The Finance of Travel: Should I take a tour package?

While planning my trip to Rajasthan last year, one of my first thoughts was- should I take a tour package? When I looked at the hassles of planning a trip- booking tickets, making an itinerary that covered everything, finding good hotels etc, it all seemed like a big headache. A tour package did seem like the easy and convenient way out, and most tour companies suggested that it would be economical too. The lazybones in me was all too ready to go the tour package way, but the economical budget fanatic resisted.

I ultimately chose to make my own arrangements, and they worked out really well for me. After the trip was done, however, I thought I’d do a quick comparison of the costs I’d incurred vis-a-vis the cost of a tour package. What I found was interesting.

First off, let me list down the reasons you may want to go with a tour package.

1. Everything is pre-arranged: From your travel arrangements to your hotel to your itinerary, everything is arranged by the tour company. So you need not rack your head to figure out how to see everything at A in one day and how to get from A to B.

2. It’s more convenient: If you plan your own trip, you have to do everything, from booking the tickets to comparing hotel prices to making arrangements for transportation. In a tour package, the company takes care of it all, saving you numerous pre-trip hassles.

3. Safety: When you make your own arrangements, there is always the worry that the hotel you chose may not be safe or comfortable, and this worry is compounded for solo travelers. Traveling with tour groups gives you the advantage of safety in numbers, and also the assurance that the hotels chosen and the transportation will be reasonably comfortable and safe.

4. You have company: Often, tour companies arrange large tour groups during special occasions like Diwali or Christmas. On such tours, you get to meet different kinds of people, make new friends and enjoy the sights with them.

All the above factors may make tour packages seem like attractive choices. However, tour packages do have a flip side.

1. Everything is pre-arranged: Yes, what is an advantage is a disadvantage as well. While most tour packages do allow you some time to go off on your own, most of the time you have to follow their itinerary. So, if you want to spend more time gorging on the street food of Old Delhi vs seeing the Birla Temple and the Lotus Temple and the ISCKON Temple all in one morning, you may not be able to do so.

2. Jam-packed itineraries: Most tour packages focus on squeezing as much sightseeing as they can within a short time. If you like soaking up the sights or immersing yourself in a place, a tour package may not be the best option.

3. More expensive: The costs for a Rajasthan tour from most tour operators, including the government ones, ranged around Rs 20,000 per person for the route I took (Delhi-Jodhpur-Jaipur-Udaipur-Delhi). In comparison, I was able to travel from Bangalore-Delhi-Jodhpur-Jaipur-Udaipur-Delhi-Bangalore, comfortably with no safety issues whatsoever, for the same price for two people, i.e. Rs 10,000 per person. It took some time and effort to research budget hotels and make appropriate travel arrangements, but I’d say 50% off the quoted price was worth the effort.

According to me, the safety aspect of a tour is the most attractive thing about it. When you make your own arrangements, you never know whether the hotel you chose is in a safe location or not, whether your rented car’s driver is decent or not. With a good tour company, you have some semblance of safety and security. Of course, problems happen, but on the whole, tour packages are considered safer.

I think a tour package makes sense if you are traveling abroad, to multiple countries. Certainly a package would reduce the hassles of comparing hotel prices and checking connecting flight timings. If you are traveling within India, I personally prefer to make my own arrangements, unless it is an experience I’m going for, like, say, a cycling tour of Nandi Hills.

What do you think? Do you prefer the convenience of tours, or do the economics of making your own itinerary?

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Glimpses: Mandore’s Hall of Heroes

Hall of Heroes

Who is a hero? Is he the one who earns name and fame through valiant deeds? Is he the king renowned for his charity and his kindness toward his subjects? Or is he the unknown, unnamed man who works hard but has no songs written in his favor- the man who follows the hero into battle, the man who toils in the fields to create the wealth that the king donates, the man who is a good son and a father and a good husband and a good friend to his family and friends. The Hall of Heroes in Mandore Garden is dedicated to the Rajput kings and the gods, but I’d like to think it is written to all those men (and women) who lived honest lives and tried to do good to whoever they met.

How to be a Royal: Lessons from a tour of Umaid Bhavan Palace

Umaid Bhavan
Umaid Bhavan, a.k.a. uber-rich people’s kalyana mantapa

I have earlier commented on how awesome it would be to live in a palace, and this is a continuation of that theme. Here, I tell you some of the lessons I learned about being royalty from my tour of the Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur. Built by Maharaja Umaid Singh, the palace is India’s most famous structure after the Taj Mahal, looking at the stream of modern royalty, a.k.a. movie stars, who chose to get married here. Probably my chances of being a royal are lesser than India’s chances of being the top medal winner at the Olympics, but well, a girl can dream. And also, the lessons learned in this life will serve me well in my next birth, when, hopefully, I’ll be born as Prince William’s great-grandson or something.
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Royalty at Red Fort

Red Fort

I remember one time, when I was a kid, there was a power cut on Republic Day in the locality where I lived. It was a freak incident due to a problem with the transformer. People came out on the streets, furious that they were unable to see the Republic Day parade on TV. They mobbed the electricity office nearby and almost dragged the engineer to the spot to fix the problem. Power came back midway through the procession of floats (I remember we missed seeing Karnataka’s). The reason I mention it now is because I wonder if people would be similarly agitated today if there was a power cut on Republic Day. Methinks they would barely notice its occurrence; most people wake up late and miss the parade anyways.
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The Finance of Travel: How much travel can my paycheck sustain?

If you are a regular Indian middle-class person, chances are you work a 9-5 (or 9-whatever time your boss makes you stay back) job and have a fixed salary deposited in your account every month. For many, most of that amount is divided among the following:
(i) EMI payments
(ii) Mutual funds, stock market and other investments
(iii) Household expenses
(iv) Money staying in the account
(v) Miscellaneous

Now, where does the money for travel come from? Usually out of the miscellaneous. But if your miscellaneous expenses include a movie, dinner and drinks every week, shopping every other week, then chances are that any travel, big or small, is going to cause your miscellaneous expenses to shoot up. This is the reason many people give for not traveling: I don’t have the money to spare. But you do. You just need to look at your budget a bit more carefully.

Just before Christmas last year, I sat with all my financial statements, and tried to figure out how much money I could allot to travel. This year, I want to be able to travel at least once a month, with two major trips, hopefully one abroad (but not if I can’t afford it). I have certain financial commitments and I also want to do some investments and maintain a certain amount in my savings account. So, the absolute maximum I can allot for miscellaneous expenses is 10% of my paycheck. This includes general entertainment like eating out, movies, shopping etc, and travel.
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