Sep, 24 || 2 Comments | Tags: advice, cruise, handicapped travel, South America
Creating your own Adventures: How the Disabled (or anybody) can explore on their own and see as much or more than the packaged tours offer.
When Tom and I travel, we like to see a lot. We enjoy the tourist attractions, and we’re the first ones you’ll find hopping on the Big Red Busses in London, Paris or Rome. But there are times that guided tours and canned adventures don’t quite fit the bill
Tom is handicapped. He has a hard time walking, and although he can walk, he can’t keep up with the tour guides. So we have a method in which we take in the sights we want to see at our own pace, without having to worry about keeping up with the rest of the people on the tour.
It’s also nice to go when you want, and not when everyone has arrived. We can hit the high points that we’re interested in and forego the things we can’t, or don’t want to do. For example, if we’re on a cruise and there are three tours offered, they may not be what we want to see. Tour one may include a shopping excursion, and a few hours at the beach. But we only wanted to do the shopping, not the beach.
Then tour number two may offer a boat excursion to a local destination, but the second part of the tour is a climb to a nearby mountain peak. Tom can’t do the climb, but we wanted to go on the boat.
A third tour might take you to a game reserve where you would ride a bus through the park and look at the animals, but it would also include a walking tour of the city.
Here are three things we’d like to see, and three we could not do for one reason or another. So we’d get a taxi to the boat tour, and after the boat tour we’d go to the animal park. Afterwards, we’d have a nice leisurely lunch and do some shopping. Perfect!
And the best part of this type of touring is that it’s often less expensive than if you purchased one of the packaged tours. Who needs a tour guide to go shopping? Or to eat lunch? We don’t feel like we need to pay for that.
Be the one who saw everything!
Here’s another advantage of doing tours the do-it-yourself method. You get to see more. Yep, there has been many a time that we docked in a port and Tom and I went out to see the sights. When we returned, we’d talk with others who had gone on package tours and find that we had seen everything they visited, plus even more.
Our less expensive method allows us to see more, but at a savings. We can ask questions, and talk to the driver about what are the best things to see while in port. While in Barbados, we got a driver who ended up taking us to see all the major attractions on the island, and then we drove to the far side of the island.
There was a beautiful beach there, and nothing but a few locals in the water. They were having picnics and playing in the sun, but there were no tourists to be found. That evening, back on the cruise ship, we discovered that we had seen several sights that nobody else had gone to.
How to Create Your Own Tours
So here’s how to set up your own tour package that includes just what you want to see.
1. First, before you go, check out your itinerary. If it’s a cruise, just see what ports you’ll be stopping at.
2. Next, do some research. Check out what tours are offered and choose only the sights you want to see. Learn where they’re located and how to get there. Some cities offer buses that will take you right to the various sights. Or you can take a taxi to your destination.
3. Set up an itinerary that’s exactly what you’d like to see. Choose all the sights you want to see that will comfortably fit into your allotted time. Learn how to visit each one, and if you need tickets to enter you can even buy them in advance.
4. Then once you have your plan, check into the cost of a local taxi. If you’re going to need a taxi, make sure you know exactly how much you should pay to get the best deal. Taxi drivers are notorious for quoting tourists unreasonably high prices because they don’t know what the acceptable price should be. If you’re taking the bus to some of the sights, print out a schedule and see where you need to catch the bus.
5. When you get back to the ship, or when you arrive home, be prepared for envious glances from fellow travelers when you tell them all you saw while you were there.
6. Get a glass of wine, watch the sunset, and silently revel in your day’s adventures.
Go Where No Packaged Tour Will Take You
So now you know how to arrange your own custom-designed tours, let me tell you another little trick that gets us some fabulous benefits. I mentioned above in number four that you should determine typical taxi charges in the location you intend to tour. Another thing you can do is let you taxi driver be your tour guide.
This takes a little bit of negotiation skills, but if you’ve ever been to the flea market and haggled on the price of some little goodie you wanted to buy, you’re good to go. Select a particularly hungry-looking taxi driver. You know the one. The guy that jumps up and runs to your side when you exit the hotel, or the cruise ship. He’ll tell you all the wonderful places he can take you, and he’ll agree to show you anything you want to look at.
When you’ve chosen your driver, and you know what typical charges run, you’re ready to negotiate. Just ask the driver how much he’ll charge you to drive you for the entire day. Give him an idea of some of the places you might want to see, and tell him you’d like him to show you other sights that you may not know about.
This is where the real go-getter shines. He’ll begin by telling you some of the places he can show you. His eyes will gleam and he’ll do anything to keep you from looking around at the other drivers. Ask him the price for a full day. Give him an idea of how long you’ll need him, and then just wait.
The driver will quote you a price. If it seems extremely high, you should either give him a lowball figure to yank him back into reasonable territory, or just walk away toward another driver. By this time he’ll know you’re not a sucker, so he’ll give you a price that’s much closer to a reasonable sum.
A little fine-tuning on your part and you’re done. Offer him ten or twenty percent less, and negotiate down to a fair price for both of you. When you have your price, all you need to do is get in and leave the driving to him.
We’ve done this any number of times so I know it’s true. Let the driver know some of the places you want to see and sit back and relax. You’ll soon find yourself traveling through the city with your own private tour guide to show you the town. He’ll point out places of interest, and stop for you to take photos any time you want. (Priceless.)
Some Interesting and Unexpected Experiences
Then, at some point, the driver will most likely insert a little surprise. Just go with the flow. He may take you to a silk-painting showroom where you can see the fine silk paintings and even try your hand at painting your own design. Or, you may find yourself at a Turkish Rug-Making school, where young girls are taught the fine art of hand-knotting silk rugs that will last a lifetime. I have one of those beauties in my living room right now and it looks exactly the same as it did the day we bought it, January 3, 2000.
These little tours are not going to be in the tour books, but they’ll be your reward for going beyond the ordinary and hiring your own tour guide. The best one of those little side tours I can remember is when we were in Athens, Greece. The driver showed us many sites, and eventually he began driving into the countryside. We passed beautiful olive orchards undulating over the hills, and saw quaint cottages and picturesque villages.
Then, just when I was in rapture beyond my wildest dreams, the driver pulled into the yard of a small house. It was nondescript, white stucco with a small wooden door. There were a couple of other vehicles parked outside, but I paid no mind to them. The driver knocked on the door and a bent little man opened it. He graciously invited us inside to a tiny room with some chairs around the outer perimeter of the room. They were typical picnic chairs you might sit on in the yard during a barbeque. Each chair had its own folding table in front of it.
In the center of the room was a small potbelly stove, just big enough to build a little fire. It was a little chilly, so the fire was welcome even though we couldn’t see the flames inside. In the room were several other couples and their drivers.
Soon, a woman dressed in a plain country dress entered the room and began to serve each of us a plate filled with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and pungent goat cheese. The flavors of that simple food remains with me today. After the cool tomatoes and cucumbers, we were offered roasted meat and potatoes that had been baking on top of the potbelly stove. I had noticed our host turning the potatoes earlier, but it didn’t occur to me that they were our meal.
Simple food, and great company. The experience was superb. Oh, but it wasn’t over with yet. We were offered tiny glasses of ouzo with our meal, and each time our glasses were filled, our host would raise his glass, empty it quickly, slam it on the table and exclaim “Opa!”
All of us around the room would return the salute by raising our glasses as he had done, drinking the spicy, fiery drink and exclaiming “Opa!” in return.
This continued for twenty minutes or so until each person in the room had finished their meal and was obviously on the way to a pleasant buzz. Then, our host and the taxi drivers rose, moved the chairs and tables aside, and the music began.
From somewhere, traditional Greek music filled the room, and our host linked his arms with those nearest to him. He encouraged the others to do the same until the room was ringed with a joyful circle of dancers.
Our host showed us the simple steps of the dance and began leading us in our revelry. Now and then we’d be offered refills of the spicy ouzo, and the little room would ring with shouts of “Opa!”
Finally, when everyone in the room had reached their limits on the ouzo, and we seemed to tire from the dancing, our time came to an end. The driver brought us to the host, and translated the conversation to us. It seemed that the bill for the meal, the drinks and the entertainment that afternoon would break the bank at a whopping twenty-three dollars. Now mind you, that included our driver as well.
My husband paid with a little smile on his face, and we returned to our taxi. The day wasn’t complete, however, until we visited a local olive press, where fresh tangy olive oil poured from the machinery into a waiting vat. The olives had been on the trees the previous day.
So you see, a little negotiation skills can bring you a wealth of fascinating experiences. I know each of those experiences lined the taxi driver’s pockets with a little kickback, but so be it. I loved the experience, so what’s the harm, right?
Try some of my suggestions and see for yourself how different your trips can be.