Pros & Cons of All-Inclusive Trips for Independent Travelers

If you’re a fan of BootsnAll, you probably consider yourself an independent traveler. Chances are you prefer to pull on a backpack and take off on a moment’s notice versus making detailed plans about where you’ll stay for the duration of your travels. The idea of staying in a place where everything – food, accommodations, activities – are part of the package may even turn you off. In fact, you’re probably wondering what place all-inclusive resorts even have on a website that encourages people to take charge of their travel destinies.

Trust me, I hear you.

But I’ve also had the chance to stay at and visit several all-inclusive resorts over the last few months – primarily in Huatulco, Mexico – and I’ve learned a few things about myself as a traveler and about choosing an all-in-one vacation experience. The main thing I’ve learned? All-inclusives aren’t all bad and they’re definitely the right option for some people.

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Interested in learning more? Here are a few pros and cons to consider if you think an all-inclusive resort might be in your future.

PRO: No need to worry about the details.

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Stay at an all-inclusive resort and you’ve found the epitome of the stress-free getaway. The beauty of an all-inclusive is that someone else has taken care of everything for you – dining, accommodations, cleaning.

Your resort will have countless dining options to choose from including buffets, casual cafes and high-end restaurants, and you don’t have to count out your change to see if you can afford them. Plan to leave your bed sheets a tangled mess in the morning because someone else will remake the bed for you while you hit the beach or explore the area.

Many all-inclusives also offer at least limited services and activities, such as beach access and snorkel gear. And you can usually get all the answers with a single phone call if you have questions about what is included in your stay, which restaurants are open or how to sign up for tennis lessons.

CON: All-inclusive doesn’t necessarily mean all-inclusive.

Read the fine print carefully before handing over your credit card at an all-inclusive resort. At some all-inclusive resorts, alcoholic beverages, spa services and some activities may have an additional cost. Also, don’t forget all the people who make your all-inclusive stay possible. Porters, waiters and housekeeping staff should be tipped accordingly.

PRO: On-site help is available.

One of the luxuries of staying at an all-inclusive resort is having access to a concierge or activities staff member. These people can help you choose the best off-site excursions that match your interests and offer tips for when and how to get where you want to go. No need to pick up a guidebook or buy a map when someone else can provide you with that information.

CON: On-site help may have ulterior motives.

Though I recently spoke with an on-ship cruise travel guide who helps advise passengers of things to do other than take planned shore excursions, some on-site activities staff or concierge may get a kickback if they convince you to take a tour with certain companies or shop in certain stores. Be wary of these people if they can only offer suggestions about places packaged in glossy brochures and have no recommendations for small, family-owned shops without marketing budgets.

PRO: Everything is easily accessible.

It is completely possible to roll out of bed in the morning and spend your entire day at an all-inclusive resort. Everything you need – food, activities, amenities and possibly even medical care and shopping – is on-site and easily accessible. You don’t have to leave the resort property for your entire vacation if you don’t want to.

CON: You feel like you can’t – or shouldn’t – leave.

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You paid a good chunk of change for your all-inclusive vacation, and you may feel guilty if you leave it or don’t take advantage of all of its services. Here’s the thing: If something doesn’t interest you, don’t feel the need to participate in it just because you paid for it.

Many people who never leave their resort don’t get the chance to explore the local culture and people beyond the confines of their resort. You may have to pay a little something to get out on your own, but don’t feel guilty about defining your own travel experience within the all-inclusive one.

PRO: All-inclusive resorts help stimulate the local economy.

When an all-inclusive resort moves into town, chances are many local people will be hired as wait staff, porters or housekeepers. In the best case scenario, these businesses will provide training and incentive for young people to stay in their hometowns instead of moving away for school and work. When I visited Huatulco, I was excited to note that not only were locals hired to work at the all-inclusive resorts, but a college was built for people interested in studying hospitality. In addition, an extensive array of public schools and medical facilities were built when the resorts were developed – all of which created even more jobs in the area.

CON: All-inclusives may force local businesses to close.

How can small mom-and-pop inns and cafes compare with the likes of oversized all-inclusive resorts? In many cases, they can’t. Whereas all-inclusives may be able to offer discounted dining and accommodations due to the simple rules of economics, local businesses work on a much smaller scale and can’t bulk their costs the way large resorts can. Also, some international all-inclusive chains might bring in their own employees from outside the area, thus pushing locals to the side by not training or hiring them to work on the property. This can have an adverse affect on the area by encouraging locals to leave in order to find work, which in turn degrades the culture of the local community.

PRO: They’re cheap.

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When you consider the total amount you’ve spent to stay at an all-inclusive resort and itemize it down to every meal you eat, every service you receive and every night you stay, you’ll probably be surprised by how inexpensive the whole package really is.

The average high-end hotel cost is well over $100 each night, so the savings you receive by combining accommodations, meals and activities together at an all-inclusive resort can be stunning. Not a bad way to travel if you’re strapped for cash.

CON: We become wasteful.

Because everything is paid for up front, people often become wasteful at all-inclusive resorts. Instead of choosing one dessert, we grab a plateful so that we can sample them all. We’ll try the complimentary bars of soap and wear the in-room bathrobe for a few hours because we paid for them (even though the soap will be discarded at the end of our stay and the bathrobe will need to be washed). All-inclusive resorts allow us to do and try things we normally wouldn’t, but as a result it’s easy to become overzealous and wasteful without even thinking about it.

Read more about all-inclusive travel vs going independently:

photos by JoAnna Haugen and may not be used without permission

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Older comments on Pros & Cons of All-Inclusive Trips for Independent Travelers

Nanartsy
15 February 2010

Although I’ve never stayed at a resort, independently or otherwise, I love make my own travel arrangements, frequently, making the journey with a close sister-in-law. One successful trip was making our own air arrangements for Portugal, renting a car and driving all over the north for a week, then hitching up with university education tour for the remaining two weeks. All around great.

Best was going alone two years ago to Morocco with Journey Beyond Travel which made all arrangements for us 12. Some couples, some singles like me, we traveled a part of the world I wouldn’t have gone solely on my own. Too much time and effort would have been spent figuring out what to do and how to do it – in languages that I don’t speak and a culture which doesn’t care for women traveling by themselves. Whatever works for one’s comfort zone. Bonus of the Morocco trip: a couple of friends for life!

Carl Boyer
15 February 2010

I’ve stayed at all-inclusive resorts for family gatherings and have enjoyed them, but still love, at 72, going off on a cheap trip with a reservation for the first night.

lenahunt
19 February 2010

This is an excellent article. I have stayed at many all-inclusive resorts for profession and for pleasure. The pros and cons that you have listed are right on. Travelers then have to make the decision which tips the scale a little heavier and to balance out the cons. I.e., if you are being wasteful with the unlimited food then get less on your plate. If you find that you just veg at the resort, then take a day to go local, rent a scooter or a bike) and dine at one of the cheap off-the-beaten-path eateries. What you spend will be a HUGE investment in culture, history, memories, and so much more. It is well worth it to strive for balance even when traveling.