How Independent Is Independent Travel?

Overseas independent travel was once the domain of a limited few: the creme de la creme of travel customers, who wanted [and could afford] what was known in the trade as an FIT: a Foreign Independent Tour.

These were customers with the means to travel pretty much when, where, and how they wished: first class airline seats, five-star hotels, private touring cars, and hired destination guides to escort them wherever they wished to go.

Think elite. The rich and famousCelebrities. CEO's. Even royalty.

The stand-alone travel company where I worked early in my career had several of these clients.

I have to admit, it was exciting to design and execute their travel plans to Europe and around the world. 

For a while I worked with the staff of a former U.S. President, planning, booking, and coordinating a number of custom overseas trips and independent travel programs for 'the man', his extended family, and his protective entourage.

Our agency also had as clients the 'princes' of a royal international family, who sometimes resided in our city. I didn’t work with them directly - I was told an ex-president was enough!

That was years ago. A lifetime, it seems. But still, it’s one of the highlights of my career in travel, and it was great fun.

Today, traveling on your own is very different.

Charles Dickens Immortalized

Younger Travelers...

Foreign independent travel has transformed from being the sole prerogative of the rich and famous, to the opposite end of the travel spectrum - those least able to afford international travel, especially on their own: students and the back-packer generation.

They opened up independent travel to the masses, much as group tours did for middle class Americans looking for an easier way to travel in Europe.

These younger travelers led the way in proving that foreign independent travel is accessible to everyone who wants to expand their world and travel Europe on their own.

There are still plenty of high-end travelers, who plan and execute their upscale travel arrangements with the help and privacy of a trusted travel agent.

Then there are the backpackers. Young, adventurous, fearless. They scour the globe in search of excitement, adventure, and to add meaning to life.

They create their unique plan for traveling Europe wherever they go on the Continent or around the world. These are the children of technology.

They have little use for Europe package vacations, international tour groups, certified travel agents, or any kind of overseas travel arrangements that will restrain their spontaneity.

They research their travel online, using online agents and booking services for limited advance travel plans, leaving the details to be worked out as their trip unfolds, leaving freedom and flexibility to rule the road.

More Mature Travelers...

House of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster

But for many of us, either former back-packers, mid-life [or later] adventurers, or just independent travelers at heart, our travel choices lean a bit more toward security.

We want to know where we’re going, and where we'll lay our head.

We prefer to plan in advance and know we're within the limits of our travel budget. At the very least, we want an outline of a European itinerary.

We don’t mind doing our own research online. In fact, we’re pretty good at it.  

And even though we still consider ourselves to be independent travelers [and long for our bygone travel days with nothing more than a guidebook in our pocket and time on our hands] we know those days are gone forever.

We've tamed our youthful wanderlust. 

Now it’s time to create a new kind of travel freedom.

Independent Travel In The 21st Century

As today’s independent traveler, you may have already taken one or more hosted tours to Europe. Or, you may be contemplating a first trip overseas.

You may want to re-visit a favorite Europe destination to see what you missed the first time around. Or travel to Europe on your own, in search of a more personal and relevant experience.

Either way, you’ve made your decision for how to travel Europe.

You know you want the freedom and flexibility of independent travel: to go at your own pace and create your own adventures on your own schedule.

Now it’s time to select the options that will help you create your unique Europe itinerary.

One way to do this is by creating a personal plan to travel Europe with your own time-line and budget in mind. It's travel to match your personal travel style.

The best way to do this is to seek out smaller Europe travel packages that you can combine to create your itinerary, while including as much or as little independence as comfort allows.

Both store front and online travel agents, along with a growing number of  group tour operators, offer hundreds of smaller, shorter Europe vacation packages specifically geared toward independent travel

You use these packages together to create your personal travel plan, allowing you to travel around Europe independently on your own terms.

Amsterdam Canal View

The most basic European package vacations usually include airfare, accommo-dations, and some kind of local or ground transportation.

These smaller packages will get you there, give you a place to sleep, and get you around locally, as you move from place to place.   

[If these are the only things you need, buy them directly from the operator/seller, which allows you to eliminate any agent's commission and pay only the less expensive booking fees.]

If you’re new to European travel and would like a bit more structure for your trip, look for city packages available in large and mid-size metro areas and in some smaller towns.

These can be as basic or deluxe as you wish, and most travel purveyors sell them, including store front agents, online booking engines, and inter-national airlines.

City packages can orient you to your surroundings, while giving you an overview of the area you're visiting. 

They sometimes include hotel accommodations, you can combine with full or half-day local tours. You can often add a guide or driver, specific sights and attractions, or even a special meal - all at a 'combination' price.

You can increase the value of these 'city tours' by combining attractions and events, such as a museum or show, tickets for special events, or day tours to nearby towns.

You can also include local transportation like rail and ferry service, or a rental car.

There are numerous combinations of small, local tours, that, when added together, will create a customized European travel package, set up by you a la carte.*

By combining small local tour packages, you create a unique and independent, flexible travel plan, with much of the legwork done for you. 

Find A Comfort Level For Traveling On Your Own

When planning a trip to Europe, you can pre-arrange practically everything - or almost nothing at all. 

But the more you pre-arrange, pre-book, and pre-pay before traveling, the less flexibility you have when you're on the road.

For travel during peak summer season, crowds are thick and entrance lines are long.

It makes sense to pre-purchase as much as you can for this tourist season, especially for popular attractions, busy hotels, and in-demand train and trans-portation routes.

Once you arrive at your destination, you can validate entrance tickets for sights and museums and make timed reservations for buses and trains, if necessary.

For independent travel during low season, it's not necessary to pre-book daily activities or local transportation, since entrance lines are short or non-existent, and transportation is easily accessible.

Whatever the season, check with local tourist offices once you arrive, where you can find schedules for local sightseeing options.

Whether you pre-book hotels or not, is a matter of personal comfort in knowing where you’ll lay your head at night.

But especially for off season travel, it’s easy to find good hotels to book after you arrive in Europe.

Seasoned travelers often secure hotels only a night or two in advance, once they have a feel for where their itinerary will take them.

This keeps your trip flexible and your options open.

Castle St. George in Lisbon

Being an independent traveler requires a bit more thought and planning, than participating in pre-arranged group or guided tours to Europe.

But, if you’ve done your research and educated yourself about where you’re going, you’ll have a feel for what to book before you go, and what to leave to spontaneity, as you travel Europe on your own.

The more knowledge you gain up front about the places you plan to visit, the more comfortable you'll be leaving parts of your trip open to on-the-road discovery.

Independent travel allows you to experience special travel moments that only happen when you’re on the road on your own.

Once you experience traveling in Europe without a tether, you’ll understand how much more rewarding European travel can be.

* In Memoriam: To my cohorts in travel, Chris Christman and Ray Pople, owners of A La Carte Travel  in Atlanta.  You were my mentors, my brothers, my friends. I miss you, and I love you.

For more information on how to travel Europe, see these articles:

Your Travel Style is a reflection of your lifestyle - what you like, how you live, what makes you tick. The kind of traveler you are determines how to travel Europe and beyond.

The right Europe Guided Tour determines the outcome of your trip. Will it be successful and memorable, or tiresome and tedious?

Escorted Vacations to Europe are offered by international tour operators throughout the world. Learn how to choose the best escorted tours to Europe.

Europe Travel Packages are made for independent travel. Learn how to use packages to travel on your own – but with a safety net.

Return to How To Travel Europe

Travel Tip

For many of us, travel is a voyage not only to a specific place, but to our own self discovery.

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