The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.
- St. Augustine
Writing a monthly article can be an overwhelming task, especially since months seem to be getting shorter and topics fewer. However, the one column that I love writing is my travel column.
By the time you read this, I will have returned from my first vacation this year, which we spent hiking in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. As per our usual custom, we rented an apartment/condo by searching the Internet.
As many of you know, I use the Internet for almost all aspects of my travel plans. It is now easier than ever to be an independent traveler and not have to rely on tour companies or groups.
So what is an “independent traveler”? According to wikipedia.com, “the world travel market has undergone significant changes over the last few years and a new type of tourist has emerged known as the Free Independent Traveler or Tourist (FIT). The definition is broad but tends to refer to people over 35, often, though not necessarily, of above average income who like to travel. They eschew mass tourism and the holiday package concept promoted by Travel operators in favor of a more individualistic approach to travel.”
That approaches my own personal definition as well. I like to decide where I go, when I go, what I do, where I stay and every other aspect of the trip. It does not necessarily mean adventure trips or exotic locations, but it is all about independence.
Of course, there is a price to be paid for independence and that is the effort that is required to plan all the details. I know there are many advantages to having someone else handle those, but the freedom you gain by being independent is completely worth the effort. The planning becomes part of the actual trip experience.
Using the Internet, guide books, forums and travel magazines is critical to planning a trip on your own. If you have never done a completely independent trip, I suggest that you start with something easy. It can be a popular destination and for a shorter period of time so if it does not work out as well as you hope (though it will) you will not have wasted a lot of time and energy.
All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.
- Samuel Johnson
My husband and I never visit the same place twice, which makes the possibilities endless. Each year we simply pick one or two vacation places or National Parks we have never visited and start the planning. We also pick a few long weekend locations, especially where Southwest Airlines has direct flights from BWI.
Now, some sites that I have used and have bookmarked.
Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
There actually is a site called Independent Traveler (www.independenttraveler.com). The best part of most of these sites is the forums. You can find a wealth of information about specific locations and their customs, advantages and disadvantages from people who have been there.
Independent travels with a more adventurous spirit might also like the site Brave New Traveler (www.bravenewtraveler.com). It gives information for more exotic sites and adventures in addition to the more “usual” destinations. It might inspire you.
Although we use the Internet, I usually send for copies of information from the local tourist bureaus in the areas I want to visit. It is often helpful to have hard copies of local information to start your planning.
In addition to guidebooks and forums, Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) now allows you to buy individual chapters of their guidebooks online and download them. Click on “Shop” on their site. This is a great idea because often you only want parts of the book.
People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.
- Dagobert D. Runes
Stay connected without having to take your computer by using cybercafés. Visit www.cybercafe.com. Use it for e-mail or just keeping up to date with home newspapers.
Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.
- Paul Theroux
In addition to traveling in Europe, we love to travel in this country to both large and small locations and parks. Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com) features countless off the beaten path and usual sights. In fact, if you want a tour of Civil War body parts (such as the gravesite of Stonewall Jackson’s arm), this site will tell you how to get there.
We love to spend a short time in many of these offbeat museums, especially as a break between larger sites or when the weather is not perfect. That is how we saw the Chocolate Museum in Barcelona and the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg, TN.
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.
- Robert Louis Stevenson
If you do make all your plans, then you have some control over when you vacation. If you are flexible as to when you can travel, there is a site that tells you the best time to travel to certain locations at www.hotwire.com/tripstarter/. You put in the airport from which you are leaving and your destination and it will tell you the best time to travel. From pricing and weather trends to local events and attractions, you’ll get all the info you need to plan the perfect trip. It has a chart which compares the past three years. You may not decide to go when it says it is best, but it helps you make a decision.
If you have to fly and are not near enough to the airport to take a van, then you will have to drive and park your car. However, it is getting harder to get parking at many airports. When we drive to Philadelphia to fly to Europe, we use a parking service. You drive your car to the parking location. They drive you to the airport and pick you up in your own car so you just drive away. It is great and very reasonably priced. ParknFlyNetworks (www.parknflynetwork.com/) will give you quotes on a variety of these services.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
- Mark Twain
Enough said. Try something new, and enjoy the trip.
P.S. - If you want to read past Travel Articles, go to www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/index.htm and scroll down to Travel Articles.