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: Singalila Ridge trekking vacation in India
Activity: Few vacations have as little detrimental impact on the environment and local residents as a trekking trip. Erosion on and adjacent to popular paths is a growing problem in certain places and therefore our trip leaders encourage clients to stick to advised routes in order to minimise this. We do believe in leaving no more than footprints, although this tour actively encourages guests to talk to local people, and use local businesses in order to leave behind a positive cultural exchange. Also in visiting cultural sites and National Parks (such as Singalila), our fees and donations contribute to the upkeep of these places.
Water: Water is a really important issue with trekking trips and whilst we must stay hydrated, it is also vital that we have a system for providing clean water without causing lots of waste with plastic bottles. Lack of recycling is already a massive problem in India so we suggest that instead of repeatedly buying bottled water, guests should re-fill a singular bottle. You will be provided with boiled drinking water on trek but it is also advisable to bring purification tablets/liquid such as Biox Aqua to treat water. Burnable rubbish will be burnt on trek and we ask each trekker to keep a rubbish bag for non-burnable rubbish to take back to Calcutta or UK.
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 7 nights in hotels, 5 nights in full-service camping, 1 night in a lodge and 1 on a sleeper train. You will find that the vast majority (if not all) of the staff are local people and that the hotels are locally run. In Gangtok, for example, we stay at the Netuk House Hotel, which is a traditional Sikkimese family house, now run as a small hotel with splendid food and traditional service. We find that avoiding chains is an effective way of having a more positive effect on local economy. All grocery and other items used during treks are purchased from local shops only in Darjeeling.
Local Craft and Culture: Despite spending most of this trip trekking, there are still plenty of cultural activities on the itinerary. We visit a number of markets, monasteries and even have a chance to ride the infamous ‘toy train’ to Ghoom. Darjeeling has a particularly popular market and plenty of small eating and craft stalls where clients can get an insight into daily life of locals and spread their money to local people. There are also Tibetan refugee shops here which clients are encouraged to use to by handicrafts and souvenirs. In Gangtok, there are Sikkim tribal handmade items on sale and tourism is an important avenue of income here, whilst also keeping up traditional methods of production.
Charity: We make charitable donations to causes selected and appointed by the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO). This governing body ensure that charities are legitimate and that contributions are used judiciously. In the past we have contributed to a number of projects such as the 2013 flood relief in the Garwahl Himalayas, building up schools in remote villages and Red Cross initiatives in the country. We also abide by the eco code of conduct set out by the IATO which sets out guidelines for prevention of deforestation, recycling, protection of natural environment and respect for local culture and customs.
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.