Mornings spent wandering around a new city; barbecues in strange places with new friends, where only half the meat is “meat”; learning how to make empanadas, or ceviche, or pasta… this is indie travel for us. Learning, experiencing, really being in our destination… that’s part of it too. But how can we define indie travel?
For our 300th episode of Indie Travel Podcast, we decided to revisit our roots and discuss what indie travel means to us, as well as talking to some other bloggers and podcasters to get their opinion.
When Craig and I left New Zealand back in 2006, we wanted to travel independently. Later that same year, we started the Indie Travel Podcast and devoted it to the idea of independent travel. But our idea of what indie travel is has changed over the years. Back then, we thought of it as booking our own flights, finding our own accommodation, avoiding tours at all costs. Over the years, our travel style has changed, and so has our idea of what independent travel actually is.
1. Indie travel is a mindset
First and foremost, indie travel is a way of thinking. If you consider yourself an indie traveller, you probably are. You want to experience a destination, not just see it, get under the skin rather than just hopping from highlight to highlight.
Although we used to avoid travel agents and tours, we’ve realised that sometimes these services can really enhance our experience of a destination: travel agents might offer better prices on flights or hotels, and day tours are an important part of our travel style now, because guides know more about the destination than we do, and more than we can discover on our own.
Even longer tours can be independent: a few years ago we went on an Intrepid Travel Basix tour and we’d definitely consider that a form of indie travel. All the transport and accommodation is organised and there’s a tour leader to help smooth over the rough parts, but you get a lot of free time to see the destinations in your own style, plus there’s the security of travelling with a group — about half the people on the trip were solo women who didn’t want to travel alone.
2. Indie travel is doing what you want to do (and not what people say you should do)
If you’re in the indie travel mindset, you won’t feel quite as compelled to see the “must-see” highlights of a country just because the world says you should. You’ll look at what there is to do, and you’ll do the things that interest you.
Bootsnall and Rolf Potts have a website called the Indie Travel Manifesto, which explores the idea of what indie travel is. Visitors to the site can vote ideas up or down, and the current most-popular statement is that indie travel is “defining your values, exploring your beliefs, and crafting your own meaning for life.” In other words, letting travel change your life, and letting your values shape your travel experience.
We’ve found that tours often pack too much into the itinerary, and don’t allow much flexibility, as well as often going places we’re not too interested in. If we decide to join a tour, we’re much more likely to choose a short tour within a longer trip, rather than doing a tour that takes up all our time. This allows us to explore the region before and after the organised trip, and means that we’re more likely to find a tour that suits us. In Morocco recently, we joined a three-day desert tour as part of our nine days in the country, and it was a great way to break up the trip and see the things we wanted to see, that would have been difficult to get to by ourselves.
3. Indie travel is flexible and light
Similarly, indie travel allows you to change your plans: perhaps you leave a destination early or stay a bit longer, or maybe you just ditch the museum you planned to see in favour of a casual drink with your travel companions. Indie travel means not being tied to an itinerary all the time (though sometimes it really is necessary).
We also believe that packing light is essential for indie travel — partly because it allows greater flexibility, and partly because we value experiences over possessions. A carry-on size backpack each is all that we need, though some indie travellers find having a full backpack or suitcase saves a fair amount of hassle.
4. Indie travel is immersion and experience
For us, indie travel means getting under the skin of a place, getting to know the people and try the local food. As a result, we love Couchsurfing and AirBnB, and have also met some wonderful people through language exchange websites like Conversation Exchange. We try to learn a few words of the local language and travel the way locals travel if it’s practical. And of course, we really enjoy tasting the local beverages! We’re always trying to experience the destination, not just see the highlights and move on. For this reason, we prefer to travel more slowly, though it’s possible to experience a place in just a day or two as well.
We believe that indie travel is really experiencing a place, however you choose to do it — indie travel for one person might be completely different to how another person sees it. What is indie travel for you? Are you an indie traveller?
– Chris Christensen from Amateur Traveller.
– Deb from the Planet D.
– Tom and Meg from the Travel Freedom Podcast.
– Pete and Dalene from Hecktic Travels.