Travel: Where are all the real travellers?

Next week sees the start of the Independent Travellers' World tour. By Jeremy Atiyah

TO TRAVEL independently or to take a package? To go it alone, or to get someone else to sort things out? To make it up as you go along, or to have everything planned in advance?

It's January again: all the old holiday arguments are back - just in time for Independent Travellers' World (ITW), that annual coming-together of "real" travellers which begins its tour of Britain next week.

Everybody is supposed to know that independent travel is sexier than a package holiday: heroic individuals fighting against the hapless conformists; the real travellers against the effete tourists.

But with guidebooks now mapping the entire world, and the travel industry training its sights on the "independent" market, what future is there for seriously independent travellers, for those who, in the old days, would have set out into the world without the faintest idea of where they were going or why?

Some of us have tried to do this. I once set off on foot from my home town, Oxford, with the idea that it would nice to make my way to Hong Kong without a guidebook or a map. On the third day, somewhere near Le Havre, I gave up and caught a flight.

A big worry is that the package holiday seems to have stolen the clothes of independent travel. After all, although the term "package holiday" can still conjure up images of group brain-death, many "packages" are in fact tailor-made for individuals, who will travel as individuals.

Companies such as Trailfinders - which started out as a flight agent - can now book all internal travel, transfers and accommodation for you as well. But can travellers whose entire itinerary is mapped out in advance call themselves "independent"?

"Yes they can," a Trailfinders spokesman said. "You might call them packages, but they are packages designed by the travellers themselves. The efficiency of the tailor-made package enables people who only have two weeks holiday to travel in the same style as backpackers who have limitless time. Partly this is thanks to computers. Thirty years ago, booking a hotel in Delhi or Bangkok was costly and uncertain. Now it can be arranged in seconds."

That sounds reasonable enough, but what about the explosion of local tour operators? These days even hardened backpackers are falling prey to local tour operators, taking organised day trips with little entrepreneurs in deepest Asia of a type that would send their 1970s ancestors turning in their kaftans.

Tourism Concern, a pressure group which encourages responsible tourism, is desperately keen to promote this phenomenon. It has set up a website listing worldwide local tour operators which have no resources of their own to promote their services.

"Of course we are anxious about the impact of package tourism on the countries where it occurs, but roving backpackers can be just as bad," explains Sue Wheat of Tourism Concern. "Many local people in developing countries actually prefer package tourists who not only spend more, but can also be better controlled. Unlike backpackers, package tourists do not go poking their noses into places where they are not wanted."

Are there any "real" backpackers left? Or are they following hippies down history's plughole? In Britain at any rate, the cautious Nineties do not seem to hold much of a place for the culture of purposeless travel.

"Travelling independently still gives you that sense of achievement," argues Jennifer Cox of Lonely Planet. "I liken it to an assertiveness training course with geography. Going it alone makes you feel good about yourself."

Achievement? But haven't guide books made everything too easy for people? Don't they have the same effect as the package tourism industry, of shepherding everyone around the same sights?

"Not at all," says Jennifer Cox. "Independent travel carries on regardless of the books we publish. We give people the ability to do it themselves. With a good guide, you can travel more safely, more enjoyably and more frequently. Which is not to say that independent travel is a matter of honour. It's about enjoying yourself. All that stuff about not being a real traveller unless you do everything by yourself is rubbish. An all- inclusive holiday in an entire fortnight strikes me as quite a nice idea actually."

Setting off alone into the horizon with a packet of dry biscuits in your plastic bag may strike you as even nicer, but perhaps this is the point: that the old division between independent travellers and package tourists is old hat. See you at ITW.

ITW visits the London Arena Exhibition Centre on 30,31 January and 1 February; the Watershed Media Centre on 7,8 February; and the Mnachester G-Mex Centre on 21,22 February. Tel 0171 341 6691 or visit the website, www.itwnet.com, for more information

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Life and Style
fashionThe supermodel on her career, motherhood and Cara Delevingne
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
tv
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments