I love travel, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Experiencing new things, food, cultures, meeting new people, getting out of my comfort zone, all of these things.
I am an advocate for travel, and I recommend not doing a tour, especially in Great Britain, for example, where everyone speaks English, even the Scottish. No really, they do.
Europe is dead easy, and you’ll get more out of it without a tour guide telling you where you can go and for how long. A friend informed me, much to my shock and horror, that their tour allowed only an hour for Paris. Paris! That is a crime against nature, is what that is.
So, my husband and I don’t do tours. We don’t do itineraries either; we have a basic idea of what we want to see, but that can always change. We generally fly by the seat of our pants. When I travel alone, I do the same.
Here’s the thing though, travel will never be perfect. Every vacation includes some bother. We have missed a few trains in Egypt, because we could not begin to read the ticket. On a train in Poland the lights sparked and crooked doors between the cars would close without warning and trap us. We have been stuck driving up mountain roads in Ireland barely large enough for our right hand drive car and, oh look at that, it’s a two way road! And we both got bronchial infections in India.
At the time, these things were unpleasant. Now they make the best stories.
The main advice I give to people who are traveling for the first time is, part of it will not be fun. There is no such thing as a “perfect vacation.”
Maybe it’s better with a tour group, I’ve no idea. But let me tell you this.
If you are on a tour, you are missing out on one of the main reasons to travel because the people you meet are paid to be nice to you. You are not getting a real taste of the culture.
Let me give you an example.
My husband and I were in Egypt during Ramadan, 2004.
It happened that Ramadan ended in November that year, so we went to a shop and bought Christmas presents to take home. We spent around $200 USD, which to the young man working there was a lot of money. He was so happy he closed his shop and invited us back to his home.
When we got to the apartment complex, a tiny boy, just barely walking, saw us and was about to explode with excitement. He said “Hi!” and we said “Hi!” and he waved his arms at his sides like a play-pretend bird and made a sound like a balloon deflating. He ran with us the rest of the way to the stairs saying Hi! and giggling like a little Muppet.
When we got to the young man’s apartment his sisters prepared tea and Ramadan cookies for us. We sat and chatted and enjoyed the cookies and company.
Now, would that ever in a million years happen with a tour?
I have so many stories like this. So many beautiful moments that would simply have been missed.
And sure, there were awful moments too, and when they happened, I scowled and vowed to never travel again. San Francisco is enough for me, dammit!
But I get home and tell all the stories and everyone laughs and then I’m planning my next trip a week or so later.
Next should be Thailand. I will give the elephants a bath!
And enjoy the stunning antiquities, delicious food, and amazing culture, of course.
But mostly elephants.
By the way – Please don’t ride the elephants. Don’t pay for places where people can ride elephants. It’s not good for them so please don’t give these places your money.
I’m going to go here and bathe an elephant.