Just you & me or we all?

While some international travellers trudge in groups led by umbrella-toting guides, others take it easy

When Ranganath Thota and his family decided to go on a family vacation to Scotland, they wrote an offbeat travel script. While Ranganath did the flight booking through a popular travel portal, the hotel wasn’t booked for all the days. “We wanted to keep the trip flexible — with leeway to act on impulse,” says the Bengaluru-based entrepreneur.

As soon he landed in Scotland, he hired a car for 12 days and drove 2,000 km over the next 14 days. As luck would have it, one day, while driving near Nairn, an attractive seaside town north of Scotland, they came across a poster that announced “Farmers’ market — 5 miles away”.

After making a few enquiries, Ranganath changed gears and drove towards the farmers’ market. “We had a ball, we saw eight-feet-tall horses, dog shows, goats with four horns and tasted local food and cheese. It was absolutely fantastic,” recalls Ranganath, with a big smile.

Today’s travellers feel that technology is ubiquitous and has made private travel planning that much easier. “With Wi-Fi all over the place, buying an unlimited data pack is all you need to eat the best French cuisine 500 meters away from your place,” says Ranganath. “Or that cheapest hotel with excellent reviews by its patrons.” Then, there are apps like Uber for hassle-free travel in most foreign countries while websites like tripadvisor, booking.com and Airbnb.com work towards giving the best deals.

Private affair

There are many travellers who prefer making their own private travel plan instead of signing for group tours. “You are your own master,” says Sonny John, a Mumbai-based musician, who recently came back from a privately planned trip to Dubai. “I googled and found a website that arranged for a hassle-free visit to Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in Dubai. It was an amazing experience and well worth it,” he sums up.

While he booked through makemytrip.com for his hotels and flights, he bemoans that he “could have got a better deal by booking directly through airline websites or that of hotels.” And what about local sight-seeing? While most of the hotels have tie-ups with tour operators, he found it convenient to book taxis through Uber in Dubai and directly go to the destination.

Value for money

Miles away in Western India, Jignesh Shah (name changed on request) is excited about his forthcoming Europe trip. One of the popular travel agencies has arranged for a group tour that will take 40 people (including an Indian chef) to six destinations in a span of 10 days. “It’s good value for money,” he says.

Over the next 10 days, the travel representative will wield a colourful banner — leading the herd. “I don’t have the time to do all the planning and moreover it’s a foreign place. It is best left to experts,” says Shah. He is okay with a fixed tour — as long as it is well-organised. Moreover, he feels it is safer to travel in groups, especially in foreign locations.

All is well

Group tours, as they are usually called, involve 20-40 people travelling in unison. Their travel plans are standardised as regards the places to be covered and duration of stay. And most of the time, a big bus is hired for the entire group (thereby saving on travel costs).

“We were touring Europe for more than a week and our guide planned it in such a way that we didn’t have to pay for toilets.” (In Europe, one could be charged up to £1 for using the toilet.

Gitesh Shankar (name changed on request) chooses between private and group tours based on the destination. For instance, he prefers a group tour to unknown foreign destinations (Europe) but not Singapore, which he knows like the back of his hand. In a few days he is headed for Singapore and he is not going for a group tour. “I am going with my children and 70-year-old mother-in-law. I need flexibility,” he says.

“Group tours usually cut corners by taking connecting flights or asking us to board flights at odd hours. Moreover, they usually offer seats in low-cost airlines,” he points out. He prefers a direct flight and a full-blown airline service including in-flight food and entertainment, given that his family will be spending a good four-five hours in the flight. With Universal Studios being his main target, he directly booked a hotel near that place.

Airbnb wave

Katherine Suresh, an Indian management student, who is currently in Marseille, France, for a month-long management exchange program, is stretching her stay by another two weeks.

She, along with four friends, plans to make the most of the time in Europe. “There are no lectures over the weekend. Last week, we went to Barcelona and in May we plan to go to Naples and Venice.”

To cut on costs, they booked for a homestay (instead of an hotel) through Airbnb.com website. “A hotel will cost an individual ₹40,000 while homestays made it possible at ₹27,000.” Moreover, she hopes to save on food costs too — with the availability of a kitchen to do their own cooking.

Theme park mania

Back home, when Rajeev Sharma’s daughter was boarding a flight a year back, she was in for a surprise. She had no idea where she was headed to. Her father had planned a big surprise on the eve of her 10th birthday — to Disneyland in Hong Kong.

Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Paris are the favourite destinations this season, according to a recent survey by tour operator Cox & Kings. There has been a 60 per cent surge in demand for destinations with theme or amusement parks.

Gitesh, who plans to go to Singapore, chose Singapore mainly for Universal Studios and the fact that other nearby tourists spots could be explored by adults too.

“There is something for all in Singapore,” he says.

Rajeev did the entire booking from the comfort of his home. “Internet surfing informed me about Disneyland timings and other activities to focus for children. Tripadvisor took care of hotel reservations and cleartrip.com my airline seat” he says.

Going miles

Interestingly, for frequent travellers like Sreevalsan Menon, Jet Privilege HDFC Bank credit card is not just plastic money, but a tool to cut travel costs.

Depending on the type of card you use (World, Platinum and Titanium), the card allows users to accumulate ‘miles’. These ‘miles,’ in turn, can be redeemed for booking further flights.

“If you are planning well in advance (four-five months), there are good chances you could save a lot by redeeming Jet Miles.” This is especially true when the credit card company runs discount offers for buying Jet Miles, he says.

Read the rest of this article by Signing up for Portfolio.It's completely free!

What You'll Get



 Getting recommendations just for you...
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor