First off, it’s important to note that all-inclusive vacations can be great. If you’re the type of person who has little patience for organizing the minute details of a trip, like researching your own hotels and figuring out what to do during downtime, an all-inclusive might be a good option for you. But someone who actually enjoys the process of trip-planning, of customizing your experience to your own personal interests, and having a truly unique vacation, might find this kind of trip limiting. I know a lot of people whose ideal trip is booking their flight, hotel, and tours with a single click, and then lounging in a resort pool for five days drinking margaritas. Speaking for myself, though, I’d rather leave some room for the unknown. For the freedom to plan my own days, or not plan them at all. Here’s why I never book all-inclusive trips.
1. It’s not always cost-effective.
All-inclusive holidays are billed as an affordable way to vacation on a budget, but with a little digging, you can actually get a much cheaper deal. A typical all-inclusive might come with airfare, and anywhere from 5-10 nights in a resort hotel. While 4 or 5-star resorts are great, and drinks and/or food are usually included, if your primary goal is to travel, to explore the area and not necessarily stay within the resort’s walls for 10 days, you can save a ton of money by separately booking a much cheaper hotel, or Airbnb.
On my trip to Tenerife, we browsed all-inclusive options in Playa de las Americas, the island’s tourist and nightlife hub. Given the hotels’ central location and plethora of amenities, the packages here were quite expensive. By instead booking an Airbnb just a half-hour outside the city, we were able to get a more local experience in a fishing village that many tourists never visit, for a fraction of the price.
2. Planning a trip is half the fun.
Half the fun of taking a vacation is the trip-planning process. Figuring out where to stay, looking at maps to find nearby nightlife spots, potential day-trips, deciding whether or not to rent a car, etc. keeps me intimately engaged in the trip from the start, and adds to the building anticipation. A cookie-cutter all-inclusive with an itinerary takes away that fun.
3. There’s no sense of freedom or mystery.
One of the most attractive and enticing elements of travel is the sense of unknown; of departing from your predictable routine and showing up somewhere with a lot of question marks. All-inclusive packages pretty much erase those question marks. Even if your package includes more than just 5 days at a beach or pool, like hiking trips, bus tours, or group museum or monument excursions, your itinerary is largely pre-planned, with little flexibility. And you’re usually sharing that same itinerary with dozens of other vacationers.
While it wasn’t an all-inclusive vacation, when I went to Galway I booked a tour of the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin, and The Burren, thinking it would be a good way to see as much as possible in a short amount of time. The tour was $60 per person, including one very small lunch. While the cliffs were amazing, and the scenery that scrolled past the windows was unforgettable, what I remember most about that day was the tourist-crowded bus, and a voice over a megaphone instructing us when to get off, where to take pictures, head-counting, and herding us like sheep every step of the way. Meeting other travelers is always great, and added a welcome social element to the trip, but I was completely stripped of any sense of control. If I wanted to linger longer in Doolin, I couldn’t. If I wanted to get off the bus in The Burren and check out the cool rock formations, it was out of the question. When I took a picture of Dunguaire Castle, there were forty people next to me taking the exact same picture.
4. It’s difficult to have a unique experience.
Like my picture-taking experience at Dunguaire, wherever you go on an all-inclusive vacation, it’s likely that dozens of others are going there too. One of my favorite things about traveling is coming home and being able to tell unique stories. That’s difficult when you’re on a pre-set itinerary, which thousands of other travelers have experienced before you. I’m all about making my travel experience easy and smooth, but sometimes it’s the less-convenient road that leads to the better, more unique memories.
When I traveled to the Balkans, it would have been easy to book an all-inclusive trip to Dubrovnik and relax on the beautiful coast of Croatia for nine days. Of course, I would have enjoyed myself. Who wouldn’t? But who wants to hear about a guy sitting on a beach for a week, even if the view is basically King’s Landing? Instead, we rented a car and drove through seven Balkan countries, staying in small farming towns and out-of-the-way cities, sometimes waking up in the morning with no idea where we’d end up that night. An all-inclusive package might have been easier, but it would have weighed us down. It would have anchored us to a single spot—probably a tourist-ridden resort area—and made it difficult to stray very far. While we weren’t exactly discovering never-before-seen territory, we were keeping our days exciting, and maintaining that sense of the unknown.