I recently had the opportunity to travel with someone who had never travelled free-and-easy before. On the other hand, I have never travelled on a packaged tour, at least not since when my parents brought me on holidays when I was younger (and even then, it was often free-and-easy too). So we had a little bit of “culture shock”, even as soon as at the airport in Singapore (yeah, haven’t even left Singapore yet).
The thing about packaged tours, or conducted tours, is that you are mostly a passive passenger, and your tour guide figures out and does everything for you. You just get shepherded around, and you don’t need to know anything. To me, it sounds just like being in the army. Don’t ask, don’t need to know, just follow orders.
On free-and-easy, you’re an active tourist, having to figure out everything, make decisions, and do things on your own. You make the plans, you get to change the plans, no need to explain to anyone.
I love the free-and-easy for many reasons:
- You get to choose what you want to do, see, eat, and play.
- You get to skip what you don’t want to do, see, eat or play.
- You get time extension, you get to cut time.
- You get to explore, to learn, and to experience more.
- You don’t need consensus.
- You don’t need to wait.
I think one of the most important advantage of free-and-easy is choice and flexibility.
The downside is that, sometimes, doing the same thing may take you more time, or cost you more money. Of course, you also run higher risks of getting lost, stranded, etc. That is the price for choice and flexibility.
One of the things I like about doing free-and-easy is the homework you’ve got to do before getting to the destination. From the research, you get to learn more about the place, and that in turn helps you better appreciate the place when you are there. I know for some people, the homework is already part of the holiday.
Then, when you are there, the exploration makes you more observant. I know that I am more observant of the roads and surroundings, because there is so many things I’ve got to figure out on my own. I end up remembering the place better.
A funny thing that happens with me sometimes is that other people ask me for help and directions as if I were a local. For example, when I was in San Francisco, ang mohs were asking me how to take the cable car, how to get to the post office, where’s the nearest pizza place, etc.
I was saying earlier that sometimes free-and-easy could come up more costly. Not always true. Sometimes, when you chit-chat with the locals, you pick up tips about what to do. In Orlando recently, I got hold of theme park tickets at significant savings over the gate prices. In San Francisco, bicycling around from fisherman’s wharf to Golden Gate was quite economical, and on top of that I was pointed to some discount coupons that I could use.
Some people fear traveling in foreign country because things are different and unfamiliar. How are street directories different? How is taking the bus or train so different? I think sometimes the fears are unfounded. If there is a language issue, that could be a challenge. But otherwise I wouldn’t see why reading the street directory in the US is different from Singapore. Or taking a bus in Australia should be different. Even, taking a train in Tokyo.
What kind of tourist are you?