By SAMIE DURNFORD, QMI Agency
Whether travelling with a best friend or going all alone, planning that dream trip can be tough. One way to take the pain out of planning is with a pre-set, guided group tour.
Group tours offer travellers a set price for guided activities, airfare and accommodations, though there are both advantages and disadvantages to this kind of travel. It can also be hard for travellers to know when they are really getting the best bang for their buck if they've never travelled this way before.
T.J. Hermiston is co-owner of Vancouver-based small-group travel company, Beach Travellers (www.beachtravellers.com). He’s a big advocate of the benefits of group travel.
“First-time travellers can get sucked into tourist traps or scams like overpaying for transport, accommodations and meals,” says Hermiston. “Having guides helps to avoid such scams.”
With the group trip planned for travellers, they don’t have to worry about reservations or finding the best deal and there’s no way they'll miss out on any cool experiences they may not have known about thanks to the knowledgeable guides.
A 28-day guided group tour in Brazil will cost you $3,990 with Beach Travellers. This fee provides you with hostel accommodations and activities such as hang-gliding over Rio de Janeiro, a four-day Amazon excursion and sand boarding in Florianopolis. The price includes land transfers and airfare as well.
Nicole MacAdam has travelled both alone and with Beach Travellers. She’s been on two trips with the company, once with her two best friends in Costa Rica and once with her now-fiance, who proposed on their trip to Thailand. She says she booked a trip with Beach Travellers because the price was right and she wanted something more exciting than just lying on a beach.
“We did some pretty amazing things on both trips,” MacAdam says. “From climbing up waterfalls, jumping off cliffs, scuba diving, playing with monkeys, tigers and elephants... the exact opposite of boring.”
Travellers may be concerned that the set itinerary restricts their freedom to do as they please, leaving them reluctant to change plans last minute or skip out on something they're not too keen on doing and have already paid for.
However, as Hermiston explains, Beach Travellers always tries to work with their customers.
“Our trips are a balance of organization and spontaneity, with plenty of free time,” he says.
Beach Travellers guides give the group several activity options on any given day and plans can always change. Also, the guide can help plan that one thing the traveller has been dying to do, even if it’s not on the itinerary. Hermiston says it’s important for group trips to offer free time, so be sure to check the itinerary before booking and ask how flexible it will be.
MacAdam says that on her group trip, she never felt overwhelmed by the activities.
“There are many times when you can choose to just chill out on your own, or if you're feeling up to it you can always wander the area on your own and make your own discoveries,” she says.
Plus, travelling in a group of 20 people is a sure-fire way to make some new friends. This is especially great when going on a trip alone.
MacAdam admits that when she arrived on both her group trips, she had doubts she’d actually enjoy being friends with some of the people. But her mind changed quickly once she got to know them.
“I was totally wrong, and now some of the people I've met on these trips are super good friends,” she says. “The people that you meet on these trips are generally super easy going and looking to make friends and have a good time.”
Hermiston says it’s rare for people to feel left out or to not get along with others in their group. Beach Travellers makes sure to keep group sizes to a maximum of 20 people, whereas some other companies have one guide for 50 people. Those tours are the ones that should be avoided.
“Travelling with a group of like-minded people, all in the same age group as you is pretty fun,” Hermiston says. “Everyone is there for the same reasons: to meet new people and have a good time, so the group vibe is great.”
MacAdam says that trips like these are perfect for travelling alone.
“You always have someone with you if you want, you never have to do anything on your own,” she says. “Also, you’re given so many different activities that there is no way you could be bored.”
Hermiston warns people looking into group trips to research the company carefully.
“Make sure you won't only be visiting the touristy destinations and staying in big hotels, because then you miss out on the real culture of the country you're visiting,” he says.
Also, he suggests looking out for hidden costs and scams such as “having to give cash in local currency to your guide once you arrive.”
Travellers should always be in charge of their own money on these trips.
But, most importantly, a guided group tours allows tourists the freedom to have fun, explore and make new friends – whether travelling alone or with people they already know.
This story was posted on Fri, March 23, 2012
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