Package Holidays vs. Independent Travel: What You Need to Know

Thomas Cook was one of the early pioneers of a business model soon to be named in pop culture as “package holidays”. Ever since his first organised railway trip in 1841, Thomas Cook realised there is a sound business model.

From there onwards for two centuries people only booked their travel using travel agents they trusted and going on packaged tours.

However, in today’s ever connected and globalised world and with the .com bubble, it made the travel industry question whether this model is still viable. Explore with us below some of the pros and cons of each model and see which one fits best your needs.

Before we reach to any conclusions, we propose to look at both package holidays and independent travel and analyse them separately.

Package Holidays

As we mentioned earlier, Thomas Cook, was one of the early pioneers of this business model. This simple idea yet revolutionary of providing people an all inclusive (not to be confused with the type of board) experience which consisted of: travel to and from, accommodation and the tour of the attraction itself.

Sounds pretty simple but remember during those times everyone made their own travel arrangements, sometimes with dubious individuals. The concepts of a travel agency and consumer rights were still foreign.

The model then evolved throughout the 20th century with the appearance of a dedicated industry – the Travel Industry. The tour operator isn’t the only one selling tickets now.

The appearance of a dedicated sales office or how we know it as a travel agency that can be separate from the tour operator, meant tour operators could now focus on providing the experience and the travel agencies on selling the tours.

Whilst some travel agents had good contacts within the industry and were able to provide competitive rates or great holidays overall, it wasn’t till 1970 when the GDS system came online.

A Global Distribution System (GDS), is a computerized network that facilitates transactions between travel service providers and travel agents (both online travel agents like Expedia and human travel agents).

Nowadays, anyone can book a package holiday. The technological advancements which we covered above made it so that anyone can essentially book a trip anywhere on the planet without even leaving their couch.

Where to Book a Package Holiday?

If you’re wondering where to book a package holiday, all you have to do is a little bit of research on some of the travel agencies serving your area. You can start off by researching online, exploring the high street or even joining social media groups and asking for recommendations.

For us, we typically go with TUI as they have great customer experience and they also tend to be the tour operators. This means they control the experience end to end and can offer you something most agencies can’t.

Moreover, package holidays are for everyone, whether you are single or travelling with your family or as a couple there are plenty of places to choose from. Definitely worth considering this for your next trip.

Places such as Turkey and Bulgaria are great for families whilst places like Mexico are great for couples or singles.

What Counts as a Package Holiday?

Well, to put it simply, like in the days of Thomas Cook, it should be a combination of travel and accommodation. The package should be inclusive.

Modern holidaymakers have been used to all-inclusive holidays. Though you can have a package holiday without an all inclusive board, though they tend to be very popular these days.

These started being popular ever since the 1950s where Club Med started offering guests unlimited drinks and food with the idea that the guests never need to leave the estate.

Nowadays, all inclusive means much more than just the board type. It can include water sports, activities, shows and many other things.

So when booking, be sure to check the offer as in today’s ever crowded holiday market a big buffet might not be the only thing on offer. This is what we normally do when we go to places like the Dominican Republic or Mexico.

Are Package Holidays More Expensive?

Whilst there are more people involved in booking your holiday such as the travel agent, tour operators, guides, transport etc. increased business efficiency combined with modern IT tools means that savings are passed on to the consumer making package holidays still a commercially viable option.

When we did our U.S. trip (New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Boston), which was independently booked, we tallied up the costs and everything and compared to a similar package holiday.

The cost wasn’t that much different but we were able to plan our own trip in the order we wanted and according to the number of days we wanted to spend in each city.

Also, remember, on top of this you get in some countries a money guarantee scheme similar to the ATOL protection in the UK (mentioned below). Unlike self booked holidays this acts like a safeguard should anything happen on your trip or before.

So if you are wondering if it is it better to book a package holiday – then this consideration alone should make you consider if this might be the right option for you or not.

How Safe are Package Holidays?

With the arrival of true international travel a way to protect your citizens was called for. Many governments around the world issued laws and regulations to protect travellers so whatever happens they can still return home.

In the U.K., Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL) protection has been since 1973. This regulation is a financial protection scheme and it protects most air package holidays sold by travel businesses.

The scheme also applies to some flight bookings, usually those where you book flights (including UK domestic flights) but do not receive your tickets immediately. The scheme is designed to reassure consumers that their money is safe, and will provide assistance in the event of a travel business failure.

Another similar scheme is ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents), is a trade association for tour operators and travel agents in the United Kingdom. This associations aims to improve the quality of service provided by its members but also protect financially customer.

Unlike ATOL, which covers flight based holidays only, if a holidaymaker buys a land- or sea-based holiday such as coach, rail or cruise holiday from an ABTA member their money will be protected by the ABTA scheme of financial protection.

This effectively means that should your travel agent go bust whilst you are on holiday, under this scheme you can still enjoy your holiday and return on the same date home.

In other words, it’s very safe to book a package holiday.

Some governments around the world also operate similar style schemes. In the argument of package holidays vs independent travel this bit is often overlooked.

We had an experience where we truly appreciated the advantages of a package holiday. During our trip to Punta Cana, we had hurricane Irma (category 5 hurricane) come on our side of the island. TUI were very instrumental in arranging the evacuation and a like for like hotel in the capital of Santo Domingo.

Other guests were sent to the nearby school and slept on the floor throughout. Not only were we evacuated from the dangerous area, but we were also offered a 5-star hotel and excellent service. On top of this, we also got money back for the days we spent outside the resort.

This could be also something to consider on your next trip. It totally changed our perception of the benefits of a package holiday. Needless to say, we have been using TUI ever since.

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Independent Travel

Here is a photo of us, planning our next trip from the comfort of our garden 🙂

First of all, you might wonder what does independent travel mean? It means self booking your trip or holiday without needing a travel agent.

Booking independently has really taken off with the wide adoption of the internet and the .com bubble. With the creation of GDS systems which feed aggregators like Agoda,, Skyscanner and many others; ordinary consumers all of the sudden became their own travel agents.

This, in turn, allowed for democratization of the travel booking experience. No longer did you need to leave the house or call your travel agent, all you had to do is type in the 16 digits on your card and off you go!

How to Book Independently?

Whilst some individuals tend to be a bit reserved when it comes to booking it themselves, the benefits should outweigh their fears. In our article about How to Plan a Holiday we discuss some of the points that any traveller should have front of mind when booking a trip independently.

Whilst there are some benefits to booking a package holiday, self booking also comes with some perks. What we noticed is that the advantage of independently booking consists in the granularity and the choice for options at your disposal.

Want a flight Thursday at 5pm from your closest airport? Plenty of choices. How about a quirky looking boutique hotel at your destination? You’ve go it. And the list goes on.

An example here is our trip to Vienna, which we decided to combine with a trip to Bratislava. Given the proximity of these capitals and how well connected they are, we were able to plan our own trip, arrange our own travel at the times we wanted and visit two countries in one long weekend. How cool is that?

This plethora of choices gives travellers the flexibility of booking and tailoring their holiday to their liking. It’s a bit like making a pizza. For those that don’t like off the shelf products they are better off making it at home as they wish.

As we live in the UK, we mainly travel by plane. In our article on Top Tips on How to Find Cheap Flights, we even uncover some of the things you should consider when independently booking your flights.

How Safe is Booking Your Own Holiday?

Whilst booking a package holiday can have some benefits such as ATOL/ABTA protection, discussed above, if used wisely, credit cards can also provide a similar style protection.

Depending on your local country laws, credit card providers can offer certain benefits and protections. Some of these can also be engrained in law.

I remember reading in the news when WOW Air went bankrupt and there was this one line that made me reconsider how I book my flights. It was to do with the order of reimbursements in this particular order:

  • Credit cards
  • Protected package tours (travel agents)
  • Insurance (if covered)

And that’s it. If you booked with a debit card, the administrator may refund you after those above have been processed and only if there is any money left. Ouch!

Next day, we got our credit cards and since then have used them for travel. That is because in the UK, credit cards fall under the Consumer Act of 1974 which covers you of any liability when using borrowed money and when buying services or products and the vendor can’t contractually fulfil their obligations.

However, if your country doesn’t have this in law, some credit card providers offer it anyway as part of their customer service. American Express is well known for going above and beyond in these situations.

When we book our trips abroad such, we always book them on a credit card to make sure we are somewhat covered in these eventualities.

Don’t forget to get a travel insurance to cover yourself and your family. This is especially important when organising your holiday independently.

For EU citizens, health insurance is somewhat covered in other member states as long as you have an European Health Insurance card.

A similar scheme applies in the UK for healthcare cover abroad. You can get a UK Global Health Insurance Card (UK GHIC) or a UK European Health Insurance Card (UK EHIC). We both have the EHIC cards and thankfully haven’t had to use them.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Package Holidays vs. Independent Travel

Now when it comes to the conclusion, you will see it’s not a straight forward line. It mostly depends on your circumstances and specific situation.

It depends on your personal preferences, the type of holiday you are booking, the amount of time you have at hand and how confident you feel organising your own trip.

See below a summary of key things:

ScenarioPackage HolidaysIndependent Travel
Tailor your own package?
Good Value?
Can be booked online?
Government backed?*
Tailored advice?
For novice travellers?
End to end all inclusive experience?
Greater variety
*in some countries

So the conclusion is that it really depends on your situation. You might self book when you want that extra fine granularity in your trip, otherwise a standard packaged holiday might do just fine.

As experienced travellers, we prefer to book our own trips and make our own holiday plans that work around our schedule and the time we have. If you are like us, you may find our article on how to plan a trip useful.

Remember, booking on your own also means investing more time and doesn’t always pay dividends if you are fairly novice.

Since our trip to Punta Cana, we appreciate even more the benefits of a package holiday. We tend to book package holidays for our summer all-inclusive holidays, so we can fully relax knowing everything is done for us.

Ready to book? Below are some recommendations to get your trip started:

  • Accommodation – would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as or Agoda to get the best rates. We also use TripAdvisor to read reviews.

  • Transport – consider for car renting or if you rely on public transport, you can use Omio for trains, coaches, ferries, airport transfers and even flights.

  • Activities – a great option is GetYourGuide, Klook or Viator for tours, excursions, experiences and tickets to many tourist attractions.

  • Travel money – we have Starling Bank accounts (UK residents only) with 0% fees on FX and a good Mastercard exchange rate. Revolut is another good option.

  • Internet abroad – with Airalo or Nomad you can access a wide range of eSIMs (digital SIM cards) available for different countries and regions.

  • Luggage storage – if you need to store your bags whilst exploring the destination, you can use Radical Storage to find your closest luggage storage and enjoy your journey until the very end.

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