By Chin Yan Ni
I accompanied my cousins to attend the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS) Travel Fair last year, and I remember looking through the on the stack of A4-size brochures that were stuffed into my hands by salesmen.
“12D 10N Exciting Greek Getaway” was one of the tour packages that was featured on one of the brochures, words in bold and in a larger font – plus the typical picture of Santorini in the background. But reading through the vague itinerary provided, the only thing that I thought exciting was how the acronym ‘EGG’.
That was when it occurred to me what the advantages of going on a trip free-and-easy were.. Not that being part of a tour group wasn’t enjoyable, in fact it might be more relaxing in the sense that no effort is needed to plan anything, since everything is decided for you from beginning to end.
But that’s also where the issue with packaged tours lies. You become a mothballed passenger, your tour guide figuring out and making the decisions for you. There isn’t a need to know anything, since the guide chaperons you most, if not all, of the time. I might not have enlisted in the army before, but this sounds pretty similar to the life I hear about the army from the people around me who have – don’t know, don’t ask, simply follow orders.
On the other hand, travelling free-and-easy allows you to be an assiduous tourist, giving you opportunities to make your own calls and do things on your own. You get to come up with your own plans and change them whenever and however, and you don’t have to explain to anyone. It’s literally ‘own time own target’.
Say you decide to go for the ‘Exciting Greek Getaway’ which includes a four-hour vineyard cum winery tour, but you don’t drink alcohol or have any interest whatsoever in wine. Wouldn’t that time be better used to visit your personal places of interest instead? By choosing the free-and-easy option, you also choose what you want to do, where you want to go, what you want to eat and skip what you don’t.
Also, you get to give yourself time extensions whenever you wish to spend more time wherever. More time needed to capture the perfect Instagram-worthy photograph of the Acropolis or to decide on which gift to get for a friend? No problem, more time is what you have when there isn’t the need to adhere to rigid itineraries. In other words, time more or less becomes made of rubber and there’s no pressure to accomplish anything by a given time.
Another thing about free-and-easy travel is that it allows you to truly understand and take in your place of travel. Firstly, because there is homework to be done before embarking on your journey, you get to learn more about the destination from your research, in turn helping you to appreciate it more and better.
Secondly, since you’re on your own, you tend to be more observant and thus start to notice things about the place that you wouldn’t if you were on tour, for example the different types of architecture in a city or how certain areas in a town have more stray dogs than others. These, I feel, allow you to truly remember the place, as well as remember it more vividly.
Travelling to a foreign land means to truly explore the place and live like a local. Many people are apprehensive when it comes to travelling to foreign countries due to the unfamiliarity as well as the many differences. Then again, how are street directories overseas different, or how is taking the train or bus in other countries different from doing so in Singapore?
I believe that by going your own way, you are able to make the most out of your travels and create a memory worth keeping.