This summer, it seems everyone is travelling internationally. Some are taking cruises, others are hiking in the Andes, and some other are posing in front of Angkor Wat. What is interesting is the ways of travelling they select, each with its own pros and cons. Here is my attempt at creating a structure around the ways to travel, especially overseas. I have divided the travel type into five categories, starting with the least expensive and ending with a sky-is-the-limit option.
1. Backpacking: This used to be the right of passage for young kids about to enter college or work life. You carry everything with you, including sleeping bags and even a small tent. Then, buy a passage to the area you want to see and put out your thumb. It still is the least expensive way to travel. However, nowadays one does not see that many hitchhikers. Maybe they have graduated to the next level or created some hybrid.
Pros: Least expensive and brings you closest to people of the country you are travelling. Since the schedule is flexible, there is time to stay in a place longer than you were planning to.
Cons: Needs physical fitness and endurance. Also, a little risky. Finally, may not be able to get to a place that easily as you have no control on who will give you a ride and to where.
2. Independent planned travel: In this mode, the backpack is replaced by a suitcase and a small backpack. Now, hitchhiking is not an option but taking public transport is. Overnights are in less expensive hotels and meals are in local restaurants. This is more luxurious than the previous category but requires planning. Thanks to the availability of online tools, such planning is not difficult. In this mode you can go to whatever place you want to go to and stay as long as you want, unlike the situation if you are in a tour (the next category). This has been our primary mode of travel and we spent more than a year doing it in 2019.
Pros: The places you want to go to, the accommodation that you prefer and food you want to consume all are under your control. You have a good chance of meeting local people and fellow travelers like you.
Cons: Needs planning and adjusting as the airlines and other modes of transportation make changes in their schedule. Some risk as you are by yourself in case of medical, climate or political emergency.
3. Tour: This is the most common mode of international travel. There are tour companies that cater to all types of travelers going to all different places. The trips are land based, river based or ocean based. Some are combination of all of them. The itinerary is fixed, and you are with a large number of fellow travelers, some of your own choosing. In case of a cruise, you do not need to pack and unpack every day.
Pros: Not a very expensive way to travel. Requires almost no planning. You can enjoy the company of friends of family members.
Cons: Being herded through sights of interest. Almost no chance of getting to know the local people. Limited choices for accommodation or food.
4. Upscale tours: I separate them out because there is a segment of the tour industry that caters to the well-heeled customers. The size of the vessel will be small (in case of a cruise), cabins more luxurious and itinerary more exclusive. For a land-based tour, this may involve, for instance, going to exclusive campsites to see animals, instead of the runoff the mill variety. The tours to the Arctic or Antarctica also fall in this category.
Pros: For some destinations, this may be the only way to get there (like the polar trips). Also, for areas that do not have as good an infrastructure, and limited appeal, these types of tours make it possible to visit without too much hassle. Finally, additional luxury may be preferred by some travelers.
Cons: Expensive. Also, limited possibility of mingling with the local population if there is any.
5. Ultra-luxury tours: These are the one where a private jet whisks you from one attraction to another. Today it is Easter Island, tomorrow, Taj Mahal. In three-weeks all the prestigious destinations are covered. The bucket list checked off.
Pros: If checking of the bucket list is the idea of travel, this may be the way to go. You will get pampered and since your tour company has its own jet, there will be some flexibility in the schedule. (“Can we stay one more hour and see the sunset?”)
Cons: Outrageously expensive. Missing the whole point of enjoying a place as only a few hours are spent. Hardly any chance of mixing with anyone except the fellow super rich travelers.
Now this is a simplistic way to categorize the ways to travel. There are several nuances:
Frequently, one person from a group of friends puts together a plan and essentially acts as a tour guide. If the group is large enough, he/she negotiates with hotels so the group receives the same treatment as a regular tour group. This travel in that case would resemble the third category, except it is not a recognized company organizing the tour.
In many situations, even independent travelers take local tours. There is no easy way to visit nearby places otherwise, and the money you spend stays with the local folks (not an international tour company). This is something we have done frequently in our travels.
Age has something to do with the mode of travel you select. Generally, the first mode is for the young folks and the last two may be for older, more financially stable folks. Also, the level of interest comes into play. If all you care about is “doing” Paris or Vienna, why would you bother to learn about those places and deciding how you can best enjoy them?
Oh, well. The world has come a long way when international travel was just for the very rich. It is great that people can and do explore the different corners of the world. Only then can they gain some understanding of different places and folks.
This is crucial if we ever want to have peace in the world.