Travel company or self-organised trip?
Replies: 10 - Last Post: Oct 8, 2012 11:34 PM Last Post By: Mingkoho
Sep 25, 2012 4:53 PM
Travel company or self-organised trip?We're a family of 6, with 4 kids aged from 10 to 4. We're used to travelling with the kids to semi-exotic locations (at least by most of our friends' standards), having taken the kids to Sri Lanka last year and visited Jordan and Namibia this year, but have generally travelled on trips arranged by travel companies (such as Families Worldwide and Audley Travel, both of whom were very good). We'd like to do some more travelling over the next year, perhaps to South America (Brazil/Argentina or Peru) or Asia (Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos), but as the budget is tighter this year we're considering a self-arranged trip rather than paying a travel company to arrange it.
Having looked at the itineraries from some very reputable companies, their prices seem to be almost double what it would cost to organise it ourselves, and for six of us that means the total cost of a two week trip including flights being either roughly sixteen thousand pounds or eight thousand pounds which is obviously a huge difference. However, when you book a trip arranged by a travel company there are obviously benefits in having a company who can arrange a local guide that you know is reliable if you need one, and having someone back home who can help sort things out if there are any problems on the ground (especially rare but serious things like a kid getting hurt/ill and needing hospitalisation), etc., and in countries where we don't speak the local language and not many people speak English that might be a big plus. So does anyone have any advice as to whether it's better to travel more cheaply and perhaps risk more things going wrong, or pay the significant extra for having the peace of mind that a good travel company is there to help if you need them?
Edited by: Steve_71
Sep 25, 2012 9:00 PM
1I would say it is pretty safe to organize your own trip - just lots of planning and research needed. A good insurance company should give you plenty of support in case of anything going wrong. There are so many providers you can check reviews and policies and shop around.
Also the travel agent you book flights with (if you use one) can be a useful point of contact. Check with them how easy they are to contact and how helpful they'll be if you need to change flights etc.
Some travellers ask a relative or friend to be a point of contact at home and leave them with copies of all the important documents so they can help if needed.
You can get lots of information and reviews of accommodation, local guides and tours, transport etc on sites like travelfish and tripadvisor. You can pre-book some or all of your accommodation and travel.
I'm not sure about more remote places but we're currently planning 5 weeks in Thailand with three children. It's very easy - there are lots of travel guides, websites etc. I'm really enjoying doing some research and deciding where to go and what to do and planning the itinerary - we're doing a lot more planning and pre-booking than we did before we had the kids.
Maybe you could organise some of the trip yourself and then take a tour for some of the time?
I guess if you're wanting to pack a lot into a very short time, an organised tour would have it's advantages in that you would be less likely to lose a half-day by missing a train-ferry connection or something like that.
It probably depends quite a lot on where you want to go and what you want to do there. If you like to be busy and make sure you see all the sights, a tour could be good. If you like to suit yourself and play it by ear a bit ,independence might be better.
Sep 26, 2012 10:26 AM
2We are a family of four (with 2 kids, now ages 10 and 13), and we have always traveled independently with our kids, not on tours arranged through travel agencies. We have done a few guided adventure tours (on dirt bikes) without the kids, but much rather prefer the freedom of exploring a place on our own, even when we don't speak the language. For protection in cases where something might go wrong, we always travel with good insurance coverage that includes medical evacuation, but have never needed to use it. (This same insurance would also be used when traveling in a tour.) While being on a tour might be easier logistically, it costs so much more than an independent trip and thus makes that option not affordable to us as a family. For example, we are currently planning a 24-day self-driving trip to Namibia, and our entire budget for all four of us is about a third of the cost of a 15-day tour through Families Worldwide. More than the price, however, is the magic that occurs when traveling on your own--the people that you meet, the sense of accomplishment from getting from place to place, the growth that occurs when stretching your comfort zone. Sometimes we engage the services of a day guide, which can be wonderful for short stretches, and we have found great referrals through online travel resources and exchanging emails with people who have traveled to our destinations in the past. I think that whether you will enjoy the experience, and feel comfortable without the backup of a travel agency, depends upon what you are looking for in your travels. Good luck to your and your family!
Sep 26, 2012 12:05 PM
3You can absolutely, and easily, travel as a family through both of those regions without being on an organized tour. We haven't been around South America with our kids (but are taking them to Central America this year), but we have been all through Vietnam/Thailand/Laos/Cambodia with them on our own. We far prefer it that way for all of the reasons that have already been suggested. It's part of the adventure. What I do recommend though is to book the occasional day trip or 3-day tour once you're there, when you want to do specific activities or see particular places that would be difficult without a guide. Holy moly, 16,000 pounds is nearly what we spent to travel around southeast Asia with our kids for SIX MONTHS!! (Our budget was 60 pounds per day, plus the cost of flights.) It did take a lot of legwork/research on my part beforehand, but I enjoyed that aspect of it. I didn't even use a travel agency -- just booked all our flights through Orbitz and Air Asia. I find that when you do your own planning, you learn a lot more about the places you're going before you actually get there. Also, I really don't think that by travelling independently, you risk more things going wrong. We've always felt perfectly safe and comfortable on the road on our own. If language is really the big issue, then I can't promise you'll have no problems in South America, as I haven't been there and I suspect there is comparatively little English; but certainly all over southeast Asia, you can get by quite easily. We found that not only do most people working in the tourism industry speak English, but so did any professionals we needed to see (two doctors and one dentist on our six-month trip). You might like to join IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers) -- it has a booklet you can get which lists western-trained and likely English-speaking doctors in countries all over the world. Good luck with your decision.
Sep 26, 2012 5:04 PM
4Thank you #3 because I was pretty much in shock with the prices that the OP had quoted ! What exactly can go wrong? Illness is covered by travel insurance, and any decent insurance will give you a 24/7 number to call collect to help if the worst happens.
How often do you need a local guide? I know SE Asia better than Central America - but both have highly developed tourist industries. Need a guide at Angkor Wat? Your taxi from the airport will be able to help you with that! Will he be any good? Well you can work yourself how good his English is. If you don't like him find another one. Frankly finding a guide or a local tour is the easiest thing in SE Asia.
I would say that 2 weeks is waaay to short to see 3 countries in SE Asia - unless you only intend to fly between destinations and see just the highlights? Alternatively 2 weeks in EITHER Vietnam OR Cambodia-Laos is more realistic, but still rushed for many people
Sep 27, 2012 10:17 PM
Sep 28, 2012 2:29 AM
6Hey Steve,we are a family of 7 from QLD Australia and have travelled quite a bit with our 5,always organised it ourselves and have loved every minute of it(though there have been several times when we have hankered for Club Med!!!!!).Asia is simply wonderful,best of luck to you all and happy travels.We did 6 weeks in Sth America,bear in mind what a huge place it is and a lot of travelling on buses unless you can afford flights.Now as for Cambodia/Vietnam such a wonderful destination,we hope to do Laos in Dec/jan,kindest cheers,Carol
Sep 30, 2012 4:41 PM
7Lots of useful ideas and inspiration here. We've always travelled independently and always wondered how we could ever afford to pay someone else the kinds of prices charged for the inspiring operator organised adventure holidays we get all the brochures for! Maybe one day.
Indie and 'packaged' adventures are such qualitatively different experiences and each comes with their own price, and not just in money. So I guess it must be hard weighing up which way to go. With the itineraries we've chosen we've always found we can travel for longer for a lot less money by travelling independently and always favoured duration and budget over support. I guess it all depends on what you want and value. For me, aside from the money and duration there's also a certain satisfaction that comes from feeling responsible for organising it all yourself, acquiring the skills and knowledge you need to be safe etc and that comes from living as a family on your own wits.
But it doesn't mean you have to do it all alone. As the thread suggests anything is possible travelling with kids and there's plenty of people out there to help whether paid guides/operators or indie family travellers who have trodden the path already. I've had incredible support from other indie family travellers through forums, blogs and social media, sharing contacts, tips, connections etc.
Oct 3, 2012 6:40 AM
8We are a family of 6 with kids 8-18 and we just finished a RTW trip covering Asia and South America that I arranged totally by myself. The only reason I would say it is ever advisable to use a travel agency is if you want to cover every possible attraction in the shortest amount of time. Then you are not the bad guy telling your kids to wake up and go see another temple, the guide is. Other than that, there is no question you can book the hotels, hail the taxis (or tuk tusk) and find the restaurants all by yourself.
Our budget for the 6 of us in Cambodia and Laos was never more than $100 a day including nice hotels and guided day tours (you just ask the front desk of your hotel for recommendations, there is always somebody available). Our budget in Argentina was triple that and that was staying at in a long term apartment not a hotel so keep that in mind. Also, spanish would be very helpful in SA while you can pretty much get around anywhere with in English in SEA.
I would recommend deciding on only one ot two places within one country to visit if you really only have two weeks, i.e. Luang Prabang and Vientienne in Laos or Siam Reap and Battambang in Cambodia. Then you can relax and enjoy your vacation and get to know the culture rather than rushing from one "must see" to another.
You can check out our itinerary at dixons.tumblr.com for ideas.
Oct 5, 2012 11:24 AM
9Discovering the location on your own is always an choice,but tourists often select advised trips as a way to get their bearings.The services of a guide usually will enhance your experience of a site.The most important thing is that the tour guide will do all of the planning for your trip,including making reservations and travel arrangements.This leaves you with more time to enjoy your vacation.
Oct 8, 2012 11:34 PM
My husband and I are thinking of taking our 4 kids ages 11, 13 ,15 and 20 to Bangkok and possibly Chiang Mai. We have decided to organize it ourselves as we have both been before but was done through travel agents. As we are on a tight budget, do you have any recommendations of places to stay? I'm finding it hard to find places where we can all fit. Cheers
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