Tierra del Fuego.

After driving from Punta Arenas in Chile and crossing the Magellan strait, we reached the archipelago called Tierra del Fuego, the “land of fire.” It is divided between Chile and Argentina. Three weeks and over 4,000 kilometers driving from Santiago, we finally reached the end of the world in Ushuaia.

King Penguin Colony on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego.
King Penguin Colony on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego.
Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, It is known to the Argentines as the Lighthouse at the End of the World (Faro del fin del mundo).
Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, It is known to the Argentines as the Lighthouse at the End of the World (Faro del fin del mundo).

The southernmost city in the world concluded my Patagonian tour. I can look back on my experiences participating in an actual guided tour, and unfortunately, I have to admit that the decision to book it was the wrong one.

We learn a lot about our travel habits and how we choose to explore a new place when we travel, and I learned a big lesson through this costly and time consuming mistake. I am not at all of the type to be on group tours, especially those that do not have a set age range. The tour company I used was Tucan Travel – I do not recommend anyone using this tour company. The tour itself was loaded with issues; I have linked a copy of a portion of my letter of complaint to them in a blog post, linked here).

I didn’t feel as connected to the typical mentality of traveling in an organized tour. I met some really lovely people. A couple of them I can call my friends, people that I can visit whenever I travel to their country. However in my experience the negative aspects of an organized tour far outweighed the benefits. There is no flexibility in a tour, no option to stay just a couple of days longer in a place that I fall in love with. Even if the group gets along really well and the people are wonderful, I am still spending almost every waking moment with them. No matter the circumstances, spending too much time with the same group of people can become tiring. In group tour dynamics, the open minded mentality of meeting other travelers along the way is virtually nonexistent. Naturally, those who have the money to spend on a tour also have more money to spend at nicer restaurants, and since they’re generally traveling for a shorter period of time, they treat they’re experience as a vacation, and can splurge on certain things here and there. This at times clashed with my budget, especially since we were already in a very expensive part of South America.

I found that in a group tours, helplessness breeds helplessness. Travel should make people smarter, more resourceful and aware of one’s surroundings. Instead tours make people lazy; with the idea of not having to worry about logistics, this also means that when left on your own, the blind leads the blind, and you end up feeling lost and unable to cope with settling in a new location. You’ve done no research and now you’re left to fend for yourself and you stick with whatis comfortable instead of exploring the unknown. This is what i perceived while on the tour, and at times I took the lead and helped others sort out their itinerary-free days, especially because I was one of the few who spoke Spanish and could translate.

There are some people who spend most of their travels on group tours, and frankly it negates the basic philosophy of traveling. You pay someone a lot of money to show you only specific, highly visited parts of a country while adhering to a strict itinerary with the same group of people. That to me sounds like hell – it is certainly not traveling. It’s merely staying ignorant while seeing a new exotic destination.

Mostly, I felt out of control of my experiences with the group tour, and I wasn’t able to allow myself to become fully immersed in my journey the way I would normally. And so, I’ve made a decision to not ever take a group tour, ever again. Seriously. The mistake has been made and I can only take from it the lessons I’ve learned.

The truth is that traveling (and I do not mean vacationing) cannot happen through a tour. A tour is a shortcut. It does not replace the experience of figuring things out on your own. I am speaking from the perspective of a solo budget backpacker, but I feel this applies to all ages, budget ranges, and group sizes. I cannot recommend enough, for those without a strict timeline and with a similar independent traveler spirit, to take the more difficult route, no matter how much more complicated it may seem. The extra effort will be far more rewarding.

And now, for the first time in a really long time, I don’t even know what I am doing or where I am going next. It’s liberating. It’s fully present. I can put the tour experiment and the stresses that came with it behind me. I now take with me every single awe-inspiring and humbling moment as I wandered and explored, nature’s incredible beauty that I had the honor of witnessing, and the landscapes of the farthest ends of the earth that are forever imprinted in my mind. Patagonia was raw and surreal. It was absolutely pure magic.

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Historic old ship in the Bay of Ushuaia.
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Shipping containers bordered by colorful Lupine flowers.
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Sea Lions on the Beagle Channel
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Bridges’ Isles on the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia

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