Everyone travels differently, I know that. And I respect everyone’s travel choices of spending their time and hard-earned money as they feel is best for them. But I, for one, cannot handle the idea of taking vacation and spending it at an all-inclusive resort. There is something about being asked to go to a resort that insults the backpacker in me to the core, and gives me shivers in the spine when I think about the experiences that I will not get to have.
My real issue with all-inclusive resorts has more to do with what people pay in exchange for what they get. As you know I am an avid backpacker and I’ll look to get off the-beaten-path whenever possible, comfort travel is not a must for me. Therefore this makes me wonder why people are ready to pay so much to travel to a place that has all the comforts of home…what’s the point of that?
I’m no expert on vacation resorts, and no, I have NOT visited tens or hundreds of them for mine to be an “expert opinion” on why you should avoid going to an all-inclusive resort. My experience in all-inclusives is limited to a one-time visit to Varadero in Cuba.
But after having visited over 20 countries and comparing those travels to my one all-inclusive experience, I feel that the resort deal does not offer as much in terms of genuine cultural experiences as backpacking does:
1. The Food
Let’s be honest. Resort food is only good if you are into eating past-expiration-date rubber with a side of pure crap.
The resort buffet rarely lives to its expectations of, well, whatever expectations you may have had from a buffet. Rarely anything typical from the country, mainly pasta, I have yet to hear anyone bragging about the food at the resort being the best they had all trip.
One of my favorite ways to get to know a new country and culture is through its food. Going to different restaurants, street eateries and food stands is the best way to get to know the culinary side of a country. A cold pasta buffet is not.
2. The Beach
Those who know me will quickly tell you that I’m not a beach person. Don’t get me wrong; I like the beach just like anyone else does, I’m not completely senseless to the beauty of the clear sea and white sand. In my travels I have had the opportunity to visit some of the most amazing and remote beach islands in the world. Phuket in Thailand, Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, just to name a few.
But the idea of booking a full vacation to simply “relax at the beach” is an idea I CANNOT get behind. No matter how someone tries to sell it to me. The thought of sitting on a beach chair under the sun for hours and hours and literally not doing anything is the opposite of relaxing…I get restless just thinking about it.
Add to that a bunch of drunk teenagers who thought that “it’d be fun to go to an all-inclusive and party”, and you got a recipe to make me lose my shit.
Travel is an amazing way to discover new places and hidden treasures, none of which can be found nor experienced while sitting on a long chair zipping all-you-can-drink watered-down booze.
3. The Entertainment
Some resorts are located so far from anything remotely fun, that they must provide their own entertainment. While in Cuba, the resort I stayed in had a dance troop which played an hour-long rendition homage to Michael Jackson.
While they were actually good dancers and the “show” was somewhat entertaining, it was still nothing close to actually getting a taste of Cuban culture and dances.
Regardless of where you go, make an effort to see more of the local culture, see its customs and get to know its people, which are the true gem of a country. You can catch a show once you’re home.
4. Meeting with Locals
Every traveller will tell you, the real beauty of a country lies within its people. The experiences that you live in a strange land, whether good or bad, will only be accentuated by the people that you meet.
Unfortunately this concept will remain unexplored if you stay in a resort, where the only “local” you may get to meet is the one working behind the bar. They may look and sound genuinely friendly, but chances are they’re only after a higher tip.
My nicest experience in Varadero happened on my last day, when I decided to leave the resort and explore the town on my own.
Although quite small, I walked around the smallest streets and snuck behind people’s houses (I know…creepy). While taking pictures a nice gentleman approached me asking what I was doing, I told him I was visiting and asked if it was OK to take pictures of his yard.
A nice conversation ensued and he invited me into his home to have breakfast with him and his wife and we shared a few shots of rum (quite early in the morning). He gave me the tour of his house and explained that he thought about opening a Bed & Breakfast in the near future, and invited me to stay at his home on my next visit.
To me it is these types of experiences that make a trip go from ordinary to extraordinary. Getting to know and exchanging with locals, having the opportunity to learn more about their lives, their struggles and their day-to-day, all of it has no price and enhances a trip in such a way that no all-inclusive resort can.
And you? What is your opinion of all-inclusive resorts? Are these your thing? If so, let us know what you find attracts you to resorts in the comment section.