Group vs Independent Travel

Lately I’ve been seeing travel advertisements plastered all over the Internet. Several of these agencies provide “guided group tours.” This means that the company will arrange major transportation, accommodations, and events at each destination. Customers can go alone or with friends/family; however, there will most likely be others traveling along in the group as well.

Although it may seem challenging, “independent” travel is always an alternative option. With these vacations, a person–or even a group–can explore the destination without a tour guide or “required” scheduled activities.

I have done both types of trips. I thought this would be a great opportunity to share my perspectives on each of them.

My Experiences with Group Travel

When I was younger, group travel worked well for me. I didn’t know anything about planning an international trip. It all seemed so overwhelming. Booking with these companies is so simple. I basically just showed up for an amazing experience abroad! I also ended up seeing places that I would not have originally planned for myself.

My first trip to Europe with a tour!

When choosing to go on one of these tours, customers are signing up to an adventure with strangers. This is a gamble. On one trip, I met amazing people and created close friendships. On another, my companions barely spoke to me. Luckily, I have always traveled with at least one friend. So, others never really put a damper on my personal experiences. However, I don’t know if I could say the same for those who come to the trip alone.

On every tour, a guide leads the group though the itinerary. This person can definitely make or break the vacation. They provide insight into the culture and history of each destination. They are also utilized as resources for restaurant recommendations or free time activities. A personable leader is imperative. On the other hand, a mediocre guide can really affect the trip’s dynamic.

Although the guide will not hold up the entire cohort for tardiness, I feel like there is still a lot of waiting with this type of experience. For example, at the beginning of one trip, we sat in the hotel lobby for hours as the others in our group continued to trickle in. This was brutal after a long flight.

My Experiences with Independent Travel

Justin and I have always explored on our own. Even though it requires extra efforts researching and booking activities, I really think it’s worth the work!

First, it is usually much cheaper for us to travel independently. With discount travel sites, we have discovered some great deals. I recently compared prices on a trip we took. I found that we paid HALF as much as the group rate for the same itinerary! So crazy.

In addition, I love the flexibility of independent travel. We have the freedom to explore at our own pace. If desired, we can choose to find a tour guide for certain events or places. On the other hand, we can skip activities without feeling like we’re wasting money or missing out.

My recent trip to Europe with Justin!

Final Thoughts

Overall, while the convenience of group travel is enticing, I think that traveling independently is a much better experience for us. By doing the work, we can use the money saved for extra excursions or even another trip entirely. I feel like we can see more of the world this way! In addition, with the influx of travel sites and blogs, online planning is so simple these days. For these reasons, I definitely don’t believe that a guide is necessary for an amazing and unforgettable vacation.

Have you ever gone on a group trip? If so, what do you think about them?

Disneyland Maxpass Review

When Justin booked our Disneyland tickets a few years ago, he discovered an upgrade option for the Maxpass. I hadn’t heard of Disney’s Maxpass before, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; however, it was only 10 extra dollars per person each day, so we figured it was worth a try.

I LOVE Disneyland, but I do not care for large crowds or lines. I mean, who does? Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that the amusement park is going to be at least somewhat busy, if not packed during peak seasons. For as long as I can remember, the Happiest Place on Earth has offered guests their FASTPASS service to help alleviate these long wait times.

Every guest has the ability to obtain a FASTPASS with a valid park ticket. Guests have to place their admission tickets in the ride’s kiosk and return to the attraction at the scheduled time. This reservation service is great for those rides with exuberant lines, because FASTPASS guests basically walk right on! While utilizing this amenity requires some strategic planning (and maybe some running), it’s totally worth it!

From my perspective, Disneyland’s Maxpass is an extension to this original park perk. When we purchased the Maxpass, we were able to view current wait times and book our FASTPASS selections from the Disneyland app on our phones. This is so incredibly convenient! In addition, the app allowed us to schedule multiple–up to 3 I believe?–reservations at once. We mapped out our day during the few times we waited in line. With this upgrade, we were also able to download all of our ride and park photos. No more horrible screen shots!

Taken by a photographer at California Adventure. I downloaded it with the Maxpass!

Unfortunately, only a select number of attractions provide the FASTPASS service. For this reason, there are rides, such as Peter Pan, that will probably have long wait times throughout the day. In addition, FASTPASS offerings are NOT guaranteed. This means that reservations may fill up quickly! I also believe that the price of the Maxpass has increased to 15 dollars now. While that amount doesn’t seem like a whole lot, every cost adds up quickly at Disney. Despite these disadvantages, I still truly love the Maxpass. During our last two visits, we arrived right at opening and were able to ride everything we wanted by lunch time.

Now that I have used the Maxpass at Disneyland and California Adventure, I don’t think that I can go back standing in line for hours. This service has immensely enhanced our experiences! I’m already saving for our next visit!

Our Tastes in Thailand

Discovery

When Justin and I were on one of our many flights to Thailand, we met a young businessman, and he recommended that we book an excursion with Bangkok Food Tours. We grew curious after hearing him rave about this experience. Once we finally landed and arrived at our hotel, we looked up the company’s website and decided to purchase tickets to their Midnight Food Tour.

Ready to Go

On the night of our tour, we ventured to their predetermined pick-up location. Once everyone in the group had arrived to the site, our guide discussed the itinerary and introduced us to our tuk tuk driver. Before we knew it, we were off!

For those who may not know, a tuk tuk is a popular mode of transportation in Thailand. Although I have seen locals riding with them, I think that tuk tuks are mostly utilized as taxis for travelers. I saw these three-wheeled, motorized vehicles everywhere!

Our driver was incredibly friendly, and his tuk tuk even had strobe lights. I thought this was a great way to see the city.

Our Tour

Our tour included six stops. When I heard this, I became worried. I didn’t know if I could eat that much, and I definitely didn’t want to miss out on anything! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Our first two stops included local cuisines. At the first location, we enjoyed a variety of family-style dishes, and I really enjoyed that. I could try a little bit of everything without getting too full.

At the second, we created our own noodle bowls with various spices and egg options. After finishing our dishes, we were able to see how they prepare the food behind the scenes.

Next, we ventured over to Bangkok’s Flower Market. We walked around and appreciated the beautiful bouquets and street vendors. At this stop, we were able to eat some locally grown fruit. In addition, our guide also offered us some deep-fried crickets. While I passed, Justin ate one. He said it wasn’t bad. We still talk about those crickets.

The fourth place is probably my favorite one from our tour. We were able to explore the Wat Pho Temple at night. Our guide explained the significance of the temple as well as some of Thailand’s history. This was truly an amazing experience.

After our stop at the temple, we then traveled to a rooftop bar overlooking the river. Here, we were able to relax and learn more about some of our travel companions. We were excited to find out that there were two fellow Arizonans in our group! In addition, I loved that we could see the beautiful glow from the Grand Palace. This view was stunning.

Finally, we were off to our last destination for the night. Our tour guide stated that this restaurant made the best Pad Thai in Bangkok. I love Pad Thai, but I was skeptical at first. Although, after this experience, I would have to agree with her. This Pad Thai was my favorite dish of the night as well as my entire trip!

Final Thoughts

Overall, I loved this adventure with Bangkok Food Tours. I will forever cherish my memories and daydream about that Pad Thai. If I ever have the opportunity to return to Thailand, I would love to do another!

At the Top of the World

Anytime I travel somewhere new, I love to admire the city and its skyline. Where is my favorite place to go for a good view? Well, I love to look from above! If the destination I’m visiting offers a tacky touristy attraction that involves heights, you better believe I’m buying myself a ticket to the top.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The Reunion Tower Observation Deck in Dallas, Texas

This spherical building provided us with sweeping views of Dallas! In addition, once we reached the top, we found various interactive devices that offered great information regarding the city and its history. I loved that I could enjoy the gorgeous scenery from indoors as well as outside. When we visited, it was cold and windy. I’m an Arizona girl, and I can’t stand temperatures under 80 degrees. I did manage to stay outdoors long enough to get a great photo, though!

Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík, Iceland

After seeing this image plastered all over Pinterest, I wanted to see it for myself. At the top of Hallgrímskirkja, there is an outdoor viewing area that offers great scenery of Reykjavík’s city center. I love these buildings and their colored rooftops.

The High Roller in Las Vegas, Nevada

The High Roller is a ferris wheel that has amazing sights of the Las Vegas Strip. This is one of my favorite things to do in Vegas, because I love seeing these buildings shine!

Guiness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

At the end of the Guinness factory tour, we were treated to this panoramic scene. The picture above doesn’t compare to my wonderful in person experience. While visiting, guests may also choose to sip on a pint of Dublin’s signature beer.

The London Eye in London, England

My first time in London, I skipped this ride. I thought it was just an average ferris wheel. Once I got home, I immediately regretted my decision. So, during my second visit, the London Eye was at the top of my must-see list! I love this view of Big Ben.

The Seattle Great Wheel in Seattle, Washington

I guess you could say that I like ferris wheels. Unfortunately, it was raining during our visit to Seattle. However, I still enjoyed the scenery! Seeing the Space Needle from afar was a surreal experience for me.

Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois

This is an amazing attraction! Anywhere I looked, I had breathtaking perspectives of Chicago and its architecture. In addition, the Willis Tower also has several protruded areas with glass floors that we stood on. It’s a little nerve racking, but I really enjoyed looking down below.

Skybar in Bangkok, Thailand

After seeing this bar in the Hangover II, I wanted to experience it for myself. Bangkok is seriously stunning. I love this city and all of its unique buildings! The Skybar is a SUPER busy place, though. We arrived immediately after opening, and I still found it difficult to get a good photograph without a someone blocking my camera.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Aside from my mediocre photography skills, the Eiffel Tower is an amazing sight to see. Just like the Observation Deck, we were able to enjoy the scenery both inside and outdoors. I also liked that there were multiple levels for those who may not want to go all the way up. Even though it can be a bit crowded, I still think the tower is worth a visit!

Rooftop bar at Marriott Marquis in San Fransisco

Finally, I’d like to talk about the Marriott Marquis. What a wonderful hotel! One night, we ventured up to their rooftop bar, and we realized that this was also an incredibly popular tourist destination. I couldn’t get close enough to the window to get a great snap, but here is a photo, of the same view, from our room just a few floors below. Not too bad!

What’s the Deal with Groupon Travel?

Thoughts and Discovery

A couple of years ago, Justin and I were scrolling on Groupon and found some really good deals for trips–even international ones. We had used the discount website for purchases and other experiences, but we weren’t quite sure what to expect for travel.

As we searched through the options, a voucher for a trip to Dublin, with hotel and airfare included, stood out. Justin had studied abroad in Dublin the previous summer; so, if the Groupon somehow didn’t work out, we thought we could figure out other accommodations.

After some discussion, we decided to give it a try, and we booked it! I could not wait to get to Ireland!

Our Challenges Faced After Booking

If the customer lives on the East Coast or in a city with a lot if international flights, these Groupons can be a simple way to travel. For us, however, living in Arizona, we find that it can be a bit more complicated planning our trips.

A lot of the time, these vouchers will include airfare out of JFK, Boston, or maybe LAX if we are lucky. So, if we do end up booking one of these Groupon deals, we have to find our own flights from Arizona or see if the travel company offering the voucher is willing to help us reroute (for an extra fee of course).

We usually like to book our own airfare, so that we can explore another destination on our way home. I really like when we stop on the way home, because it gives us a break from flying, and I feel like I have an easier time adjusting to the time changes.

Thoughts on the Experience

Our trip to Dublin turned out great. We were booked with a decent airline without any delays or cancellations. In addition, our accommodations were good, and our hotel was located in the heart of the city. It wasn’t incredibly fancy, but it was nice for the price we paid.

Our particular voucher included flights from JFK, so we decided to explore New York on our way back to the desert. Although NYC was incredibly chilly, we had a blast! We even went to see Wicked on Broadway.

Would We do it Again?

Overall, we were happy with the deal. Since our trip to Dublin, we have traveled to Iceland as well as Thailand through Groupon deals!

I have to stress though that with these kind of vouchers, flexibility is imperative. Any modification in dates or airport can increase the cost of the voucher. This is why researching average expenses is essential.

Also, I believe that it is always important to read the fine print of the deal. Some Groupons may include extra excursions or guided travel, where as others do not.

Groupon has been awesome for some of our adventures, and hopefully we will have new ones to look forward to soon! 🙂

What’s in my Carry-On?

Over the past few years, I have experimented with various bags and packing strategies. Even though I usually pack my clothes in roller bag for the overhead compartment, I believe that having a good carry-on underneath the seat in front of me is imperative to any trip.

I have found that my Longchamp bag works the best. It’s spacious and easy to carry without being incredibly bulky or heavy. I call it my “Mary Poppins’ Bag.”

Below I have listed my essentials:

  • Passport/Wallet/ID (RFID Protection)
  • My Google Pixel 3 for photos and music (I subscribe to Spotify. I highly recommend!)
  • Headphones (I have the rose gold Beats that are both bluetooth and wired for airplane TVs)
  • Chapstick
  • Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes (because germs)
  • Over the Counters (Advil, Tums, any necessary medications)
  • Eye Masks (for some added moisturizer after landing)
  • Colgate Wisps to freshen up
  • My Kindle
  • Travel Pillow (tied to the outside of my bag)
  • Travel blanket/pillow Snuggie set
  • Pen (for any forms upon landing)
  • My Coach packable backpack (for any souvenirs or exploring)
  • Waterproof camera (depending on the excursions)
  • My Fossil Smartwatch (usually wearing this 😉 )
  • My Laptop
  • Any cables for electronics in their organizer

What do you like in your carry-on?