We spoke to a couple of our customers who’ve recently taken adventure tours, to find out why they chose a tour and what they most enjoyed about it. Both tours were essentially small group holidays for anywhere up to maximum of 12-14 people, of all ages and backgrounds.
Brian and his wife Christine have taken several group tours and spoke to us about their trip to Costa Rica. Patsy is new to the experience and took her first group tour in India on, as part of a longer round the world trip.
Up until their children grew up and left home, Brian and Chris had taken family holidays, so they continued to travel as a couple. It wasn’t until they met up with friends to visit Kenya and reminisced over their successful walking holidays in the UK that their perceptions shifted:
“After our kids flew the nest we had a few holidays on our own, but after a holiday in Kenya with friends we realised it was really nice to have other adults around to share the experience. We’d had plenty of experience taking small group walking holidays in the UK where we’d met so many interesting people. We’d also visited some European destinations as part of a group and to be honest, the group experience had become one of the highlights of the holiday for us.”
Brian started looking into adventure tours to Costa Rica after speaking to friends who’d been - all of whom raved about it as a destination.
“We were already familiar with the format of a small group tour and knew we enjoyed this style of travel, so a group tour was an easy choice. We enjoy the fact that someone else is responsible for all the logistics and we can just relax into getting to know a place. We chose the Explore Costa Rica tour because it visited both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts, which we thought would be an interesting contrast.”
Patsy and her friend were planning an extended trip which involved visiting friends or travelling with people they already knew. They were fortunate to be able to stay with friends in most places, but India was the only place they didn’t have contacts.
“We actually took this tour in India as part of a 4 month round the world trip, beginning with the USA and Canada, then Hawaii, continuing on to Tokyo from where we drove down to Kyoto with a friend before heading to India. The Taj Mahal was really the big draw for me. There were other places I wanted to see, but the Taj Mahal is just one of those once-in-a-lifetime places to visit.”
She was unsure how easy it would be to get around and explore this famously chaotic country independently, realising that it might involve journeys on trains that are portrayed as pretty jam-packed. Patsy’s consultant at Travel Nation suggested she have a look at our small group tours in India, in particular the India Golden Triangle tour which includes a visit to the Taj Mahal.
“The one thing I was a little concerned about was travelling by train. I’d seen those photos of hugely overcrowded trains in India and thousands of people hanging off all sides and the roof – I just hoped it wouldn’t be like that - I don’t think I could have coped! My consultant at Travel Nation reassured me that it’s much more organised on a tour. We had our seats on the train reserved and our guide was with us to help us collect the tickets and find the right seats. It wasn’t even that crowded, so I needn’t have worried!”
G Adventures group tours are divided into several styles; YOLO (for 18-39 year olds), Classic, Active, Family and Marine tours as well as National Geographic Journeys; the latter being the most comfortable and with the most inclusions. Group tours attract travellers from all walks of life and situations, which can add to the appeal.
We’ve found the groups always have a good balance of solo and coupled travellers with as much of 30% of the group being solo travellers,” says Brian. “Regardless of their situation, everyone throws themselves into getting to know people and it always just works.
Patsy’s group numbered 12 and Brian’s 14 members. Both said they had diverse groups in terms of ages, backgrounds and nationalities. Brian says, “We had a good mix of ages and nationalities as is always the case in our experience with G Adventure tours - we’ve taken four now. The group came from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Germany. Everyone spoke English obviously, as the tour guiding is conducted in English.”
Even when it comes to learning the names of another 11 or so companions, Patsy said the task is made simple given the opportunities for the group to talk over meals and whilst travelling.
“Everyone got on with no problems and we quickly introduced ourselves and got to know each other. It’s quite easy considering you all eat together, always for breakfast at the hotel and then for most lunches and dinners too. Everyone chose to eat together, even for the meals that aren’t included so we were always chatting. I wasn’t worried about getting on with people – everyone was easy to speak to and they're all in a good mood because they’re on holiday!”
We asked Brian how the spread of ages impacts the group dynamic and he was very positive:
“These tours always seem very inclusive. It’s not uncommon of an evening for the group to divide into roughly an over/under 40s split, which actually works really well. Anyone who wants to go out and discover the nightlife heads out for some night time exploration, whilst those who prefer to stay at the hotel and have a chat over drink will also be well catered for.
I’ve always found that people make a really positive effort to get to know each other on these trips so it doesn’t take long. After the first day or two you can remember everyone’s names – it’s never been awkward. By the time we’d all been soaked in a rain storm and everyone’s luggage had been soaked through, we’d all bonded and were able to laugh about the experience!”
Both Brian and Patsy said they’d found the experiencing of having a guide over independent travel an invaluable asset. From taking care of transport logistics to recommending good local restaurants to answering any questions that popped up – having a guide was a benefit in both cases. With the arrangements handled by someone else, you get more from the tour.
“In Costa Rica our guide as able to answer so many questions about the animals and landscapes. If ever she couldn’t answer us straight off, she always managed to find the information and come back to us, without fail. With G Adventures you’ll have a guide with you all the time, but we also had additional guides in National Parks who have an even more in-depth knowledge of specific areas – they were all very knowledgeable,” says Brian.
But beside logistics, both said that travelling with a guide can put your mind at rest, allowing you to feel more relaxed, and simultaneously more involved in your surroundings.
“On a boat tour through Tortugera National we were seeing so much wildlife, some of which is friendly and some of which is dangerous. Obviously it’s difficult to know which is which. Our guide pointed out a green snake and told that this one was harmless, even if we were to pick it up. The guide always has your peace of mind and safety forefront, but they manage to give you an uplifting, close experience with wildlife, without ever putting you or the creatures at risk,” says Brian.
The guided experience is also enhanced by valuable local knowledge of customs, language, transport and good local places to eat. “Our guide was very good at recommending restaurants,” said Patsy, “and importantly I think; choosing places that would cater for a range of budgets as different group members have different ideas of what they want to spend on meals.”
Patsy also explained how her trip to India coincided with India’s nationwide demonetisation campaign in November 2016 to reduced counterfeit notes. This resulted in a shortage of cash and made it difficult for them to access cash from ATMs.
Our trip was during the spell when India was experiencing a lot of problems withdrawing cash from cash points. If you could find a cash point there were hundreds of people in the queues. Our guide was amazing; he went to the bank for us and managed to get our cash and sorted everything out. Having someone who knows the local and speaks the language is invaluable in situations like this – rare as they are, says Patsy.
Part of the joy of these kinds of trips is feeling you’ve had a local experience, and see a place through the eyes of the people who live and work there. On Patsy’s trip, her guide was able to arrange a very special, impromptu cultural experience for the group:
“We were passing a local wedding celebration and one of our group commented on how interesting it would be to see what was going on. Our guide went inside and moments later we were all invited in to join the party and they wanted us to stay and dance and be a part of it! I don’t think this little cultural detour would have been possible without the help of our guide.”
G Adventures tours support many local grass roots projects all over the world and bring their guests into rural areas to experience local life up close. They’re all committed to supporting sustainable tourism and animal welfare, as Patsy explains:
“We came to a place where the local people were offering us elephant rides, which I wasn’t sure about. Our guide was helpful because they knows the value of tourism, but understand that riding elephants is not good for them and should be avoided. I appreciated their insight – we didn’t take the ride we were offered.”
Off the back of their own group holiday experience, we asked Patsy and Brian what type of traveller they think would enjoy these trips the most. As a seasoned adventure tour-taker, Brian feels group holidays will suit anyone who enjoys the opportunity to meet new people and to talk about what they’re seeing as they travel.
He explained that the discovery and adventure element keeps you active each day, so if you’re looking for pure relaxation – you might want to opt for a straightforward beach holiday instead!
“We really enjoy these small group trips and I would say they suit all ages and interests. They’re designed to make sure you see as much as possible in the time you have, so you will be moving from place to place. You’ll stay one or two nights in each place so it’s quite active over being ultimately relaxing!
Interestingly, Patsy saw the value of adding a short group tour to a longer, independent travel itinerary to add some contrast to the trip:
“If you’re travelling for an extended period of time with the same companion, eventually you may want the opportunity to travel with and speak to other people too. A tour like this takes the pressure off and gives you a few more people to talk to and share experiences with – it provides a breather for longer trips.”
So is the adventure tour experience with a small group the right option for you? If you’d like to find out about which tours we offer, give us a call or look at our group tours by country. We can talk you through the whole experience and find a package which suits your interests best. We could also combine a group holiday with some independent travel, to tailor-make your ideal trip.
For more advice and to start planning, call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.