The last few trips we have organised have been quite an eye opener for us as we have avoided holiday packages and gone in search of somewhat more customised experiences.

All this came about as a result of travelling on a package tour to Nepal and India some five years ago. There was nothing wrong with the tour mind except that it was expensive and the person we thought was our guide turned out to have little knowledge of either country and was there primarily to shepherd us and carry our passports for us.

On our package, travel arrangements were dealt with by local operators who clearly knew their business and had designed the itinerary, booked the accommodation and transport, recruited English speaking guides, (real ones) and done all the other work necessary. Our package seller in New Zealand had simply located the local operator and, presumably, worked with them to design the tour and add their mark-up. Oh and of course recruited (and paid for) a New Zealander to ride herd and carry the passports.

Now if, like us, you feel able to carry your own passport, the package tour adds little or no value and substantial cost. Worse yet is that you travel at the pace of the party and can neither dwell on the interesting parts nor skip the boring bits such as visits to carpet/jewellery/craft ‘factories’ that are thinly disguised sales pitches.

For some, the up side of package tours is that you will meet and get to know quite a few new people from your own country, some of whom you’ll love and others you can’t abide. Our experience is that being independent involves you, of necessity, with the locals and as an added bonus enables you to adjust your visits to places you want to see and at times when there are few or even no other people about.

We designed our trip to Africa to be completely independent with our own driver and guide as required. This enabled us to see ancient monuments such as Abu Simbel (see illustrations) alone and found us camping in remote parts of Tanzania with just the locals for company. Much of the time there were no other native English speakers in the vicinity and so you find out that many of the locals have excellent English skills, good enough for us to communicate with them anyway.

If you’ve ever been in a tour party and seen a couple moving through with their own guide and wondered how they arranged it and if it was terribly expensive, now you know.

I used Sunny Tours in Arusha for our tour of Tanzania and Nile Melody Travel in Cairo for our Egypt tour. I can recommend both of these.

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