Travel, like life, is all about the choices we make. Where you go, who you’re going with, how much it will cost, how you’re getting there, and what you’re going to do once you arrive can narrow down a very large world to just a few key destinations. So you’re heading to Mexico, or Barbados, or Cuba, and you’re thinking: do I go all-inclusive? Do I commit to a package, or do I research and do it all myself?
All-inclusives come in budget and luxury flavours, and no shortage of benefits. For starters, everything is taken care of. Once you book your ticket, you can focus on the fact that you’re going somewhere warm, you’re going to spend most of your time resting and eating, and that’s about it. All you have to worry about is packing the right bikini, and choosing a good book. The peace of mind and ease of effort should not be underestimated, especially if your time is limited. Next up are the obvious cost savings. All-inclusive resorts spread their profits across board, food and activities, and as a result you can find great hotels for budget prices. All-you-can eat and drink buffet deals offer great value for your wallet (and inches for your waistline). The steady flow of tourists also usually ensures a good level of service from staff trained to be friendly. Since guests are typically expected to spend most of their time in the resort, they’re often welcomed with daily entertainment, kids programs, a safe and secure environment, and tried and tested food options. Less chance you’ll get food poisoning, less chance you’ll have to stress about worrying what to do. Airport transfers are usually included, most resorts have private beaches and pools, and buffets offer excellent variety. Make sure you read the fine print though. Are the drinks included? Are the activities free, or will you find them expensive and yet unavoidable to kill the boredom? Are there extra taxes and fees? Do your research, read online reviews, make sure your destination lives up to its website, and know that, ultimately, you’re heading for a week of relaxation, sleep, food, and sun. Nothing wrong with that, but you might want to distinguish the experience from say, a travel adventure.
For many, travelling is more than just the act of going somewhere. If your goal is to have authentic cultural experiences, encountering new music, people, food and landscapes, you might want to consider planning your own vacation. All-inclusives offer price bargains, but they also limit you to one location, where chances are you’ll be eating in the same buffet-style restaurants, day after day. It’s not uncommon to feel trapped after a few days - by the surroundings, the lack of transport, the food, and the people that surround you (tip: never book a relaxing all inclusive vacation in Mexico during US Spring Break, trust me!) You might be restricted to a tourist district, bordering other all-inclusive-type resorts, removed from the real world, the country itself. To limit liability, and prevent “unfortunate incidents”, many resorts go as far as advising against eating street food, or visiting local restaurants. Since you’ve already paid for a meal back at the hotel, you also trap yourself with your savings – why pay for another meal, even when you’re sick to death of the same-same but slightly different buffet? Going it alone means finding your own accommodation, your own restaurants, your own transport and your own itinerary. That been said, the Internet has made it easier than ever to plan trips, there are dozens of operators who can assist with transport, activities or customized itineraries, and there’s no shortage of spectacular hotels. You’re likely to meet more locals, learn about their culture, and actually understand something about the country you’re in. Sure, you’re also likely to be ripped off and occasionally frustrated, but budget that in and recognize that it’s part of the Do It Yourself Package. The rewards of discovering a hidden gem, of meeting someone special, of finding yourself in a place you never expected to be, is the stuff you’ll remember and treasure forever.
Travelling is a personal choice. Let nobody tell you there’s a right or wrong way to spend your valuable vacation time. You’re more likely to relax with a good all- inclusive, returning home tanned and fattened. You’re more likely to remember doing it yourself, returning home inspired, and probably in need of a good holiday. If you’re after both, consider splitting your trip into one half all-inclusive, and one half going it alone. My only advice: Whatever you choose, know that you made the right choice, and never look back. Wherever you are, is where you’re meant to be.
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After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.