I think everyone would agree that there are pros and cons to both package holidays and independent travel and which option you choose probably depends on a number of factors. Here is my brief guide to the key points you need to consider…
1) Do you want a relaxing, stress-free week in the sun or are you looking for adventure?
If you are after a week on the beach somewhere warm, you will probably be able to get a great deal on a package holiday. Tour operators can usually negotiate much better rates on hotels and flights than you can as an individual. Also, if you are after an easy stress-free holiday, package holidays offer the security of ABTA/ATOL protection and a Rep in resort to deal with any issues you may have.
On the other hand, if you want the freedom to go where you please and not be tied to hotel mealtimes, etc, then it makes more sense to book your travel independently. You are then in control of what happens and when it happens….
2) How long do you want to go for?
If you want to go for a longer/different period than the standard 1/2 weeks or want to do an odd number of days, your options using a tour operator will be limited. Most package holidays are for a fixed duration and departure/return dates are limited by the flights they offer (as they often use charter flights). If you want flexibility, booking independently is the way to go as you can depart/return whenever you choose as you can take your pick from all the airlines that fly to your destination. If you are going off peak and are willing to travel at less popular times then you can often get a good price on flights if you take the time to shop around.
3) What sort of accommodation do you want?
There is obviously more choice of accommodation if you book independently, however, where you are going may affect your decision… In some purpose-built tourist resorts, there is very little choice other than the big chains, which often offer a better rate to travel agents than you will be able to negotiate, even after extensive internet searching! Varadero in Cuba, for example is made up of large hotel complexes and nothing much else so your only real option is a package holiday. To be honest, we all sometimes just want to chill out and an all-inclusive hotel can be just what is needed! But, if you want to stay somewhere more authentic and less touristy, go online and see what you can find! There are plenty of beautiful and unique places to stay out there if you look…
4) What are your plans when you arrive?
If you plan to use yourself in one place at your destination, a package holiday is often a great option and is worth considering for the ease and convenience it affords. Why make things more complicated than they need to be?
However, if you plan to travel round, your best option is usually going to be to book flights/accommodation/ transport separately. Unless of course you can get a really good deal on a package holiday and can afford to just use that for the flights and as a base and book other accommodation/transport for when you are travelling further afield. This can sometimes be the most cost effective choice, particularly in low season, even if you don’t plan to spend every night at your hotel.
5) Is safety/security an issue at your chosen destination?
There are places in the world (even some popular tourist destinations) where independent travel is not advisable for reasons of personal security. Whilst it is not impossible to travel to such destinations on your own, think carefully before you decide to do so. Check websites such as the FCO for up-to-date advice on the security situation at your destination and make an informed decision. One important thing to bear in mind if you travel against official advice, is that this may well invalidate your travel insurance.
6) Is independent travel even possible?
There are places in the world where you can only go as part of an organised group (the Arctic and Antarctic for example) as there is simply no infrastructure to support independent travellers.
So… which do I prefer?
Generally, I would have to say that I much prefer independent travel, as I like the freedom to choose where I go and when. That said, I have also had some amazing package holidays… because there are times when I just want to go on holiday and chill out by the pool/on the beach and, for this type of holiday, you can’t beat a hassle-free package holiday booked through a travel agent.