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Travel Planning: To Plan or Not to Plan

Updated: Feb 4, 2023


To Plan or Not to Plan? That is the Question.


We all know someone that is super detail-oriented and has their entire trip planned before they even get on the plane. While this works for some, others may desire a more spontaneous and open-ended adventure. Whatever works for you, there isn’t necessarily a “right” way. However, it’s important to highlight the need for preparation and planning for any trip in order to ensure an enjoyable experience.


Hotels fill up, popular tours sell out, and reward tickets often require advanced bookings. Last-minute flights are also known for being more costly and miles are often not available to use for those bookings as well. A little planning can go a long way to save time, stress, and money.



D-I-Y vs Guided Tours?- Choose your own adventure!


There are many factors when considering a D-I-Y, “Do it Yourself” itinerary vs the convenience of having one pre-built for you. I get it, larger travel companies, tour buses, and hotel chains are just that - convenient. But there is often a price to pay for accessibility that can be better spent on yourself instead of donated to larger businesses. Choosing to be your own guide and utilizing local transportation (including Uber/Uber equivalent, trains, public transit) are efficient ways to save money and add to your adventure.


I have done this quite often in my travels and this offers the benefit of not having time constraints or being influenced by a guide on their agenda. In addition, you may find that tours are often scheduled at the same time as others, which can lead to more crowded venues, as opposed to finding off-peak times on your own.


I encountered this while planning a hike for the famously known Mt. Sinai (now known as Mt. Catherine) in Egypt.



Mt. Sinai, Bible, Moses, Ten Commandments, Burning Bush, Mt. Catherine
Entrance to Mt. Sinai

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Mt. Sinai is the biblically renowned historical site where it is believed that Moses received the call from God for the Ten Commandments through the famed “burning bush” while leading his people out of Egypt through the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Additional fun fact for you all, the believed burning bush (the bush God used to speak to Moses) is available to be seen at the base of the mountain, in the local monastery where the priests will inform you that the bush is never watered and yet never dies.


Burning Bush, Mt. Sinai, Mt. Catherine, Ten Commandments, Moses
Burning Bush - Mt. Sinai

All the main restaurants and other people I met were pushing for me to hike up at midnight to watch the sunrise with those who have the same idea. While I’m sure this would also have been a wonderful experience too, it wasn’t what I wanted to do.


I decided to listen to my gut. Having waited to hike the mountain in the afternoon (yes it was a little toasty but hey that's what water and a scarf around your head and neck are for), I had it all to myself which I wasn’t expecting!


For those of you who can relate, any alone time in these special places makes the adventure that much more magical. With the exception of my guide with me to snap some photos when we first arrived, this was indeed the case. I spent 1 hour at the top completely uninterrupted and it was all I had hoped it would be.




Conversely, when I went on a Nile river cruise, I was encouraged to take a tour of Abu Simbel in Southern Egypt near Sudan. Out of convenience, I chose the pre-planned excursion and found out soon after, that so did the rest of the boat. And I mean it - there were literal “boatloads” of people, all there, all at the same time.




Despite all the people, it was a good time and the good news is, you can always find "Instagramable" photo ops (See the photo on the right where it looks like no one is there versus what was reality).


It was a considerable learning opportunity for me. I later encouraged a friend to see the temple, they went solo (outside of group tour hours) and upon their return, I was surprised to hear that they had had the entire place to themselves. They excitedly showed me long-running videos without another human in sight. I was super happy for them and they were beautiful photos and videos, but it reminded me again of the trade-offs of group versus solo travel planning. Pros and cons to everything.


My take home?


Learn from that and find my own off-peak hours to go rather than the “convenient” or “recommended” route that is often designed by agencies for their advantage, and once again, conducive to their schedule.


Getting back to my solo touring, at Mt. Sinai I grabbed a taxi nearby where I was staying and found my own local guide at the base of the mountain. If any of you have traveled or toured solo, you may understand the additional challenges, but also appreciate the associated trade-offs.


If you do decide to go the tour guide route, which can provide a lot of benefits (organized times, less stress managing transit and itinerary, space to ensure “hot spots” are not missed, and usually a semi-professional photographer to take photos for you) be sure to utilize options such as Airbnb or Tripadvisor and consult well-established travel blogs to help you find the perfect guide.


Besides, finding a local guide not only saves you money but helps to support small community businesses and feed their families.


Here’s a snapshot of my guide (and now friend) Sala from Mt. Sinai


Mt Sinai, 750 steps, Moses, Ten Commandments, Egypt, Bible, Mt. Catherine
Me and Sala after the final 750 steps to the top of Sinai

The Choice is Yours ???


When considering a D-I-Y vs a tour guide structure, it’s important to ask yourself, “what is your time worth"?


It really boils down to how much time you want to spend planning versus paying for someone else to do that for you.


Would you rather spend more time with your significant other and/or kids, or on planning your trip?


Or perhaps you and your partner enjoy planning together, in which case that’s awesome!


In either scenario, unless you’re going down the road to a local beach for a quick getaway, there has to be some degree of organization, and it costs time or money for someone to do it.


For me, if I know it will save me money, I more often than not will make the time to do my own planning. I have found that a lot of what I choose to see and explore turns out to be better than what was proposed by a hired guide anyway.


That said, it’s always nice to have options in case you find yourself needing help along the way. For example, while in India, I was limited to two weeks of exploring.


I knew I wanted to cover a lot of ground and was potentially stuck due to a tight timeline. In this case, I opted for a local guide I found on Airbnb (yes, you can find guides there and it's usually going to be the small business types which I love to support). This experience proved to be exactly what I needed and as a bonus, I made another new friend!


It was a great way to maximize my time while minimizing my stress, which was also a nice break after having planned so much travel on my own for the past year. And to be honest, I’m not so sure I would have done better by myself in that scenario anyway. In two weeks I was able to see sights and have experiences in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Varanasi, and Mumbai because of his help in planning- *stay tuned for more in a future tour of India blog!


The choice is ultimately yours to weigh out the pros and cons. Find what works best for you and heck, if you decide you don’t like something (think my Abu Simbel boats of people scenario) odds are you’re still going to be having an incredible time - after all, it’s not like you’re sitting at home thinking about being somewhere else, you’re out seeing the world and cheers to you for doing so!


Cheap Trick Alert: Call a guide company and inquire about their services in advance prior to your trip. Take notes, write down what they offer, what they do for their customers and then do it yourself. This can also help avoid peak times of other tours present, especially since they will be able to tell you when they'll arrive with their people, and how long they will stay.


Example: I had a great experience calling an expedition company while researching Iceland and trying to make sense of the island prior to flying out. After 15 minutes of chatting even the guide himself shared that I could save money doing the itinerary myself if I was renting a car (which I was).


And so I did...




Yay adventures! *Iceland blog also to come soon


It ended up being awesome, I saved a lot of money, and I was able to operate on my own timeline.


Don’t ever worry about reaching out to guide companies and doing your own research for thoughtful preparation. If it helps, think of it as calling a restaurant to look at their menu and inquire about the food. You don’t have to eat there. You’re simply getting more information to make the best decision for YOU!


Doing some of your own research can save you a ton of time, improve your experience, and save you money.


I’ll write more on this later in a separate blog: Best Ways to Plan a Trip (stay tuned for the link) as I could spend hours/days discussing it.


 

I love sharing on this subject because ultimately I have found that a balance between my own planning and utilizing a local guide works best for me.


Sometimes I want to be by myself completely and other times it’s nice to have someone to ask about the local culture, take over the planning, help me get a few photos, and heck maybe even enjoy some A/C in a car from time to time.


The choice is always going to be yours my friends.


I can assure you, as long as you are enjoying the experience, you are doing it right!


Stay tuned and read more in my next blog for organization and planning based on your specific location of choice (link to come soon!).


The World is Open my friends, Safe Travels!




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