If you're looking for travel advice on deciding between independent vs. tour travel and advice on booking accommodation and flights, then you're in the right place!
Independent or group travel?
That's a question only you can answer based on your preferred style of travel, time, budget and a host of other considerations. The benefits of independent travel are many: you can set your own schedule and itinerary to go as slow or as fast as you'd like, eat wherever you want, decide which activities you want to do, choose your transport, pushes you outside your comfort zone, and it's often easier to connect with local people as individuals or a couple rather than a big group.
However, group travel also has it's benefits: logistics are taken care of for you, an instant group of people to bond with, access to certain people or activities that you might not find on your own, and the local expertise of a guide (can be invaluable). We began as almost exclusively independent travelers, just taking a tour from time to time when it was required (e.g., Turkmenistan).
Now we do a combination of independent travel and small group tours, usually through G Adventures. We've been working closely with G Adventures for almost four years as part of the Wanderers in Residence program and have taken ten tours with them (Antarctica, Bali, Tanzania, Iran, Japan, and New Zealand, Ethiopia, Uganda and Haiti). However, our first tour with G Adventures to Antarctica was one that we organized and paid for ourselves. It was because of this first good experience and understanding the values of the company that we chose to work with them afterwards as brand ambassadors. What we like about G Adventures tours is that they are small (maximum 15 people), usually offer independent time so that you can also explore on your own and often include a visit to an NGO to help support the local community.
We don't have this down to a science, but we do use a handful of sites to help us find and compare costs, routes, and times. We usually start first with Kayak and SkyScanner (includes low cost airlines in database) to get a feel for flight options. Sometimes the actual airline will have an even cheaper rate than what is listed on one of those sites, so always check the airline's website.
If you have a very complicated and expensive ticket, consider using Flightfox to see what sort of flight deal they can come up with for you.
More resources on finding cheap flights and using points:
We often use Airbnb when we travel to rent an apartment (or sometimes a room). We often prefer this to staying in a traditional hotel as the places are usually in neighborhoods instead of downtown areas so you have a more local, neighborhood feel. If you want to check out Airbnb for yourself, you can get a $25 discount off your first rental by using this Airbnb discount code.
If you are interested in booking a hotel, we usually get a feel for availability and prices by checking Expedia, Booking.com, or Skyscanner. If you are traveling in Asia, then start with Agoda for a vast selection and good prices. The map function on these sites is handy if you want to find hotels near a train station, downtown site, or specific neighborhood. These sites usually have their own reviews or pull them from TripAdvisor. When we've narrowed down our choices as to which hotel we want, we will check the actual hotel website for prices and then book wherever the price is the lowest. If you are booking last minute then these accommodation sites may have lower prices than going direct.
More resources on finding cheap accommodation:
- Accommodation Websites: Which is Best?
- More on finding cheap accommodation, from Couchsurfing to Hostels
- 20 Luxury Hostels to Check Out in 2015
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