Why Pre-Packaed Tours Are Not Ideal Reason #1: Not So "Free" Time

Today was scorching hot in San Ignacio, Belize. Sun rays magnifying in the city streets.

My travel partner and I decided to find some water to cool off and play in.

We had heard about some lovey waterfalls and swimming holes close to town that we wanted to find. Instead of paying for a full day tour, we wanted to see where the locals hung out and we wanted to find it our way.

We wanted an adventure.

We've said this before, and we'll say it again:

Pre-packaged tours are NOT the way to travel.

What are "pre-packaged tours"?

"Pre-packaged tours" are the kind where the tour operator has every detail planned and set in an itinerary; from the transportation, activities, and length of time spent at a place, right down to breakfast and "free" time.

We've put quotation marks around "free" because you're really more on a metaphorical ten foot leash than free.

While this option is okay for risk adverse tourists, it's not suited for the adventurous and flexible travelers like you who want to create unique and personal memories for themselves while traveling.

Carly and I have decided to create a series of reasons why "pre-packaged tours" are all wrong for travelers, using personal travel experiences as proof.

This post is the first in the series.

Reason #1 Why Pre-Packaged Tours Are Not Ideal: Inability to Forge Your Own Path to Discover Something New

Belize waterfall Cristo Rey Falls swimming hole.jpg

When you have a fixed itinerary, which pencils in two or maybe four hours of "free" time, this doesn't give you much time to explore, wander, get lost and discover something new.

You are constantly checking the time, worried about straying too far because you might not be able to get back to the meeting point again on time.

So you play it safe. You stay close to the meeting spot. Or you book it to the thing you want to see and completely miss something spectacular on the way.

You don't have the freedom to let the travel experience unfold in a way that is unique to you.

It's easy to hop on the same bus as everyone else, to stop at the same quaint roadside stand, to get to the same waterfall that is packed with everyone else on your shuttle and a half dozen other similar shuttle buses. 

It will be enjoyable, but it will not be unique to you. It will be a memory shared by hundreds or thousands of other people that same day. There will probably be no mishaps, no "oops" moments that turn into hilarious anecdote the next day. It probably won't be a story that makes your heart burst with good memories for decades to come.

For example, in San Ignacio, Belize, after hearing about Cristo Rey waterfalls from some locals, my travel buddy and I decided to go on a mission to find it.

After a leisurely breakfast of fresh fruit, fryjacks (my favorite!) and coffee, we hit the streets asking locals where the waterfalls were and how we get there.

We immediately got mixed information.

The waterfalls were 5 minutes outside of town.

No, they were 45 minutes outside of town.

They were east of San Ignacio.

No, they were southwest of San Ignacio.

They were called Cristo Rey Falls.

No, they were called Crystal Ray Falls.

No, they were called Monkey Falls.

There were no buses to the falls.

Yes, there's a bus that leaves at 11 am.

No, the bus leaves at 12 pm.

No, the bus leaves at 1 pm.

Phew, information overload. With all the mixed information, we pieced together what seemed right based on the amount of people who told us matching information.

We head to the bus stop.

We wait. We get tamales for lunch. We talk to the locals. We wait some more. 

We start to think the bus isn't going to show up, so we decide that if by 2pm the bus still hasn't come we'll head to the near by river for a dip instead. 

We soon start to get a bit disheartened. The river looked quite low, so swimming would be nearly impossible but at least we could dip our feet in.

As time approaches 2pm, and we think the falls just aren't going to happen, a man shouts over to us asking if we're heading to the falls.

He's organizing a collectivo, and they're headed the same way! How perfect!

We run on over and hop in the van. 

10-15 minutes later, the collectivo stops and the driver tells us the falls are just up the path. He tells us to be back here by 5pm so he can pick us up and take us back to town.

The Path the Collectivo Driver Tells us to walk down

The Path the Collectivo Driver Tells us to walk down

Along the path

Along the path

10 minutes after this, we arrive at the lovely swimming hole! Best part is there's only a handful of people there! Four people and two puppies to be exact. And it only cost us 6 BZE ($3 USD) round trip!

Moral of the story:

Having truly free time on vacation leads to more unique opportunities. The kind of opportunities that set your travels apart from every single person whose been to the country. The kind of experiences that make a trip genuinely yours.

Sapphire & Elm travel co-founder, stephanie

Sapphire & Elm travel co-founder, stephanie

Why book with Sapphire & Elm Travel Co.?

At Sapphire & Elm, we get to know you personally to understand your likes, dislikes, interests, priorities and more starting with our Travel Design Profile, and plan your next great adventure accordingly.

Working with us is like having trusted friends in the area. Between our personal travels and our travel network, we have a wealth of information about accommodations, transportation, food and drinks, activities and so much more.

You can trust that we will recommend and book parts of your travels that will be unique to you.

Additionally, while we book ahead of time, you also have the freedom to be flexible.

If you'd like to stay in a place longer, no problem. If you'd like to postpone an activity a few days, that's okay! We're available for you and anything you need while you're gone so you never feel stuck.

Contact us to get started planning your next great adventure.