“Dear AirAsia, shall I love thee or despise thee? I really do not know. It’s true that if it were not for thy existence, I would not be able to fly so frequently… and YET, it is undeniable that it is thee who tempt me and mock me to part with my hard-earned money.”
Almost one year ago, in August 2011, Kiate and I stayed up late hoping to grab cheap flight tickets from AirAsia online promotion. After hours of anticipation, the sale finally began and together with thousands of other AirAsia travellers, we jostled for the best deals and got frustrated every time we were bounced to the virtual “waiting room.” For our patience and relentless effort, we were rewarded with two return tickets to Taiwan for RM1086. Woohooo!! All in all, we paid RM1403 for the flight tickets + luggage + meals etc.
I called my mum and told her about our upcoming trip. Prior to this, my parents had been talking about going to Taiwan but they never got around to it. So we thought it would be a great idea to get them to join us. After ‘ding-dong’-ing for a while, my parents and brother finally decided to come along. We also asked Kiate’s parents. Unfortunately, they couldn’t commit.
Before this, my family and I usually engaged tour agencies for all our overseas trips. Thus, I had never considered planning our own overseas holidays until Kiate “converted” me during our Bali honeymoon last year. He won me over by pointing out the limitations of following tour groups and at the same time highlighting the advantages of planning our own trips.
Firstly, touring with a big group of mostly strangers restricts our freedom to roam around at our own pace. From my previous experiences, tour guides had to stick to a very tight schedule and they tended to rush us from one destination to the next. Among the tour group members, there would always be a handful who were tardy. Consequently, we wasted much time waiting for them to board the bus before we could move on to the next destination. It was very frustrating!
Secondly, if we sign up for a tour, we will have to abide by the itinerary prepared by the tour agency. In other words, we are not free to choose the places that we would like to visit or skip certain places that we are not interested in. More often than not, tours would include hours spent at touristy shops selling local products which are over-priced. Tour guides or their agencies earn commission from these shops based on the amount purchased by the tour group members. I had a very unpleasant experience during my trip to Hong Kong in 2009. Our initially “friendly” tour guide’s attitude took a 180° change after we refused to buy products from a particular shop. She wasn’t in a great mood for the rest of the day and needless to say, we didn’t feel too great either.
The above mentioned could be avoided if we were to plan our own itinerary. We could pick and choose destinations to be included in our trip and check out these places at our own pace. We can easily adjust our schedule. Furthermore, we can get off the beaten path, shake off the throng of foreign tourists and go to places frequented by the locals. In addition, it is arguably cheaper to plan one’s own trip. We need not pay tips to the tour guide and the driver. We can choose accommodations and modes of transportation that suit our budget.
That being said, not everyone can afford to plan their own holidays though, especially a long holiday overseas. It takes away a huge chunk of your time to come up with a workable itinerary. You will need to do a thorough research online and interview friends and relatives who have been there before. You also need to search for suitable accommodation and transportation, deal with the contact person, make bookings and pay deposits. The whole process will take up more time than the actual length of your holiday. It is a tedious task, to say the least. If you do not enjoy the process or do not have the time to spare, then you might as well engage the service of a tour agency.
After considering the pros and cons of both, I finally agreed to plan the Taiwan trip together with my hubby. I would have to say that our wonderful experience in Bali weighed heavily on my decision to do away with arranged tours. So for the past few months, and especially in the past two weeks, we’ve been researching online to work out our Taiwan itinerary. I’m definitely enjoying the process. It feels like we’re working on a “project” together and it has definitely brought us closer as a couple.
While preparing for this trip, I discovered another advantage of doing it on our own. My previous overseas holidays passed like a whirlwind and after the trip, I could only remember fragments of my experiences there. I find it hard, almost impossible, to recall names of places I visited and I am not able to locate those places on the map. Now that we’re the ones planning the trip, I have a better idea of the location of various destinations and what they are famous for. I also know how to get there, what attractions not to miss, when to visit etc. In short, I’m sure I’d be better able to share about my trip in Taiwan later on than if I were to go there with a tour group. So stay tuned for more stories on my Taiwan trip this July!!!