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: Mongolia cycling vacation
Accommodation and Meals: We spend nine nights camping in the wild, two nights in comfortable hotels, two in traditional Mongolian gers and one on a sleeper train. All accommodation is locally owned and run, which has a positive on the economy and community by increasing employment alternatives in the area. By spending the majority of the trip wild camping, we significantly reduce our carbon footprint for the trip. We also operate on a ‘leave no trace’ basis, which involves disposing of waste at major towns and Ulaanbaatar, rather than leaving rubbish where we set up camp. Fresh, locally sourced ingredients are used wherever possible where meals are provided. Chefs are often able to produce some delicious Mongolian specialties for clients as well, like ‘Tsuvian’- pasta served with vegetables and strips of meat, or ‘Buuz’- steamed dumplings stuffed with meat.
Activity: As a cycling vacation, this trip has very limited detrimental impact upon the environment, residents and communities in the regions we visit. Use of the bikes allows us to cover fairly large distances, while offering very little adverse impact, like pollution and threat to wildlife. Cycling also allows for easy access to the local population, shops and restaurants, which facilitates cultural exploration. By hiring our bikes locally, we also give our business to the rental company, which is beneficial for the community. Through this activity, we are able to raise local awareness for a kind of tourism which refuses to sacrifice the environment and real connections with people for 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.
Local Craft and Culture: Although much of the tour is spent cycling through the fairly remote steppe, there are opportunities to become accustomed with local culture throughout. At the beginning of the trip, clients take an introductory tour of Ulaanbaatar, including Sukhbaatar Square and Gandan Monastery. We also visit the 16th century Erdene Zuu monastery, which is the largest and most famous in Mongolia. Handicrafts are available widely in the larger cities and typically include colourful leather boots, embroidered textiles, decorated flagons and carved wooden items. Buying traditional crafts is encouraged as this is a means of supporting the community and, in some cases, of keeping customs alive. However, guides will be careful to point out that some souvenirs on offer can be damaging to the environment or wildlife- like the horns of argali sheep or snow leopard pelts.
Charity: Our local operator has been supporting the Lotus Children’s Centre in Mongolia. The organisation is a small NGO that acts as a home and school for about 80 vulnerable children. Our operators have donated bicycles, computers, and used camping equipment to facilitate the children’s education and play time. On occasion they have even provided employment for older children who were struggling to find a secure job.
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 Mongolia cycling vacation
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 23 Jul 2013 by Monica Holland
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?
Two things: Seeing the Naadam festival. The friendliness and competence of the local staff - two drivers and two cooks. They will remain in my affections forever.
2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?
Take a lavalava. It makes an emergency tent when the hot sun is beating down on your head, it can be a towel, a bathrobe, a shoulder covering for temples, a modesty screen when having a public pee stop. Never travel without your lavalava.
3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
I couldn't say. I sought out a fair trade shop myself to buy my souvenirs.
4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?
We had a number of grumblers in our group who made the tour leader wary and distant at times. This made it hard for the rest of us. When he realised not all of us were in the 'grumble camp', he was a lot more friendly and communicative to us. We also had a cyclist fall off and break her arm. She had to be evacuated out - another sobering effect on the trip. Hence my 'very enjoyable' rating below.