When friends hear our travel stories they seem amazed at the level of travel we have for the money spent. How can we possibly travel luxury style for the same money as typical tour group class? Well quite simply, we are “Independent Travelers”. Doing all the research and work we always enjoy the high end, and have a more “local” experience than any package tour can provide.

With the internet anyone can totally plan and execute a vacation trip for any length of time. It’s easy to book flights, hotels, rental cars, trains, etc. Research hotels using opinion sites like TripAdvisor and make your selections. Booking can be either through consolidators, or better yet, direct with the hotel. This even works for smaller places since almost all of them now have a booking engine on their site. And I prefer booking direct since many places hold back rooms from the consolidators. And even if they show no availability, sometimes an e-mail can get you a room.

Booking flights can also be done both ways. I still prefer going direct to the airline’s site, especially if you want to use miles. A tip here: the best deal is to book a cheap seat and use the miles to upgrade. And watch out for extra fees, which can be substantial. For example, I wanted to book award flights to Europe using AA. Since they partner with BA some dates show both all AA flights and BA combination flight choices. But the BA choices are very expensive due to their fee charges, so be careful.

Here is a very simple process to do independent travel. Pick your travel dates, or be flexible if you can. How many days do you want in each city/location? Again, be flexible since you might get a “long stay” deal for maybe 3 or 4 day bookings. With the travel dates set, book the flight. You might need to adjust the dates a bit, and possibly the arrival and return cities to get the best price (you do not need to fly into and out of the same city). This is especially true if you book award tickets. Now you can book the hotels to fit the time window. Last book the car or train. The car is the real money saver for independent travelers even though it may seem expensive by USA standards. The flexibility you get is priceless. If you don’t like the place you are today you can leave and move on. And don’t let anyone scare you that driving in Italy, or Europe, is impossible. I find it actually better there than in the US, once you learn to read the signs. And the roads are better maintained and well marked.

Our average 2 week trip to Europe costs us about $6000-7000 total. We do use airline miles a lot and that saves us probably $1000 each. But even if you add the flight cost, our trip is way cheaper than spending over $10,000 for a package tour where you day is regimented, you ride the bus a lot, and the only people you talk to are fellow travelers. And we stay in 4/5 star hotels and eat very, very well. So go independent, move up in class, and experience the local culture up close and personal.

Written on August 1st, 2012

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