International Travels, Travels, Migz' Lists, Philippines

DIY or Packaged Tour: Deciding Factors For Different Travelers

“By 2020, 320 million international trips are expected to be made by youth travelers each year, a staggering 47% increase from 217 million in 2013,” David Chapman, director general for World Youth Student and Educational (WYSE) Travel Confederation said in his report (source: Forbes.com).

One of Migz’ very first DIY trips in 2011 – Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte. Calle Crisologo, Vigan

These days, we have tons of travel groups that we can join for free on facebook, a thousand travel agencies that want to ride the rise in millennial travelers, and hundreds of hopeful bloggers, like me, who want to share their stories to everyone else.

DIY Day-tour from Manila to Nasugbu and back, Fortune Island 2016

But what we don’t realize is that a lot of us are either forced to travel DIY – because “they say it’s cheaper”, and a lot of us are too scared of making mistakes and getting lost that we end up getting a travel package.

This brings us to the debate of whether it’s better to travel DIY or get a package from trusted agencies.

I will point out the pros and cons and along the way as I compare both options across different types of travelers but first, a little set of questions you need to answer to determine what you should do next time you travel.

THE AGE GROUP – are you traveling with kids? Are you traveling with retired parents? Are you going out with friends? This is one of the most important deciding factors. Traveling with kids may mean bringing strollers, a kiddie bag and considering places to go that would admit kids and that would entertain them. Traveling with parents or older relatives can also mean less hiking (not that there are no trekkers in that age group), less running after trains and planes, less “getting lost is cool”.

Mama climbed Mt. Apo twice when she was younger. So even when she’s already pushing 60, she’s still up for long walks. This was in Baguio on our way to Sagada where she went spelunking with me in Sumaguing.

 

Kids in tow? No night life for you then.

Traveling DIY in a group entails both laugh-out-loud and what’s-taking-you-so-long moments. So prepare to either strengthen the relationship, or you know, fight a few times along the way. When I travel with my friends DIY-style, we assign the first person to bathe, to cook, to tidy up after breakfast and such. That makes it more organized and less time-consuming. It’s fun to take spontaneous turns when with the same age group – we believe that getting lost is actually fun. But if your parents or kids are with you, you want to make sure there’s food and rest at designated times.

The verdict? We suggest a DIY for ages 18-40 and packages for ages outside that range.

THE LENGTH OF VACATION – this is actually a 2-faced card you’re dealt with. So let me put it this way. If you are in one place for a couple of days and you want to maximize your time, then don’t go for a package. Skip the places you don’t want to see, or are out of your budget and tailor-fit your quick escape to what you want to do – food tripping, shopping, temple-running, museum-hopping or, well, swiping left (or right)!

Mary and I spent a night and 2 days in Bohol and so we wanted to maximize the time by hiring a car and driver that drove the two of us around, including Baclayon Church and the famed Chocolate Hills

On the other hand, you can also pick an agency that can customize the package the way you want. An example of this is when we decided to ditch Mary’s Guam birthday getaway due to the increased tension in the region. The ticket was already paid for, the hotel reserved and visas already granted. But just a day before the supposed flight, we decided not to go.

So I messaged my sister’s friend (and now mine too) Malou to see if she can get us a package for El Nido, Palawan that’s within the budget. Take note that she only had less than 24 hours to fix everything – plane ticket, accommodation (which I had to ask her to change – talk about flexibility), island tours and airport transfer.

Kayaking our way to the small lagoon. Oh wait no, Kuya is kayaking us there! El Nido 2017

All we really had to do was show up at the right airport (T4 instead of T3), and pay for dinners. Everything else was already arranged and provided for – van from PPS to El Nido, breakfast and lunch, plane e-tickets. That’s convenience for you. You can connect with her and get your travel fix, and let me say, this is NOT A PAID ADVERTISEMENT! Thumbs up for Oh Maria’s Travel and Tours!

 

Local and international travel packages available here. Check out their FB page.

 

We took the El Nido package of Oh Maria’s Travel and Tours the last minute after we decided to forego the Guam birthday trip for Mary

I was on a solo trip to Sydney and I only had 2.5 days to explore. I walked the entire downtown and only took the bus once for Bondi beach, and the train to and from the airport. The rest was on foot. I decided where to go, my pace, when to stop, what to eat and when to call it a day (which in my case was usually at 9pm so I could maximize my time).

Mary and Jons DIYed Sydney too, and they had 8 days!

The only 2 things I did with a group was the free walking tour and the Humpback Whale Watching event. Both are not to be missed!

You can also go to Boracay DIY and just get the water activities package there. Like we did in 2012 which established a long friendship with our guide Paquito.

 

Solo flight in Sydney? No problem. I bought a ticket to join the afternoon Humpback Whale Watching trip (before the boat left for the open sea)

 

The Sydney Free Walking Tour lasts about 2-3 hours and is on a tip basis. A must-do on your first day. Happening every 2pm.

 

Longer vacations mean DIY but you can also mix it up a bit with a package for a specific activity. When I first went to Japan, it was DIY but we opted to get a package to see Mt. Fuji. So out of the 6 days, 5 days DIY, 1 day packaged.

A good mix-up! We got to go to the 5th station of Mt. Fuji where we played with snow, ride the cable car up the Komagatake Ropeway, ride a ferry across Lake Ashi and take the shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo. All with an English-speaking guide and free wifi on the tour bus. We got the package from Japanican.com but the Mt. Fuji package is available even if you’re already in Tokyo and you surmise you have a day more to spare.

Hakone Komakatage – Japan – Ropeway towards the snowy top. Part of the 1-day package we purchased

 

Our English-speaking guide to Mt. Fuji, before taking the bullet train back to Tokyo

The verdict? Do a mix-up!

THE BUDGET – sometimes it really does come down to this. Getting a packaged tour will end up being a little more expensive than DIY. I said “a little” but that’s if you know where to look and what to look for in a package, and “a lot more” if you don’t.

We spent the New Year week in Taipei with only 300USD as pocket money. More commute, more fun!

So, to cut to the chase, even when you’re getting a package and you have a few minutes to spare before deciding, do your own research. Getting a package is not an excuse not to research – unless somebody else is doing that for you. You still have to check what’s included in the package – meals, transport, can you pick a different hotel, are the places to see really far from each other? If they are walking distances apart, then it shouldn’t be that expensive.

For instance, when we booked a 4D tour package with Travel China Guide the package included the Badaling Great Wall which was about 66 kilometers from the city center (we stayed at Days Inn Forbidden City). It took us almost 2 hours to get there via the private car. Summer Palace and Ming Tombs were about 21 and 50 km respectively.

The Badaling Great Wall – check which section of the Great Wall you’re visiting before agreeing to the package.

 

Summer Palace in Beijing
Mary in the Summer Palace

The only bummer there was we had the Bird’s Nest (Beijing Olympic Stadium) on the itinerary but that we literally just passed by it and not stopped over. But over all, the Beijing trip was the most relaxed trip we’ve ever had. A driver, a guide, a car, all at our disposal since the package was just for 2 pax.

Twice in Japan, we did it DIY, and we ended up saving a lot of money because we commuted – oh the train system is very efficient. The savings then translated to more souvenirs, food, shopping and retail.

Buying train tickets in Japan is so easy I even let Mary do it right away (it was her first and my second visit)

 

Sydney’s train system is also very efficient. And a double-decker at that.

 

Train station in Taiwan – with English translation and easy to navigate

The verdict? DIY for a smaller budget.

THE DESTINATION Yup, that can be the greatest factor, too. When we booked a ticket to China, we already knew we were going to get a tour package because of the experiences we had in Hong Kong and Macau – language barrier!

My first HK-Macau trip, also the first international, was full of mistakes, getting lost, and travel lessons I still carry till now.

Japan and Taiwan gave us great experiences when conversing with locals. That’s kind of like the benchmark, even signs had translation.

English translations on the road signs in Taiwan

Macau, though a lot of Filipinos work and reside there, only have Chinese and Portuguese signs and very rarely in English. Not even a cab or bus driver can help you if you’re lost. We didn’t want to experience being turned away in China if we needed help.

Not while the tension in the West Philippine Seas was escalating (this was March 2016), and only a few years after a bus full of Chinese nationals from HK got caught in that hostage situation. For our convenience and safety, we chose the package. We got picked up and dropped off the hotel, we were given tips for our safety and to avoid getting scammed, or arrested (like don’t take pictures of their military men).

Mary and our guide Jerry at the Forbidden City

 

If friends didn’t accompany me during my weekend escapades in India, I would have gone with an agency, too. I’d be too scared to violate cultural and religious practices to go on my own, or to even know when and where to go alone.

My colleagues turned friends in Delhi, for a weekend in Jaipur

The verdict? If you’re not scared to get lost in that place, or ask people for help, go DIY!

SOLO OR GROUP? There are some places that are really safe to travel alone – Japan, Australia, Taiwan, HK, Macau, and other ASEAN countries. There are also some places where you need to exercise caution when traveling alone. I am not trying to stereotype any specific place but like I said, do your own research. Ask friends who’ve been there before and check whether they feel comfortable letting you go alone. Not that they will decide for you, but this you way you are making an informed decision. Check other blogs (like this, I hope), news, and feedback. In traveling, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. But not because it has happened once, means it’s bound to happen again.

Angkor Wat was super worth it but we had to go through a few scammers to get there. That’s just sad.

There are so some types of travelers who always go solo no matter what. This is also fine, because as a solo traveler, you never really go solo. You meet other people and chances are, you might even get along with a few of them.

With a stroke of luck (or the lack thereof), even when you’re in a group, you may still encounter some mishaps, just like what happened to us the first time we went to Balesin, or how we got scammed in Cambodia, or how Sani got short-changed in Hong Kong.

Another issue to consider when traveling alone is it’s usually more expensive. Usually, when you get a cab, you have no one to split it with. Want a private tour? Might as well forget about it. This is when you consider joining a group in a tour package.

In 2013, I was still able to afford to hire a small boat for island hopping in Coron. I am sure the price has now changed. This is from our scuba diving tour at the Skeleton Wreck.

Pictures and videos won’t be so much of an issue for millennial travelers with access to selfie sticks anywhere we go. If you ask me though, I prefer a tripod with a Bluetooth remote so I don’t have to barrage your news feed with my face. Or, you can ask a stranger! I’ve volunteered to do that in Taiwan and Australia.

Tripod and Bluetooth remote to the rescue when traveling solo! The Calyx, Sydney

 

The power of a tripod. No need to ask guides and strangers for candid photos (Nacpan beach, El Nido)

And like I said, sometimes when you’re in a big group it’s difficult to decide on things – go to Disneyland and spend a day there or explore more off-the-beaten paths in the place? Eat at a Ramen house or at a western restaurant? Take the train or get a cab? If you don’t want to waste time arguing on these questions, then get on a solo flight.

The three of us couldn’t agree if we wanted to take a cab from the hotel to the terminal going to Macau or walk and take the train. As you can see, I had a luggage and they had back packs. ='(

 

 

In a nutshell, here are some recommendations we can make, and please only consider them as guides:

TRAVEL 1: 4 pax, aged 30’s, 3D2N, HK-Macau: DIY

TRAVEL 2: 2 pax, aged 20’s, 4D3N, El-Nido or Coron: DIY (unless you have enough budget to rent a small boat)

TRAVEL 3: 7 pax, aged 30-60’s, 6D5n, Japan: Mix (DIY on some days, package on some activities like Mt. Fuji)

TRAVEL 4: solo, 27 (female), 6D5N, Indochina: DIY (caution on scams at the Cambodian borders)

Let us know what you think, and if you have a travel you want to do but still undecided on doing it yourself or getting a package. We will try to help as much as we can!

Perks of traveling with the squad? Bunk beds would not be an issue (Downing Hostel, Sydney)

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