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
As well as taking care of all the day-to-day practicalities, your group leader is the one who will turn your trip into an adventure. Leaders are extraordinary characters – the kind of person who has spent 14 Christmas days on the slopes of Mount Everest, runs marathons wearing tiger suits to raise funds for their conservation and thinks nothing of leading an overland trip in Sudan or Afghanistan. Fearless and inspiring, group leaders are as important as the destination itself.
Meet a local guide
No matter how experienced your group leader, they can never make up for the knowledge gained from a lifetime in the destination. That’s why many of our trips work with local guides around the world – who invite you into their homeland with pleasure. As well as doing crazy things like climbing Kilimanjaro 100 times, they also donate their time to local projects supported by travellers – such as rebuilding Sri Lankan villages following the 2004 tsunami.
Responsible tourism: Sailing holiday in British Columbia, Canada
Operating a sailing vessel brings a number of challenges from an environmental impact point of view, which we try to minimize through refuse management practices that are the focus of many discussions on-board, on land and at the office. We recycle glass and tin along the coast, in the small communities we work out of. Tin, glass and cardboard in some cases require us to hop in a cab because the recycling facility is outside of town. Oil recycling is imperative and responsible disposal is essential.
For plastics, this is more difficult, when attempts are made to measure how the carbon footprint created by hauling plastics back to port compares to flying them back from the outermost regions we work in, where there is just no economy of scale for recycling plastics. Paper is a major issue. We find that burning paper along the ocean shores at low tide is a better choice than adding to very small landfill sites on remote islands. The tide washes it up in the next cycle.
We also compost out in deeper water. There are all sorts of marine organisms like crabs that are detritus feeders. Some of the organic matter, like orange peels, will float, so we avoid composting those in places that are more densely populated like the Gulf Islands.
All the lights on-board are 12-Volt, so they run off the batteries. We don’t have incandescent lights; everything is compact fluorescent. The efficiency of our conventional power train is enhanced by the shape of sailing vessels which are slender and foster easier movement through the water than more blunt hulls.
In all Canadian areas that are part of First Nations territory, we work collaboratively with them. In the Great Bear Rainforest—the most tangible example—we signed protocol agreements with two First Nations that carry 90% of our operating area. Hartley Bay’s Gitga’at people is one; and the Kitasoo Native Band at Klemtu is the other. Our activities generate $10 per person per night as a fee that is paid for the use of their territory. It is our recognition of their historic rights. We are committed to hiring local guides. At Hartley Bay, on all of our Great Bear Rainforest trips, we will spend a day with a guide hired through the Gitga’at development corporation. Typically, that is a Spirit bear-focused experience.
We are committed to buying our food for the trips in local communities, despite this being at times a challenge for our cooks, because supplies are not as dependable and more menu flexibility is required as a result.
There are 4 crew members, the captain, the chef, our resource person who is typically a biologist, and then our mate who assists the others, runs the zodiacs, assists with the kayaks and sails. We have an on-going wildlife log so all significant sightings are catalogued. We are travelling in parts of the coast that researchers seldom get to. For 20 years, we have been doing marine mammal sightings in conjunction with the Vancouver Aquarium and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo.