And that is something you will never be able to find in all-you-can-travel tours.
All-You-Can-Travel: The lost essence of travel
My parents are travel agents, and from a young age, I have been lucky enough to travel the world. This is something I will be forever grateful for.
Yet looking back, I was like a clueless pup that just mindlessly followed my parents on their tours. The scenery rolled past my eyes and I never really connected with the places I visited. Like a washed-out photo, my memories are more like a dream than reality.
This all changed after I started living abroad…when I first got to taste the exciting flavours of independent travelling. For the first time, my schedule isn’t decided by time stamps. For the first time, I can act according to my own mood swings. For the first time, I was in control of both my journey and destination.
For the first time, I finally understood what it meant to travel.
I realised that I couldn’t immerse with my surroundings because of the ‘all-you-can-travel’ trend that currently dominates the tourism industry. Like buffets and all-you-can-eat restaurants, tourism seems to have grown in this style where emphasis is placed on quantity at the cost of quality.
Travelling has become much easier than ever before, resulting in the commercialization of travel. Experiences have been replaced by a competition between peers to see who has been to the most countries. The first thing people do when they arrive somewhere is to take a photo or a selfie. The first thing people do when they arrive at their hotel is to ask for the WI-FI password. The first thing people do when they connect to the WI-FI is to share their photos on the latest trending social media.
Travel + Social Media = Social Recognition.
This natural drive for recognition serves as a great market for tourism companies that boast of going to the most tourist attractions in the shortest amount of time. This makes sense: after all, many tourists lack the fund and the time. The idea is to go to as many places as you can in a day; a sight-seeing marathon.
But then the essence of travel is lost.
We tend to believe that travelling is all about ‘seeing’, neglecting the fact that all the other senses are equally as important. We can see as much as we want, but only by fully immersing all five senses can we then imprint these experiences into our memory. To truly experience a place using all our senses, we need to connect with our surrounding. And to connect with our surrounding, what we need is time. We live in a world now where more is becoming less. By prioritizing the quantity of destinations, the memories of all these destinations eventually override one another. In the end, we can’t distinguish Vienna from Vienne, or Uruguay from Paraguay. All that remains of our memories are those selfies on Instagram flattered with likes.
But then what is the point? Why spend all that money to go abroad only to forget about it? Are those photos and likes really that important? I know that a lot of people don’t travel like this, but then I also know that most people do. Although it is their choice, I cannot help but feel a tug of sadness every time I see places flooded with tour buses that comes and goes like the tide.
Package tours cover everything from transport to food to accommodation, making life stress-free as you travel. Even I admit that it is extremely stressful to have to rely on public transport while surrounded by languages you’ve never even heard before. I also find it extremely tiring to have to carry a 15kg backpack while walking for 2 hours just to save a few dollars. I also feel nervous whenever heading towards a new place with no idea what to expect. But it is this nervousness, this exhaustion and this stress that makes the experience that much more memorable. Just like how life is fulfilling because of the ups and downs, experiencing the troubles while travelling makes the happy moments mean so much more.
The success of package tours lies in its sense of security. Yet for me, the essence of travelling lies in the sense of insecurity. It is the wonderful fear of the unknown that really heightens all five senses as you travel, embedding into our life an exquisite experience that will not be forgotten.