In my younger years I cast off group travel as something for those without enough imagination or sense of adventure to do it themselves.
Of course nothing could be further from the truth and working in travel and having been an adventure tour leader myself, I see how much solo travellers can miss out on by not having that local specialist knowledge.
To be clear, I’m not talking about 50 seater coaches travelling through Florida. I mean adventure travel in small groups of 16, with like-minded people who want big experiences over a limited period of time. People like me who are happy to let someone else do the grunt work, leaving us free to get on with what we love…pure uninterrupted travel!
I have a theory and it goes a little something like this. I work all year so when it comes time for me to get away from the office to explore this beautiful planet, you better believe I’m going to let my hair down and pay whatever it takes to do so. I’ll book a solo supplement, order second helpings and wine with dinner, pay for an optional flight over the Rockies on my credit card and shamelessly love every minute of it.
What I don’t want to do is fritter away any of my precious holiday checking bus timetables, bartering for cheaper hotels, reading out of date information from a guide book, or learning the ins and outs of the country the hard way. I want it easy, but that doesn’t mean my experience will be less real, it doesn’t make me less of a ‘worldly traveller’ than someone whose managed to survive on US$20 per day and looks like they’ve escaped from a Thai prison.
Benefits of Group Travel
I can see all the independent backpackers turning their noses up at my blog, believe me, I used to be one of those. However, the truth is group tours do not restrict or detract from the overall experience; they make even more room for it. Not convinced? Try this on for size:
– When you book a group trip, you’re typically booking with either a specialist tour operator, or they have contracted a specialist local company with the in-depth knowledge one would expect
– Tour operators such as Intrepid Travel, use local guides and no-one, not even a Lonely Planet book, will know the country as much as someone who has grown up there
– When travelling in a private van or bus, you can stop en route and visit attractions which aren’t in and around the city. Try asking a public bus to stop for you, drive you to the gate and wait while you look around and take photos, before dropping you off at the other end
– You can arrive into a new country and already on day 1, you have someone you can trust, who speaks the language and can outline the lay of the land
– You have a ‘ready-made’ group of like-minded friends to get to know. Sure you might not click with them all, but out of 15 people there’s bound to be 1 right?
– You won’t waste time waiting on local buses, negotiating with hotels, trying to understand what is happening and should you develop a case of Delhi Belly, you’ve someone to drop you off boiled rice and flat coke
– Finally, you pick a tour that suits you perfectly, whether that be a highlights whistle-stop trip or something in-depth and away from the crowds
Still not convinced? I’ve been to close on 100 countries and last year I booked a 17 day tour with Intrepid Travel. My rationale for taking a group tour was the country is huge, roads are terrible so local buses would be a nightmare, and in the world of travel – Intrepid have been around the block a few times and know their stuff!
After checking their itinerary, it was clear they weren’t going to regurgitate any old itinerary. What they delivered was a well thought out holiday, which covered everything I was looking for including:
– As much of the country as possible without rushing, meaning we stayed in each place for two nights
– A local guide who opened up the secrets of the country, giving real examples from his own life and childhood
– The tour comprised of wildlife, specialist guides, local home stays and off-the-beaten-track villages, hotels which supported or formed part of local charity initiatives, jungle, craft cooperatives and not only this, but it finished on the beach. Seriously, what more could I ask for and all within 17 days
All I had to do was listen to operational instructions and I was left to enjoy Madagascar, without all the stress of working out how to do it myself, and wondering if the person giving me advice was trustworthy.
I may have begun my travelling escapades as a backpacker on a minimal budget, turning my nose up at group tours however, this was a very naive view of the world.
The best advice I can offer is to know what you want from your holiday, and research the company who can deliver just that for you. Intrepid Travel were able to do just that for me, so there you have it — a solid endorsement from a real traveller!