Small-group tour companies provide the kind of insider knowledge that’s virtually unavailable to individual travelers. They can advise you on what to pack before you leave and guide you through the nuances of language, culture, and customs once you’re there.
Insider access. Expert guides. Compatible travel companions. These attributes and more make small-group travel so special and memorable. Among small-tour operators, Austin Adventures, Country Walkers, VBT, and CW Safaris all stand out for their personalized service and curated adventure trips that offer experiences of a lifetime.
Here are the benefits of traveling with a small-group tour outfitter. Happy trails!
Start with planning your trip. Travelers typically visit a whopping 38 websites before booking a vacation. And when it’s a complicated multi-day tour in a foreign destination, it can take hours of research, decision-making, and booking. A tour company takes care of all of that by developing an itinerary carefully crafted by knowledgeable experts, which includes all the transportation, accommodations, meals, and activities.
You’ll also save time on the ground with a small group — which typically doesn’t exceed 12 guests — vs. a large one. With fewer people, there’s less time waiting around, checking into your hotel, and boarding buses — leaving more time to enjoy the destination. And you’ll also benefit from the flexibility that only a small group allows. Want to linger in that cute café for the afternoon? Or peel off for an early morning photo shoot on your own? That’s easier to accommodate with fewer people.
Small-group tour companies provide the kind of insider knowledge that’s virtually unavailable to individual travelers. They can advise you on what to pack before you leave and guide you through the nuances of language, culture, and customs once you’re there. With their local expertise, they handle such complicated issues as visas, difficult access, or challenging logistics, leaving you stress-free.
Most importantly, they offer unique — even life-changing — experiences you can’t duplicate on your own, all under the careful supervision of passionate guides. They know the best hiking paths, the secret viewing spots, the most authentic restaurants, and the bars where the locals hang out. For example, rafting the Yellowstone River, hiking amid the Spanish Peaks, and horseback riding with genuine cowboys in Big Sky Country would be hard to pull off without Austin Adventures coordinating it all. Or learning about local culture through home-hosted meals and olive-oil tastings on a biking trip in Puglia, Italy, would be challenging without the expertise of VBT. Or try going off the beaten path to visit with Namibia’s Himba people, walk with Tanzania’s last hunter-gatherers, or visit a school supported by sustainable tourism in Rwanda without CW Safaris.
What’s more, the guides educate you as you go: They identify exotic wildlife and plants on a hike or safari, unusual produce in the market, regional specialties in a restaurant. This immeasurably enriches your experience. And because they know the terrain so well, they can find good alternatives when the weather doesn’t cooperate or handle an emergency with efficiency and calm.
Small groups allow you to see places impractical for larger groups, such as intimate, less touristy restaurants or cafes. You can slip in and out of venues relatively unnoticed, rather than arriving en masse in a huge bus. You don’t have such an impact on the places you visit, as you blend in more.
In some cases, small groups have access to areas that are restricted to larger groups, allowing you to immerse yourself in a venue — away from the jostling masses. When you’re less removed from your surroundings, you develop a deeper cultural understanding or a unique perspective. You can meet the locals — farmers, artisans, or shopkeepers — and experience their way of life, up close and personal.
For example, you can visit the homes of the locals at Rag Lai Village in Vietnam
with Austin Adventures’ “Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh to Halong Bay” tour. Or connect with a yamabushi priest to learn about his often-misunderstood Shugendō sect and get to know the strict training of geishas first-hand during the “Japan: Kyoto, Nara & the Humano Kodo” tour from Country Walkers. Or hunt for truffles with a trifolao and his dog on VBT’s “Cycling Piedmont: Into Italy’s Slow Food Farmland.”
Nobody wants to be another face in the crowd. When you travel with a small group, you have a much more personal relationship with your guide. Your tour leader gets to know you and can more easily accommodate individual needs as you go. Have a special diet? No problem. Need help translating or bargaining? Sure thing. Want more information on an attraction? Happy to help.
One of the best things about traveling with a small group vs. on your own is the ability to share it with like-minded people who often become lifelong friends. Whether you’re exploring the Costa Rican rainforest with VBT, spotting the Big Five in Africa with CW Safaris, or witnessing the sunrise at Machu Picchu with Austin Adventures, there’s a special camaraderie that develops with people who have chosen the same itinerary. And there’s nothing like experiencing a physical activity together — from biking the Tuscan hills to hiking the Grand Canyon — to really bond with someone.
Plus, you gain unique perspectives from guests with varied backgrounds — perhaps insight into a work of art from a museum curator or special knowledge from a history professor. You might even pick up a tip or two, such as photography from a semi-pro or advice on the best travel gear.
Great for Solos
Small-group travel is perfect for single travelers. Not only does it provide ready-made travel companions with similar interests to share the experience, but it also minimizes any sense of loneliness. You never have to eat alone at a restaurant or sit by yourself at a pub. And for single women, in particular, it offers the comfort and security of being in a group.
Some tour companies make an effort to attract singles. VBT, for example, offers a low single-room supplement for its solo tours and Country Walkers is waiving its single supplements on its most popular Guided Walking Adventures in 2017.
More Lodging Options
Do you enjoy staying in boutique hotels, B&Bs, and other unique small lodgings? Smaller groups can use a wider range of accommodations unavailable to large groups, which must rely on big chain hotels. Such smaller, individually owned lodgings often reflect the local character better, providing a stronger sense of place.
Finally, a small-group tour offers the benefits of a privately guided one but at a much lower price. Because you’re sharing the costs with a few other people, you can enjoy personalized service far more affordably. And who doesn’t appreciate that!
For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.
For more information on Austin Adventures, visit austinadventures.com or call 800-757-1540. A leader in national park and active vacations for both families and adults, Austin Adventures has been recognized as one of Travel + Leisure's World's Best Tour Operators multiple times. It offers tours to 80 destinations spanning all seven continents.
For more information on Country Walkers, visit countrywalkers.com or call 800.234.6900. For more than 37 years, Country Walkers has provided active and immersive travel experiences on five continents. They offer two distinct ways to explore: scheduled, small-group guided walking adventures and independent self-guided walking adventures.
For more information on CW Safaris, visit cwsafaris.com or call 888-483-7696. CW Safaris crafts active and immersive adventures to Africa. Created by Country Walkers, they draw on the company’s 37 years of expertise in active travel to offer six handcrafted itineraries throughout southern and eastern Africa.
For more information on VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations, visit vbt.com or call 800-245-3868. VBT is the value leader in active biking vacations and has been rated among the “World’s Best Tour Operators” by the readers of Travel + Leisure for six years. VBT offers more than 55 deluxe, small group bicycling, walking, and barge and bike vacations in 26 different countries and 11 U.S. States.