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Posted by on Nov 23, 2011 | 7 comments

Why independent travel still works for me

I know, I know.  I have been having too much fun and haven’t invested a lot of time writing for my precious blog (and you, my dear readers). See last week (and Monday), I was having a blast in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.  At the end of each day, I felt exhausted.  It is difficult to understand how so many bloggers maintain their blogs from the road.  Ok, no more excuses of why I haven’t been active online.  Let’s get to the point.

When I disclosed my plans to visit Cancun to my friends, they all had the same question.  At what all-inclusive resort are you staying?  Even other travelers I met around Cancun wanted to know in what hotel I was staying.  Hotel in their vocabulary was a synonym of all-inclusive resort.  I had the same answer for the folks back home and for the people I met on the road, I am traveling independently.  Every time I mentioned those words, there was an immediate change on people’s faces.  It was an expression of confusion with a dash of pity.  Some asked me another question.  Why?

First, let me explain what I mean by independent travel in this case.  I booked my own plane tickets, stayed in locally owned accommodations and used public transportation to move between points.

Now, why I chose to travel like this?  Does this travel form still works for me or it is something more adequate for a younger crowd?  Because sometimes I wonder why I am still traveling like that.  A coworker told me once we are too “grownup” to continue traveling like that. Was he right?

Occasionally, I get tired of walking around town with my bags in search of a hotel.

From time to time, I worried a little when I get lost or when I don’t understand the language.

Sometimes, it is not that easy to plan the daily sightseeing and all the logistics related to it (at what time they open or close, at what time the bus goes there, where are we are going to eat once we are there, etc.)

Every now and then, I freak out about not seeing a lot.

And let’s not talk about the times I go to those places no tourist should go.

I don’t understand why I just don’t pay somebody to take care of all these for me.

Making friends on the road

But during this last trip, I got a strong reminder of why independent travel still works for me.

The day we went to Chichen Itza, we took a collective bus to get back to the town we were staying (Valladolid).  The ride started to get into my nerves for two reasons.  First, a lady riding with us asked the driver to take her to the front of her house because she had bags (you know, she went to the supermarket). By the way, her house was out of the bus route.  And, do you know what happened?  The driver took her to the front of her house.  Inside me, I couldn’t believe this was happening.  Then, the driver announced he was going to stop 10 minutes in the nearest town (Piste).  I got more anxious.

Inside that bus, sweating from head to toe, I asked myself why I was there.  Why I wasn’t in one of those big tour buses reclining in my seat and enjoying the air conditioned.  I guess the part of me that lives in the United States took hold of my body and thoughts.

After a few minutes (still roasting inside the bus), I really wanted to slap myself.  Common Ruth, you are in a real Maya town, surrounded by people who live there and you are observing and learning how their daily lives take place.

The driver and I talked about the weather differences in the Yucatan and California.  He used his cell phone to change from Fahrenheit to Celsius.

One of the passengers explained me why the state of Yucatan wants to be independent from Mexico.

I saw three or four people riding in motorcycles and bicycles (not only in Asia).

I noticed some of the street food sold in one corner.

And yes, when the driver took the lady to her house, I was able to see the town.  That part of town tourists shouldn’t see. Plus, in this part of the world, a bus driver has the kindness to help somebody.

Alambres,eating on the road

In retrospective, I really enjoyed that moment. This is why, sometimes, I still chose to travel independently.  Because it gives me the opportunity to see the reality of the places I visit.  Because I am not only interested in the cookie cutter version created for a certain group.

All the encounters I had with the locals, all the food I ate in the street and all those forbidden places I visited are the reason why I
choose to travel in an autonomous way.  Because it is cool to remember all the places you visited but it is cooler to remember that funny thing the taxi driver, the waiter or the vendor said.  I am not sure if I could absorb a place so deeply in other situations. Plus now, I can talk about the bus system in the Yucatan Peninsula, how the Spanish accents are different between Yucatan and Quintana Roo, what is the reality about the violence in the country and how people feel about next year’s elections.

I am glad I chose to travel independently throughout the Quintana Roo and Yucatan.

Do you travel independently?  Why this form of travel works for you? Or, why it doesn’t work for you? Let me know in the comments section below.


  1. Es cierto Ruth…….viajar así te da la oportunidad de entrar en contacto real con la cultura del país que visitas tal y como te pasó con el chofer y las otras personas en la guagua. Creo que también depende del propósito del viaje de la persona y si ha visitado antes el lugar etc. Yo me atrevería hacerlo así independiente si voy con alguien con experiencia como tu…imagínate en lo que uno adquiere la de uno.

    Un abrazo girl!

  2. I like to travel independently as well. The only time I’ve stayed in an all inclusive was for a friend’s destination wedding in Cancun. Our hotel was located so far out of town that it was expensive to leave and the only tours they told us about were the ones they were promoting and they were expensive. $100 to visit Chichen Itza with a bunch of other tourists? Not for me. I’ll take the inconveniences of local culture to actually experience local culture any day.
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