Go your own way – In a group or alone, get outta here | TheUnion.com

Go your own way – In a group or alone, get outta here

John Hart
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Spring fever got you thinking of traveling? Now is a good time to travel – rates are low and good deals abound.

If you haven’t traveled much, it may be difficult to decide on which way to go. I tend to put traveling into categories – cruises, tours and independent travel. Here are some options to get you thinking.

— Cruises can be reasonably priced and an easy way to travel. Alaska and Mexico cruises are very popular, and some are basically long weekends, if you’re short on time. Contact a local travel agent, who can help you find the tour that best suits your interests and budget.

A negative with cruises is that the final destinations are usually very close to ports. This may be a problem if you want to visit a city 200 miles inland. Many times, bus tours are combined with the cruise to visit local sites.

River cruises, increasing in popularity, use large boats that travel up and down inland waterways. For example, my brother is currently planning to take a cruise from Washington, D.C., to Florida through inland waterways. Europe also has some river tours available.

— Organized tours are probably the most inexpensive way to travel. By taking advantage of group rates, tour operators can offer travelers a lot of sites and destinations for their money. These often involve flying to a destination and touring via bus throughout a given area.

Group tours are very popular. You meet a lot of interesting people, don’t have to drive, and your luggage is always waiting for you at the hotel.

— Independent travel is how I’ve done most of my leisure trips. This means my husband and I have booked our own reservations for transportation and lodging and planned our own itinerary.

This type of travel suits us just fine. We can plan our trips to match our calendar and budget – and we don’t have to get up early in the morning to meet a bus or feign camaraderie with 60 other tour guests. We can even pick our own restaurant and order off the menu.

But independent travel can be a little tricky, especially when visiting the more exotic destinations. It takes a strong disposition to get lost in a strange country and find your way back.

Often, you don’t have a clue as to what you are eating and the hotel standard isn’t quite what you expected. It’s easy to offend someone because of the cultural differences, and sometimes you just get tired of eating strange food.

I love Asian culture, but sometimes it can be a challenge. For example, they don’t have a word for “no.” Once in a Korean hotel, I asked if I could drink the water. The front desk receptionist responded with, “There is bottled water in the small refrigerator in your room.” When I asked again, the man responded with, “We will be happy to bring you more water.” I was just wondering about brushing my teeth with tap water, so I asked again. The response was, “We are bringing up water now.”

When traveling to a new location, my husband and I take a day or half-day city tour to get the lay of the land. Take note of interesting areas you see throughout the city and you can take a taxi or train back the next day. Walk around local shopping areas and take the underground to get a better feel for the real culture of the country.

You can also rent a car, which is always an experience when driving in another country. It does help to have a buddy to navigate, however. Another possibility is to ask a hotel bellman if he knows someone who can give you a private tour of a city. Usually the taxi drivers will do this for a reasonable price, and most of them speak English. Negotiate the price up front and you will be surprised at how inexpensive it is.

You don’t have to travel to exotic locations, however, to have interesting experiences. I am still amazed that parts of the South are actually within the U.S. boundaries. As you get close to the Canadian border, you wonder where the borderline is actually located.

So don’t discount the local area when deciding on travel plans. The coast of Oregon is a fun trip, as are Monterey or some of the other California cities. You won’t have to spend a small fortune to enjoy yourself, either.

There are travel Web sites, such as expedia.com and travelocity.com, that you can use to book your own travel. Many airlines have Web sites and e-mail notification services for inexpensive airfares and travel specials. If you have problems with your itinerary, you can also talk with the airlines directly.

But this doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy yourself on an organized tour or cruise. If you feel better with a pre-planned trip and feel more comfortable eating the ship’s food, then go for it. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself and see the world.

Mary Jepsen lives in Grass Valley.

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