Surviving Your First Small Group Tour
Your first adventure tour is an exciting thing, especially if it’s to a place you have always wanted to go. Travelling solo or with someone you know, in amongst the excitement, if you’ve never been on a small group adventure tour there may be some hesitations and questions. Here are my tips to survive your first small group tour.
My top tip for pretty much any type of travel but especially tours that spend no more than a couple of nights in any one destination is to pack light. My luggage now rarely weights more than 15kg and normally hovers around 11kg, particularly if I take my rucksack and not a suitcase.
You don’t want to be wheeling 20kg-25kg cases around beautiful looking cobbled streets; your wheels won’t last the trip. Remember some accommodation options may not have a lift and cases are unwieldy when you’re put on a high floor like I was in Cuzco, wheezing my way up and down between floors like an asthmatic goat.
Pack for the worst but hope for the best! Its better to have something and not need it than need something and not have it. If you’re packing light you need to make better use of the clothes you take. Instead of a pair of shorts and a pair of trousers invest in a pair of zip off bottoms that convert to shorts in seconds. You’ll save space and weight and will be ready at a moments notice.
Make sure you include at least 1 lightweight waterproof layer. If you’re visiting the tropics, remember 6 months of the year are wet but even in dry months the odd afternoon downpour isn’t uncommon. The layers you pack should depend on the type of tour you are on. If you know you’re going somewhere the temperature can drop, pack more than 1 lightweight sweat top. If you’re going to warmer climates take at least 1 long sleeve top just in case of rain or persistent mosquitoes.
My go to brand for travel clothing is Craghoppers. I find their products great value and very durable in every situation I’ve found myself in. Security is becoming increasingly important and the zipped pockets in their Kiwi line of shorts and trousers offer a multitude of zipped pockets to keep everything safe from prying hands.
Don’t Worry About Not Having Enough
There was a time that I wanted to take a different top with me for every night of my vacation but that has long since passed. Its just not physically possible to take that much away when you’re travelling for a month at a time. Nowadays I pack for a week and use local laundry services when possible. I have no problem wearing the same top a couple of times in the evening. If a top gets particularly sweaty in the day, I will use it as my go to beach option that’s only going to get covered in sand anyway.
Don’t Worry About Not Getting Along With Everyone
Sometimes peoples biggest worry is who they will be travelling with. In all my experience of small group adventure touring I haven’t once had a problem with anyone in any of the groups I’ve travelled with. That isn’t to say it doesn’t happen though but with between 10-16 people generally on a small group tour I would be surprised that you would find a few people you get along great with. Some people are more private than others but if you want to eat out as a group or on your own it’s not a problem. If you want to venture out solo your guide will usually suggest the best places in town anyway. Respect people’s privacy, if they want to eat out alone, let them. Everyone needs some personal space occasionally, especially on longer tours.
Double Check The Essentials, You Can Buy The Rest
Stop fretting when it comes time to pack! As long as you have 4 essentials you’re good to go. What ever you forget you can buy the rest when you’re there. Obviously, you’re not going to be going anywhere without your passport and depending on destination you may also need a visa like I did for India and Tanzania. It is down to you not your travel company to make sure about this so double check your country’s travel website 2 months out. Likewise with inoculations. Some of these need to be administered in doses up to 6 weeks before travel; get an appointment with your travel nurse if your unsure.
Lastly, you’re not going to be buying anything without any money so make sure you’ve got the currency, travel card and a backup in your hand luggage and good to go.
That’s it, you’re fit for travel! Sit back relax, and enjoy the flight. Anything else you forgot to pack along with the beach towel, swimming trunks and change of clothes is only a short shopping trip away or your fellow travellers will oftentimes let you borrow what you forgot or take a couple of their Imodium tablets for that dodgy fish curry you had the other night.
Do you still buy travellers cheques? Nowadays, especially in South and Central America and Africa it can be almost impossible to exchange them not to mention time consuming. Instead of travellers cheques use a travel money card.
Many banks charge extortionate fees to use your debit or credit card abroad but with specialist travel money cards such as the one i use from Caxton FX, you can slash the costs. Some operators charge when you take money out of a cash machine (Caxton and many others now don’t but they do still exist with some operators) or when you load more money onto the card. Make sure you know the charges you’ll be paying before you sign up. They’re also really handy for buying goods online in a different currency to avoid your non standard currency bank fees. Don’t solely rely on them though as currency acceptance can be sketchy in places while some remote villages don’t have an ATM.
In the same vein, make sure your banks know you’re away so if they see some curious activity on their list they won’t instantly block your card like mine was while I was in the middle of the Amazon Forest in 2009. If possible make a non travelling family member an authority on your account to save long international phone calls and associated bills. Remember freephone numbers while you are abroad are not free!
Have a backup!
Never carry your passport around with you! Always take either a colour photocopy or a scanned copy on your phone. Likewise leave a copy of your passport details at home with a family member in case the unthinkable happens and it gets lost or stolen. Embassy’s are they’re to help us in this time of need but access to one could be days away from where you’re staying.
Your mobile will oftentimes be your only form of communication while you’re away but if you drop it in the sea or down the loo after a drunken night out, what happens? You can try and get someone made an authority for small things on your account but you will also need another form of communication. I always travel with either my iPad or my MacBook Air so I can use wifi to contact anyone while I’m in a covered area. Getting a replacement sim though will generally require an expensive phone call. Remember if your phone is stolen your contract with the mobile carrier states you must inform them as soon as possible to when you find out. That doesn’t mean waiting until you get a replacement phone or get home. You will be liable for any charges racked up until you inform them to put a bar on your line.
You should have a backup for your money too, I always take a little cash with me but also my debit card for emergencies and credit card to leave with any hotels as a deposit if required. Never use a travel money card for this because it will block your funds until you leave.
Travelling smart these day will also include downloading any apps you may need. If I’m on an adventure tour I download the company’s app which usually has some useful info on the itinerary and contact details. My bank app allows me to make sure everything is fine even if I’m in the middle of the jungle or sitting on the beach. The Caxton app works very well for adding money to my card or checking my balance and PIN number before I withdraw any money.
Uber (and/or Lyft in the US) is great for a cheaper way of getting around than regular taxi plus I can pay through PayPal leaving more cash in my pocket in resort. Sometimes there are destination specific apps that make planning my time away easier. It all comes down to the pre planning.
5 Everyday Items Everyone Forgets
A Pen – Crossing borders involves a lot of form filling and paperwork. Make it easier on yourself by keeping a pen to hand.
Toilet Paper – Depending on how far off the beaten track you are a travel sized roll of toilet tissue will come in very handy in times of need. Especially when on hikes or climbing mountains but remember it’s always good to have a plan B no matter where you travel but especially around parts of south and Central America and Africa.
A Torch – Electricity is taken for granted in most parts of the world but that may not be the case for where you’re travelling to. On some tours it is necessary such as climbing Kilimanjaro, trekking the Inca Trail in Peru or the equivalent trek on the east coast, the Lost City trek in Colombia. No matter where you’re going don’t take the power supply for granted.
Filter Water Bottle – Even wealthy countries are realising the issue we have as a planet with plastic water bottles. More and more operators are forming ways to combat this by refilling bottles. If you take a carbon filter bottle such as the one I use from Water To Go you can refill from any fresh water source without worry because the carbon filter cleans the water as you drink.
Don’t Forget To Keep In Touch
Don’t leave it until the end of the tour to connect with everybody on social media. Facebooks greatest asset is the ease of which we can connect with each other. Get friending other people in your group and vice versa. Sometimes your tour leader will set up a private Facebook or Whatsapp group for you all to share photos. Remember though that the images are compressed. If people want to swap full resolution images with me I use a website called We Transfer which lets me send as many files as I want up to a total 2GB at a time for free. Want to send more than 2GB? Just send more than one email. All the recipients have to do is click the link in their email. Another popular option if you have an account is Dropbox, iCloud if you’re all on Mac’s, or any other number of file sharing websites set up to compete against Dropbox and Microsoft.
Last but certainly not least don’t forget to take a step back from the photography at times and just enjoy being in the moment! You’ll be making memories that’ll last a lifetime.