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: China holiday, discover imperial China
Accommodation and Meals: On this trip we spend 11 nights in hotels, 3 nights on a cruise boat with and 1 night on a first class sleeper train. All of the hotels we use are locally owned and locally staffed, which is way of boosting employment levels in the areas we visit. We also try to select accommodation for environmental awareness, which is still in its infancy in China. For example, the hotel in Beijing encourages clients switch off lights with signs, has optional daily linen changing and air-con is only turned on when temperatures hit 26 degrees outside. Where meals are not supplied, tour leaders will take clients to locally owned restaurants where food is authentic and either locally grown or sourced.
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.
Community: Often people can experience quite a culture shock when travelling in China, so our local guides are always keen help clients understand local culture better and to connect more genuinely with local communities. Part of this cultural exchange and support of community is made by visiting small businesses throughout the trip. There are several occasions where guests are encouraged to do this- for example, in the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an, there are bazaars and food markets where it is possible to support local producers and even see crafts and food made (dumplings, pancakes, fruit drinks etc.).
Local Craft and Culture: There is so much on offer in terms of culture on this trip. Just to name a few activities, we see the Great Wall and Forbidden City in Beijing, the Great Mosque and Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an and the Leshan Buddha. We even offer optional activities where you can see the opera, an acrobat show or take a kung fu or cooking lesson! Crafts are available throughout the trip and there are some wonderful, traditionally made souvenirs available- especially in Yangshuo. Leaders will be able to advise where the best places to shop are and what should be avoided e.g. traditional medicine made from endangered animals.
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.
1 Reviews of China holiday, discover imperial China
1 out of 5 stars
Reviewed on 29 May 2014 by Penelope Parker
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
Visiting the Panda Breading centre and watching a panda mum and baby 'playing' together. Then watching the baby slipping off the platform and mum rolling over to join her baby on the ground. So special.
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
Be prepared to carry your luggage, particularly at the train stations. The coach is often not able to park close to the station, so you have to carry your luggage across busy streets and negotiate steps and escalators that aren't working!!! Be prepared for very unsanitary toilets on the overnight trains.
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
Yes, to the detriment of my enjoyment.
4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
Although I enjoyed the holiday and it was a great experience, I found it very challenging and not at all relaxing. I felt I was always on the move and there was not enough time to really enjoy the experiences. Often mealtimes were rushed and the train journeys were a test of endurance. I understand they were to reduce environmental impact by avoiding flights, but...were they really necessary? One arrived 5 hours late, which impacted on the rest of our days itinerary.
Read the operator's response here:
Dear Penelope Firstly thank you for taking the time to review your recent holiday with us, we of course value all feedback and input from our clients. I am sorry that you felt that this particular itinerary and style of travel was not suitable and in fact was detrimental to your enjoyment of the trip. We have received fantastic feedback on this trip which we have been operating for over a decade and in fact have altered the itinerary to make it less rushed in recent years.
The very nature of China means it is very difficult to travel and reduce ones impact without flying but we have tried to go down this path. Whilst train travel and all the associated changes can I agree be stressful many clients seem to enjoy it. I am pleased that some aspects of the trip you really enjoyed like the Panda center which is very special and that whilst not being the relaxing experience you envisioned you have fond memories of your trip .