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, traveling 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 vacation, 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 travelers’ 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 vacation 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?
Travelers 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 vacation.
Solo travelers who’d like company
Likeminded travel companions plus peace of mind for those traveling alone. Single supplements are usually available – providing privacy if you want it.
Less confident travelers
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 travelers 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 travelers!”
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 travelers 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: The Silk Road small group tour
Accommodation and Meals: We spend 12 nights in a hotel, 1 night in a traditional yurt camp and 1 night on a sleeper train. All of our accommodation is predominantly locally owned and staffed, which is beneficial to surrounding communities. The yurt camp in the Jety Oguz gorge is also run by local people and uses very little electricity and water, so this is a reduction to our overall impact on the environment. Where meals are provided, fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are sourced at local farms and markets. Train-travel has long been a popular way of traveling around the ex-Soviet Union and so this is also a great experience and insight into a different side of Uzbek life. Where meals are provided, ingredients are locally sourced and free mealtimes are a great opportunity to support local cafes, restaurants and markets by trying some authentic cuisine. The market in Bukhara specialises in dried fruit, whilst in Kashgar there are several vendors selling dishes from homemade ice-cream, to roast lamb and steamed buns.
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.
Local Craft and Culture: In Kyrgyzstan we stop for lunch at a woman's association attached to a shop which sells traditional felt rugs and other crafts made by local women from surrounding villages. There is also the opportunity to experience local Dungan and Kyrgyz folklore (song, dance and poetry) organised by local teen-agers and to meet a local hunter who uses a Golden eagle. In China there are visits to earthenware workshops run by local families and to crafts-streets, where local tradespeople (bakers, blacksmiths, ironmongers, ice-cream makers, basket makers etc.) make and sell their wares. Whilst in Fergana, Uzbekistan, there is a visit to a local ceramic workshop and a local silk factory. Throughout the journey there are also opportunities to eat dinner with local families in their homes which might be the most valuable cultural experience on offer. The group can sample local, home-cooked food and learn about Uzbek, Dungan, Kazakh and Kyrgyz families and their different cultures.
A Fair Deal: We work closely with our local operator to run this trip in a way that aims to reduce impacts and to give as much back as possible to the local communities. Part of this is employing local leaders, who are committed to responsible tourism and helping to preserve the way of life in their area. The leaders will give a briefing on responsible tourism issues to help you understand how you can help reduce your impact and maximise the benefits to the local community from your visit.
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.
Reviews of The Silk Road small group tour
You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the vacations.
I am reborn! Simply the best vacation I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
It was OK
A bit disappointing really
Reviewed on 11 Aug 2015 by Gillian Urro
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?
The livestock market at Kashgar.
2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?
It was very hot throughout, so take loose, cool clothing.
3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
Supported local people by eating in some homes.
4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?
It was very interesting, with an insight into post Russian life. The scenery in Kyrgyzstan was spectacular. The only downside was the guide in China was poor and we didn't spend enough time in the market.