Damn adamandmeg brought back a flashback. I was in Auschwitz alone and really experiencing a the place when a massive group of guide led German's (no offense) came buy, could barely see a thing as they tore by.
Having said that, I also took a tour of Auschwitz! Yes I know after what I just said. For me it was a place I always wanted to visit. And the lady touring us was the grandaughter of a survivor. I had a guide book. And really she quite good. I learned a lot from her. And looking back she did make a difference.
I think it depends where you are, and what you purpose of being there is. Daawgon hit the nail on the head when he said solo travel can be lonely. It can be. I Iran, Esfahan, I took a day trip because I was really bored of not meeting anyone. Unfortunately the only other two were a silent mother and daughter duo from Iran. The trip was a little rushed, but again I did learn somethings from the guide that were not in the book.
Again in Delhi I took a tour. This time because I was short on time. I met some nice people on the tour. But the tour itself was a waste of money as the guide never came in and explained little.
What I personally run a mile from is the Fez bus thing in Turkey/Europe. I was staying in Goreme and every 2 days like clockwork a group would come in drunk. Head out for belly dancing, come back at 4am, half would sleep the next day the other half would be dragged by their hyper active jack-in-the-box guide to some site before being shuttled off to another pub session.
I like it when a hostel offer it as an option. A group night out. Or weekly outing. I think it works better than the weekly cooking thing. With the outing newbies can mix, and in the evening people can either go out or do there own thing.
I'm DIY all the way. If I can't go somewhere without a tour group (Iran, etc) then I'm not going. Even if I don't have time to do decent research myself, just using my travel common sense will ensure at least a decent trip.
After looking at everyone's comments, I realize that there are many different definitions of DIY travel. If you plan most of your trip, but go on a tour of a park, museum, or landmark, does that make you feel guilty as an independent traveler?
I've done both tour and DIY a number of times. There are advantages and disadvantages with both types of travel. I certainly wouldn't let pride get in the way of taking a tour. They can be a lot of fun and you can meet some great people that you can remain friends with for years. They are also good if you want to see a lot but your time is limited. .
Only the other day was I looking at an old photo album of a tour I'd done in Europe. Yeah, there was a lot of drinking but it was a hell of a lot of fun and the photos bought back some awesome memories.
I've met people on a tour that I've later travelled DIY with , so one thing can lead to another (or should I say, one mode of travel can lead to another).
[ Edit: Edited on May 26, 2008, at 8:20 PM by james ]
I personally also would like to travel myself DIY without any tour companies or guides. I personally dislike big tour companies that charge exorbitant fees, however they do provide security and there is less chance of encountering problems. Although toured trips are good for day trips of particular and specific areas. I also don't like large companies that charge thousands of dollars for volunteer placements, however thats a WHOLE different topic.
I'm a single female traveller, and plan to be wherever I go with the exclusion of more dangerous countries such as Africa (haven't been there yet, but don't really want to do it alone as a female unless I felt experienced and comfortable doing it) and parts of Asia, and parts of South America. However, that being said, I love the whole idea of planning a trip yourself, winging it sometimes, meeting people along the way, and making plans spontaneously. Its rather fun, but I guess slightly riskier. But then again, life is meant to be fun, and we are made to enjoy it!
[ Edit: Edited on May 28, 2008, at 9:36 PM by CatAttack ]
I am generally a DIY traveller, but have taken an Intrepid trip before in Morocco. The major advantage of this was that you could get off the beaten track with little hassle and we were taken up in the mountains to places that would otherwise have been inaccessible to us. We had done the big cities ourselves and the trip was very much an add on for us to have some more unique experiences. However, it is important to note that the tour took us places where other travellers were not! I personally don't have much patience for tour groups which traipse around in the path of other tour groups all the time so that you are continually fighting for space.
Intrepid treat you like a backpacker - you take local transport, walk to stations etc carrying your pack (within reason), use local accommodation - there is no 'on the bus off the bus'. Essentially, it was like backpacking with a friend who was doing the planning that week. You do get to meet great people too and we had a lot of fun. You do need to luck of landing a good guide and a good group though, and you don't have any control over that.
I am currently doing 3 months in South America, solo and DIY, so don't get me wrong I am all for the thrill of achieving things yourself. However, I think the pride thing can get in the way and cause you to miss out on some great experiences. Having someone 'in the know' show you around occasionally can open doors that you can never open for yourself! It can also be a useful diversion to mix with some other people if you are travelling with one or two other people for a long stretch, or travelling alone. It can be surprisingly cost effective if you choose carefully as well.
I'd consider myself a DIY traveller. As a younger boy, I was always stuck in tours or groups of people whenever I was travelling and I never really took too kindly of how rushed and impersonal everything seemed. Also, I felt as if I we were always in the way of those other independent travellers who were trying to see the sites too. If you're into museums and art galleries, being in a group tour has it's perks such as getting to skip the long waiting lines. I've waited in many a long line and to see these groups bypass me (while I've been waiting for 2 hours) within 10 minutes really irks me. I prefer to carry a good guide book with me along with a little research beforehand and get by on that instead of listening to a tour guide. I'm not discounting ALL tours, just those which I believe aren't worth it (most of them). I'm down for taking part of any tours that will give me access to areas or knowledge that I can't attain on a DIY trip. I haven't come across any as of yet but probably will in the future. These would most likely be within a small area though. I would consider taking a tour if I were visiting the regions Central Asia or Africa (to see wildlife). I think I can handle being by myself anywhere else.
I've saved so much money with DIY traveling and have met so many people that I'd find it hard to go back to touring. Travel, no matter what form it is should be unique. I've had fun with groups but my best memories are those as a backpacker. Attending the craziest party at a farmhouse at 2AM, chatting it up at a 24hr cafe with the staff after being lost and without a bed for the night, and cooking spaghetti w/ strangers after getting kicked out of a bar are all things that wouldn't have happened if I was on a tour. I'd probably be in a hotel room already...and the rules...not a fan of those either. I like to be out there, so tour guidelines don't usually bear well with me. Unless I'm there for business, like with the Africa case, going on a safari or volunteering. Something like that.
DIY is certainly more fun. I did the Trans-Siberian that way, didn't book train tickets or anything ahead of time- just got a visa and went. No problems. And if you can do that in Russia, then you can do it almost anywhere.
The only reason I'd do a tour is if it was a special kind of transportation (like a motorcycle tour in Mongolia, for example).
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This is an interesting debate, one which I am having with myself at the moment. The more I read about DIY travel and the pros of the experience the more I wonder to what extent I could do it vs paying for a tour.
Perhaps those experienced in this topic could have a look through the places I intend to visit and comment where I should be looking at DIY and where in fact I should get fully booked up with tours,etc? I feel at this stage that it would be a waste to pay for something that is really as simple as opening a guide book and getting on with it.
United Stated of America
Thanks in advance!
I'd say the main reasons for going with a tour group are: visa requirements, safety concerns, special sites that require a tour (The Inca Trail in Peru, for example), and communication problems. So, on your list of countries, I'd say you definitely don't need a tour for the U.S., Australia or N.Z. But for Myanmar, it would probably be a good idea (visa and safety concerns). China is fairly safe, and easy to get a visa to, but if it's your first time, it can be a little overwhelming. A tour might be a good idea (for the Great Wall and 3 Gorges, a local tour is about the only way to go). The other places I can't speak to, as I haven't visited them- yet.