What is a small group vacation?

Our guide to what you can expect

Small group travel is rather like having a friend in every city, village or farm you choose to visit. Someone who knows all the best cafes and restaurants – where the menus don’t have photos of the food, and all the seats are filled with locals.

It’s like having a companion who can translate for you, who can ensure you’re getting on the right train, who can take you out to meet her friends – and maybe even invite you round to meet her family. Small group travel is having a local “fixer” – someone who can find a way around a landslide, or a delayed flight, or a workers’ strike.

It’s knowing what time the street parades will whirl past, which dishes are really vegetarian, and which of the so-called “must-sees” are actually best bypassed – in favour of lesser-known treats and treasures.

Our small group cultural vacations reveal authentic local culture – not a version of it put on for tourists. Small group activity vacations are graded by ability and interest – and your fellow travelers will motivate you to try new experiences. Small group family trips mean your children aren’t stuck with boring grown ups – and leaders will know how to inspire and excite young minds.

The tour leader is the key to any small group vacation. They aren’t there to herd you around – but to plan, advise, assist and make sure that everything runs smoothly – meaning that even in the most exciting of destinations, you’ll be able to relax and let your trip unfold.

Read on to see why we think small group vacations are the best when it comes to big adventures – and why our travelers agree.

What are the main benefits?


Big experiences

Small group trips offer big, life-enriching experiences that would be impossible to organise without lots of time and insider knowledge – from walking the Great Wall of China to an overland tour of Africa.
"Wonderful guides, incredible access to the remotest regions and real people."
Dan Cobley, who cycled across East Africa


Make the most of your vacation time by letting someone else do the hard work and boring logistics – from booking hotel rooms to queuing for train tickets – and dealing with unusual menus.

Peace of mind

Small group tours take care of the security aspects – and provide a safety net should anything unexpected happen.
"Relax and enjoy the adventure. Even when I suffered from altitude sickness things were dealt with well and the schedule reorganised."
- Mike Sammons, who visited Bhutan

Cultural insights

You can’t possibly learn all the languages of Indochina – or read every menu in Mongolia. But your group leader and guide are there to break down the language barrier – and let you travel like a local, not an outsider.
"The amount of contact we had with local farmers and their families… Despite the language restrictions, using our guide we were able to communicate with them."
- Lynne Oakerbee, who walked the Great Wall of China

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.
"We had a wide age range but all got on very well and enjoyed the adventure with laughter and cocktails."
- Karin Barrett, who travelled around Cuba

Less confident travelers

Stray from the tourist trail without worrying about getting lost, and meet local people without dealing with the language barrier.
"The company meet me at Kathmandu airport and showed me around… All my transport and accommodation was organised, always with a friendly smile."
- Louise Young, Bhutan and Nepal

"The unexpected - the tour leader was flexible and a number of times we took unscheduled opportunities to see wildlife, talk to local people, find out about the election that was going on while we were there."
- Alison Cathles, Mongolia



"I won’t get any privacy!"

Couples and friends have private rooms, and you can choose to eat alone or not. Single supplements are usually available, giving solo travelers their own room – and space.

"There won’t be any free time"

Free mornings or afternoons let you explore on your own, or just relax. Your leader can recommend the best places to eat, drink, shop – or simply admire the view.
"Don't underestimate how tired you may become after a day's visiting archaeological sites; Christos realises this so there is sufficient free time built in."
- Julian Grubb, who took a Greece archaeology trip

"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.
"Making new friends and feeling welcome in the group."
- Murray Hendriksen describes the most memorable part of his extreme activity vacation in Nepal

"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.
Photo credits: Japanese menu Chelsea Marie Hicks
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Cristina Cerda]