• Caroline Donough

Why I Love Free-And-Easy Travel

Ever been on escorted tours? I have, and while they have their perks, like everything else they have their drawbacks, too. In my opinion, the most distinct drawbacks are that they cater to groups and they follow a schedule. Not that there's anything wrong with that if that's what you like, but if you're an individual or a few friends travelling with an escorted group, you won't quite have the freedom to do what you want, go where you want and see what you want, as and when you want.

Charming village in the South of France

South of France

I guess that's the keyword here - freedom. For me, personally, I like having the liberty to shape my own vacation, so free-and-easy is the way I like to roll. So I often plan my own holidays. Whenever I do that, I would check out the itineraries of top tour operators to get ideas and inspiration. And then I'd take into account my own tastes and preferences. By doing that, I'd know exactly what to include and what to skip, enabling me to personalise the trip just for me. Here are my top reasons for loving free-and-easy travel: There's No Rush Whenever I visit a landmark or attraction, I don't like to be rushed. I like to take my time. To me, exploration should be more than just a quick visit to a site listening to a guide's narrative. It should be an immersive experience.

Sometimes I like to chat with the locals near the attraction and listen to their stories about it. Insider perspective like that can be really interesting. And I've been known to eat while exploring, like when I bought veggie quiche from an elderly French lady selling baked goods at the foot of Saint Paul de Vence the day I explored this medieval village in the South of France. It's nice to not have to worry about time and just be able to relax and soak it all up in your own pace.

Why I Love Free-And-Easy Travel | e-Caroline.com

Saint Paul de Vence

By the way, have you ever stayed at a landmark long enough to see it go from day to night? The transformation is quite amazing. Watching a sunset in a foreign country somehow feels a bit different, or maybe it just feels different because you're on foreign soil. Go figure. All of these things, and more, intrigue me as a traveller. I believe travel is about you and the destination connecting. It's sort of an intimate thing and you can't experience that if you're on a timetable. No Touristy Shopping Stops You know those shopping stops that escorted tours take tourists to? Sorry to say this but I've never liked those. To be hustled into buying jewellery or gemstones at inflated prices at "commission" souvenir shops isn't my idea of souvenir shopping, so being able to skip that is one of my absolute favourite things about free-and-easy travel. Of course like everyone else, I want to bring home mementoes from my trip. My preference is to buy simple, down-to-earth items, such as:

• fridge magnets (yes, I admit it... my fridge door looks like an abysmal world map) • local clothing (no, not those "I ❤️ (name of city)" t-shirts... I'm talking about pretty local blouses, dresses and scarves), or • small decorative household items (yes, even practical items make great souvenirs). So I like checking out mainstream, everyday shops that the locals go to where I know I'm paying a fair price and getting real value and a true taste of the destination. I find I can do that best when I go free-and-easy. I Get to Hand-Pick the Hotels When I took my parents to Paris several years ago, I got us a hotel room that had a clear, unobstructive view of the Eiffel Tower. All I can say is, to be in Paris and fall asleep each night and wake up each morning to that incredible view... it was magical.

Falling asleep to the view of the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

That's one thing about me. When I travel, I like to stay near iconic landmarks. And I want to be able to see them from my window. The thing is, that hotel in Paris wasn't even an expensive 5-star brand-name hotel. It was a modest 3-star local establishment. It's called Hotel Duquesne Eiffel. Lovely property. It had beautiful stone walls, the lobby featured a cosy fireplace and exposed ceiling beams, and I loved how informal and human the people who ran the place were. Maybe that's what made it so special. It oozed the local charm. I loved its location - a serene part of the 7th arrondissement of Paris, which is home to many quintessential Parisian attractions. The renowned Rue Cler market street with its quaint little patisseries and boulangeries was just a short stroll away. We loved going there for breakfast in the morning and being immersed in the local scene. It was delightful. It's Cheaper If You Plan It Right As I mentioned earlier, escorted tours do have their advantages. Probably the most notable advantage is that everything's packaged for you, so you don't have to deal with the hassle of putting together your own trip. But the downside to an all-in package is that it's usually more expensive. Yes, tour companies do have the clout to curate packages at preferential rates, but how much of that savings do they really pass on to us? I don't know. What do you think? Anyway, I find it quite easy to replicate a tour company's itinerary and then modify it for relevance to me. And these days, with all the discounts available online on air tickets, accommodation, gastronomy, sightseeing and so on, in my experience it isn't all that difficult to tailor-make a great trip AND save money doing it. Indeed, the benefits of independence and personalisation are hard to beat. That's why I love free-and-easy travel. Raise your hand if you do, too!


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