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Loco for Lokum: on assignment inTurkey The lowdown on winning the 2011 World Nomads/Rough Guides Scholarship...

Touring vs. Independent Travel: a few lessons I learnt along the way

TURKEY | Thursday, 23 June 2011 | Views [5255]

Before winning this competition I admit that I’d never been on a tour in my life. Sure, I’ve done the occasional two-day camping tour or hired a local guide to take me around, but I’d never even considered booking on an all-inclusive package tour, no matter how much the itinerary appealed to me. Traveling alone has always appealed to me for a number of reasons:
1. I enjoy the freedom of independent travel and having an ever-evolving itinerary - the simplicity of discovering an area by getting lost in it and leaving myself open to opportunity.
2. I travel on a budget not just because I prefer to stretch out my travels and my money but because I’m concerned with where my money goes. If I travel independently, I can control exactly where and to whom I give my money and ensure that I am helping local businesses. 
3. I have an instinctive dislike for package tours and the whole idea of being thrown together with a bunch of people and checking off lists of things to do and places to see. For me, this has always been the difference between travel and tourism (although the two are, of course, irremediably linked).
Before you start thinking this is all negative, remember that these opinions were formed before I went on tour with BikeHike Adventures. Now, I can’t thank Trish and everyone at BikeHike Adventures enough for making this trip part of my prize and it truly surpassed my expectations, from the myriad of activities I got to try and the variety of wonderful people I got to spend time with. But has it changed my mind about tours? Not exactly, but I have definitely expanded my viewpoint and concluded that there are some definite plus points to traveling on a tour. For example:
1. The size and support system of a tour group allows you to try things you wouldn’t normally try - I’ve always been pretty adventurous but I still wouldn’t have gone to a Hamam alone nor would I have been able to afford an activity such as hot air ballooning if I’d been paying for it alone.
2. Having a full itinerary may be exhausting and a bit too quick paced for my liking but the truth is, you get an incredible amount done. I admit I am a rarity in choosing a lifestyle that leaves ample room for travel, country hopping and job swapping, so I understand that with only 2 weeks holiday, cramming a lot in is pretty important. Conversely, on a longer trip, it’s easy to become quite lazy about visiting and seeing everything and I’m definitely guilty of not doing anything for a few weeks and calling it ‘cultural immersion’, which isn’t always a good thing. 
3. Picking the right tour company can make a huge difference to the negative impacts of package tourism. BikeHike Adventures definitely considers how to make their tours sustainable and promote positive interactions with locals and it showed through in the itinerary - we ate at a family home one evening, used local guides and local companies and all interactions with locals seemed respectful and mutually beneficial (I still have nightmares of a floating island tour in Peru where the locals were, much to my horror, literally made to sing and dance for us). 
There are numerous other things I learnt during my BikeHike Adventure experience too - I’ve learnt that trampling through mountain paths and scrambling up canyons are some of life’s small pleasures. And that horseback is still my favorite means of accomplishing an adrenaline kick. I’ve learnt that whilst mountain biking holds an appeal for me, hauling my bike up dicey precipices to get to the roads is, for me, not always worth the rewards. And yes, I’ve learnt that while bobbing in a kayak might be a lot of fun for the majority, my rowing skills are more akin to doggy paddle and should be saved for gently rippling bays and excursions of under one hour. I’ve learnt that I actually enjoy being part of a group, although I definitely need my time on my own and that having a guide can actually be extraordinarily beneficial outside of the tourist areas (you’d have thought I’d know that one already, but I’m stubborn and like to think I can do everything myself). Oh, and I’ve learnt that I have a natural talent for playing wooden spoon castanets… but not quite as good as Awnhee though!

Tags: backpacker, bikehike adventures, tour, travel, travel writing, travel writing scholarship, trekking, turkey

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