking charge and travelling independently, all of a sudden you are on your own. You will find yourself listening to your own heart. You will live and feel in the here and now. Your focus in life will become clearer and your sense of self-satisfaction will grow. As big and scary as the world really is, you’ve proven that you can tackle it headfirst yourself, and that’s a reward that no tour can give you. The lessons you learn travelling solo will stick with you longer, inspire you to see all of the wonder there is in the world, and best of all, as it did for us, inspire you to keep on adventuring.
Experienced travelling solo yourself? Got any extra tips for how to make it a memorable trip? Or maybe you think tours are the way to go! Comment below with your thoughts