10 reasons to travel independently

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First published 13th August, 2009

Last week I discussed 10 reasons why you should do an organised adventure tour to Southeast Asia. As promised, here is the flipside of the coin: 10 reasons why Southeast Asia is best explored by travelling independently. While the following is focussed on Southeast Asia, we believe the advice holds for anywhere -- so go on, get out there and travel!

  1. Independent travel is cheap
    Travelfish regulars will be familiar with the Thailand on 250B a day thread over on the messageboard -- it's the tale of a guy who spent 22,500B travelling in Thailand for three months. With independent travel, you can keep your costs down without needing to nick water out of bank water machines. One of the big hidden costs of longer-term travel is the cost of getting around, but by travelling slow you keep this down. Your bottomline won't be blown out by tour group hotels, instead you'll be able to take advantage of the cheap flophouses across the region. There are also lots of ways to save money while you travel -- here are 10 examples.

  2. Independent travel is flexible
    A few too many Mekong buckets last night? Want to stay in bed? Stay in bed. Really enjoying your time lazing around on Ko Sukorn? Stay another week -- or another month... One of the great things about independent travel is that you're the boss. You make up the rules, you decide where and when you're going and so on. When you meet other travellers and you want to join them for a while -- you can -- and you can just as easily split again as your plans diverge.

  3. Independent travel is a great way to meet other travellers
    Southeast Asia is FULL of independent travellers and if you're travelling in the region you'll have a great deal of trouble avoiding them! Traveller hubs like Khao San Road, Vang Vieng, Pai, Ko Pha Ngan, Hoi An and Sihanoukville draw them in like flies to sticky rice and as long as you've got some modicum of social skills, you're likely to meet up with others. It can be a great experience hanging out with your peers from around the globe, and without wanting to sound like a great advocate of the Global Love In, it can break down a lot of prejudices and opinions you may have held before you met someone from ABC -- hell they might even be fun to travel with.

  4. Independent travel is a great way to meet the locals
    There is more to travel than getting drunk around a beach bonfire with a bunch of foreigners -- you'll find locals to be just as eager to socialise. When travelling on an organised jaunt, you're most likely going to be mainly dealing with the locals on a transactional basis -- be it in a cafe, at a hotel or on a minibus, you're going to be paying them money for stuff. As an independent traveller you'll also have this, but because of your flexible timeframe you'll have more opportunity to get to know locals and hang out with them to some degree. This can be fun -- yes you may even need to go to karaoke -- but it can also be an interesting learning experience in seeing what goes on in a local's life outside of the guesthouse foyer.

  5. Independent travel is a great way to learn some lingo
    Chatting away to a local in English is one thing, chatting away to them in their native language is a whole new adventure. The great thing about independent travel in a foreign country is that, if you wish, you can totally immerse yourself in the local language -- and with foreign language, the more you need to speak it, the more you will, and the more you speak it the quicker you'll learn. World Nomads has some introductory downloads to get you started (Lao lessons | Thai lessons | Vietnamese lessons).

  6. Independent travel can be a learning experience
    Assuming your travels involve something more than laying on the beach and snogging other travellers, in a fairly short time you'll learn a lot about the country you're travelling in. For travellers new to a country, it can be a shattering experience to find that wow, Thailand isn't all just beaches, elephants and exotic locals -- it's a developing nation facing a diverse range of political and social challenges. As you travel through, talking to locals and reading the newspapers, you'll slowly gather a better understanding of why things are how they are (you'll never gain a complete understanding -- even Thais are happy to admit they don't understand their own country ;-) .)

  7. Independent travel can be challenging
    Independent travel can be hard. It can be really physically demanding -- whoever said a vodka Redbull bucket a night for a month was going to be easy? Seriously, you'll have long nights on crappy buses driven by loons and in flophouse lodgings not fit for lab-bunnies. You'll walk under withering sun and through flooded back sois. You'll enjoy a thousand new taste sensations and be assured your stomach will not enjoy all of them. You'll meet people you don't like and you'll get so sick of wearing the same clothes you'll consider burning them. But you know what -- all this doesn't matter. Independent travel is worth it, because...

  8. Independent travel can bolster, well, your independence
    All the crappy bus rides, the deviants in guesthouses, the sulfuric sun and the bubbling bubonic curries are character building. Believe me when I say you'll encounter situations you would N E V E R encounter in your home country, and you'll need to figure out how to sort it out. Yes, you'll make some bad calls, but you'll also make some great ones and, as everyone's Mum says, you learn from your mistakes. Travel can break down barriers, it can help you better understand the world, and it can help you develop empathy for the people you have to share it with -- now that's gotta be a good thing right?

  9. Independent travel can be fun to plan
    Picked an adventure tour to Southeast Asia? Your planning is done. Independent travel on the other hand can be a bag of laughs to plan -- especially if you're underemployed at an office with a good high-speed internet connection and a screen nobody can see. Go surf the web, check out Travelfish (oh, you found us already), buy some guidebooks or better still go get some good travelling books. Watch some movies set in the region or sample some pho at your local Vietnamese joint.

  10. Independent travel doesn't need to be planned at all
    As I said earlier, you're the boss and independent travel doesn't need to be planned at all. Get yourself a plane ticket and some insurance and get yourself to Asia. Throw yourself into the swirling mix and you'll come out a better person down the road -- you may like it so much you'll end up living here.

Missed Part 1?

If you're looking for more information about why taking an organised adventure tour to Southeast Asia isn't a bad idea, you'll want to read this story.

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

Read 4 comment(s)

  • so, independent travel isn't just getting drunk around a beach bonfire with a bunch of foreigners. it is getting drunk around a bonfire with a bunch of local too. bonus!

    nice article. i think the biggest joy of independent travel for me is using local transportation. it is a great way to really see an area and to gain an insight into what life might be like in a given place.

    my favorite example was riding in the suicide seat next to the driver on the bus from Phokara back to Kathmandu in Nepal. eight hours, two flat tires, and a yak milk shake later, i was exhausted and exhilarated.


    Posted by exacto on 17th August, 2009

  • thanks for this article. V encouraging and timely. I am about to take the plunge on the big thre month trip, and needed a confidence booster that I was doing the right thing and I will be able to cope as well as have plenty of fun. Can't wait to go! I just need to book that outbound ticket!

    Posted by lulutraveller09 on 8th September, 2009

  • Good article ... best of travelling solo (at least my biggest leitmotiv) is that your money goes in small fractions to more local hands than if you travel with a tour when, normally, your money goes to a few hands and almost always not belonging to local people.

    Posted by Botitasenasia on 29th May, 2011

  • Awesome article. I booked my one way ticket a few weeks ago and I can't wait to hit Europe solo! Most people I tell think I am crazy but I know it'll be completely worth it!

    Posted by Casey Camilleri on 25th April, 2012

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