Small group travel is not large group travel scaled down. It is modelled on independent travel – but with the advantage of a group leader to take care of the itinerary, accommodation and tickets, and dealing with the language. It’s easy to tick off the big sights independently – but finding those one-off experiences, local festivals, travelling markets and secret viewpoints is almost impossible for someone without the insider knowledge gained from years in the field. If you’re heading off on a gap year your, perhaps – but for those with a two-week holiday, a small group tour will save valuable planning time.
The leaders are not guides – they’re not there to shepherd you around. Instead, they’ll let you know which local restaurant serves great value food – without running the risk of travellers’ tummy. They’ll allow you to avoid hour-long queues at train stations and attractions.
We like to think of small group travel as the Goldilocks option. It is independent travel without the fuss, worry and bunk beds – and organised travel without the coaches. And it’s cheaper than a tailor made tour. It’s sits somewhere in the middle – and we think it’s just about right.
What are the main benefits?
Have big, life-enriching experiences that would be impossible to organise without lots of time and insider knowledge.
Make the most of your holiday time by letting someone else do the hard work and boring logistics!
Peace of mind
Small group tours take care of the security aspects – and provide a safety net should anything unexpected happen.
Who is it ideal for?
Travellers who are short of time
If you don’t have three months to spend exploring, small groups trips let you cover more ground in less time. Your days are not spent queuing for tickets or finding hotels – so you can squeeze more into your holiday.
Solo travellers who’d like company
Likeminded travel companions plus peace of mind for those travelling alone. Single supplements are usually available – providing privacy if you want it.
Less confident travellers
Stray from the tourist trail without worrying about getting lost, and meet local people without dealing with the language barrier.
“I won’t get any privacy!”
Couples and friends have private rooms, and you can choose to eat alone or not. Single supplements give solo travellers their own room.
“There won’t be any free time”
Free mornings or afternoons let you explore on your own, or just relax.
“The accommodation will be basic” Trips are as high or low end as you like. Though off the beaten track destinations won’t have luxury hotels, this is all part of the adventure.
“I won’t like the other travellers!”
Tour operators try to create groups with a similar demographic – age, families, activity levels... Chances are, you’ll even make new friends.
“Will we be following an umbrella?”
Meet a group Leader
Name: Valerie Parkinson
Story: The first British woman to climb Manaslu, Valerie climbed Everest for her 50th birthday. She’s spent fourteen Christmas Days trekking to Everest Base Camp, and is involved insetting up Responsible Tourism initiatives in the Himalayas.
Meet a local guide
Name: Roshan Fernando
Story: Roshan has led over 130 trips – he adores showing travellers around Sri Lanka. He won the company Leader Award in 2010, but his career highlight was working on their Tsunami Project – which earned him a responsible tourism award.
Responsible tourism: Lhasa to Kathmandu cycling holiday
Activity: As a cycling holiday, this trip has very limited detrimental impact upon the environment, residents and communities in the regions we visit within Nepal and Tibet. Use of the bikes allows us to cover fairly large distances, while offering very little adverse impact, like pollution and threat to wildlife. Additionally, cycling also allows for easy access to the local population, shops and restaurants, which facilitates cultural exploration. By operating with a strict ‘leave no trace’ policy, we are able to raise awareness for a kind of tourism which puts environment and community before financial gain.
UK Office: It all starts at home so we have first worked at reducing our carbon footprint in our UK Offices. Through energy conservation measures and recycling policies, we are proud to be actively reducing the waste produced and our impact on the environment. We support various projects all over the world to try and give something back to the places we visit.
Accommodation and Meals: We spend six nights of the trip in guesthouses and 13 nights in a mixture of locally-staffed hotels. Because the staff comes from surrounding communities, we can ensure that local employment levels, and economy are boosted. Most meals are included and fresh, non-imported ingredients are used as much as possible. Where meals aren’t included, clients can support local businesses by trying some authentic cuisine at restaurants recommended by your guide. Try Nepalese dumplings (Momos), mixed bean soup with rotis (Kwanti), smoked meat tossed in mustard oil (Choela) or lentils and spicy curry (Dal Bhat). Our local chef on trek will also prepare a variety of Tibetan meals such as Tsampa (barley flour) with butter tea/dry cheese (chhura), dried lamb or yak meat and handmade noodles.
Local Craft and Culture: This trip is packed with colourful Nepalese and Tibetan culture. After the 7th century when Buddhism was popularised, most began to revolve around religion so traditional craftsmanship is especially evident in the architecture of monasteries and opulent temples we encounter on the tour. However, local crafts are expressed in many forms, such as music, painting, sculpture or even cooking style. Highlights include: the dramaric Potala Palace and the Norbu Linka Palace; the palaces of the Dalai Lama, with many temples and rooms to explore; Sera Monastery, one of Lhasa's two great Gelugpa monasteries and The Jokhang Temple - the most revered religious structure in Tibet. At Kathmandu and some of the smaller villages we visit, there will be traditional and handcrafted souvenirs available for purchase. Buying jewellery, painted masks and puppets, prayer wheels, handwoven bags and tapestries all helps to support small vendors and their crafts.
Charity: After organising tours to the Himalayas for over 35 years, we have developed many long lasting partnerships with our operators, leaders as well as some of the local communities we visit. We seek ways to give something back and we usually help with small-scale practical projects that can help local communities and their environment, whilst giving the maximum possible long-term economic benefit. On top of providing fresh water, educational supplies and sustainable wood, we have introduced a number of larger projects. We have opened an orphanage in Kathmandu (Nava Kiran) and are now involved in funding education there. We have also installed 60 solar cookers across the Everest region and 28 smokeless stoves in Thulopatel Village. Smokeless stoves use less wood and protect those cooking from a range of health complaints caused by exposure to smoke.
Group Size: This small group tour has a maximum of 16 participants, meaning that we have a low impact on the environments and communities we visit and are able to ensure that we do not disrupt or lead to the displacement of local people. The small number also allows us to stay in unique, family-run hotels that cannot benefit from coach tours and other mass tourism due to their limited sizes.