Someone recently asked, “What’s the biggest lesson you learned in your travels?”

I didn’t have to think twice. The first thing that popped into my mind was… 

Do not buy pre-arranged travel packages. Period.

Some of the beautiful ladies from The Solo Female Traveler Network mentioned, 50 Travel Tips on Spending Less, that one of their ways to make sure they stay on budget is to purchase everything in advance — that way, you know what you are getting yourself into.

I would agree if that was done by me as an organizer, using booking.com, Expedia or Airbnb. 

I, however, have fallen into the trap that was fed by my urge to make an impulse decision — to book a last minute ticket through a travel agency, Holiday Factory. Apologies to myself for making this decision, and here is why I apologize to myself — and promise her to not ever fall into that trap ever again. 

I thought it was a good deal as the price was covering both the flight and the hotel. Silly me who thought it was a good deal. After booking the ticket… and the hotel for that matter, I had second thoughts, and like almost every purchase I make out there, I have the option to refund. Every flight, whether it’s Emirates, Etihad, FlyDubai, EgyptAir, you name it, they will happily refund your money, but with a hinge of penalty. Fair enough. 

Holiday Factory, though, didn’t believe in that. It was an offer for public holidays. “Sorry, it is non-refundable.” — they said. 

After being disappointed for the fact that I can’t cancel the trip and if I did choose to not go, I would lose all the money I have spent, I discover two things: 1. I have to pay extra $$$ because I was going on my own and 2. I will take the flight from another airport that will also cost me $$$ just to get there and come back to my apartment. The airport I had to go to does not have access via public transportation so it was kind of hands tied situation… meaning, Uber or Taxi. 

I accepted the situation and started to plan my trip. One of the things I like to do when I travel is to check out the experiences in Airbnb. It’s not just homes you can rent there. Tbilisi though, where I visited, didn’t have experiences in Airbnb… but here is what I found out, I could have easily got an incredible place with 50% of the extra $$$ I paid for the single occupancy that I did spend with Holiday Factory — that percentage would be much less than 50% if you add up the amount I actually paid for the whole hotel package. I would say that the prices in Tbilisi would have easily been 25%-30% of what I have paid. The illusion that I got a good deal was an illusion — and let’s just leave it there. 

Besides the rip-off that I felt from this “deal” package that I purchased, I can’t help but feel how much I hated the baby sitter feeling I got when I arrived at the airport. I don’t know about you, but I love the excitement of not knowing what to do next. Am I going to take the bus? Metro? Train? Taxi? How am I going to go to my hostel/ hotel/ Airbnb? Am I going to take the Metro to this station, then go to take bus number 234, then walk 300 meters and see the hotel on the right side of the road? 

Instead, I arrived and found agents waiting for us with Holiday Factory t-shirts. They guided us to a bus that took us to the hotel… 

… and it doesn’t stop there. In the ride to the hotel, they kept on talking about the tour packages that they offer and how much money I would save if I decided to take all my tours with them — that was like someone shooting me to my head. I sat there in silence, minding my own business, trying to reach the hotel so I can start off my plans for the trip. 

Someone sitting next to me asked me if I will sign-up, and my response? “No way in hell, even if it was actually cheaper, I am not signing up for that. I am doing my own thing”, I said. 

Again, waiting patiently after arriving at the hotel to finally get to the room, it took us 3–4 hours to check-in. I am pretty damn certain that if I did a check-in to what I personally booked on my own, it would have taken me a maximum of 10 minutes. I remember the Airbnb hostel I booked in Madrid was a self-check-in. I interacted with Zero people and was taken right straight to my room. 

What did that mean to me? I missed my first tour that was supposed to happen at noon — but no worries, I caught the next one in the evening and did have a good time… and that is what matters at the end. Right?

That is not to say that this kind of thing doesn’t work for some people. It does. Some people opt-in for convenience, but that’s just not me. I, on the other hand, opt-in for adventure, for the trill, for the unexpected. Why did I book an impulse trip in the first place then? 

So if you ask me what is my biggest lesson? I might come up with more, but this one is so fresh in my mind and definitely on top of my list. Never again am I booking a pre-packaged trip — for both the money… and the thrill. 

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