Month: September 2014

When you don’t want to DIY: small group tours

I know what you’re thinking. You’re picturing one of those giant coaches where the doors open and disgorge a heaving mass of pale, bewildered humanity stumbling around blinking in the bright sunshine, waiting for their leader to hoist a small flag and escort them into the nearest tourist attraction.

Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

This is not that kind of tour. There are, at most 15 or 16 of you. You travel around in a small van, hardly conspicuous. Your fellow travelers have all been many places before, they could easily have organized this themselves, but sometimes with work and life and everything, it’s just easier to let someone else plan all the details. Sometimes they’re women traveling alone; in some parts of the world the easiest way to avoid hassle is to travel with a group so that makes the most sense.  Sometimes it’s just people who like to travel with others, but whose friends either cannot go when they can or aren’t really interested in going there. I’ve even been on one trip with a honeymooning couple.

View from inside a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw), Pushkar, Rajasthan, India

These kind of companies market trips of different styles: usually it’s a matter of trading cost for additional creature comforts. You might want to do one of their backpacker-style trips where you travel using public transportation in your 20s and the idea of sleeping with a goat on your lap on the bus makes you giggle. If you’re a little older, you might want a bit more creature comforts like a hot shower and a fancier hotel.

Palace at Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh, India

In my experience of about a half dozen of these trips the groups gel together in two different ways: either very well or fabulously. Seriously. I’m not sure if its just that people are on their best behavior or if something about who goes on these trips means that everyone has at least some amount of a similar world view but I’ve had some amazing groups, where people remain friends for years afterwards. It’s really pretty amazing.

I myself would probably not use one of these companies for a trip to Europe, just cause planning things there is so easy and I’ve been there so often, but for trips to Southeast Asia, South America or where you won’t have time to do much planning yourself, then it’s a great alternative.

Thali for lunch, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

I’ve also suggested that friends who have never traveled overseas alone use this as a stepping stone to that. You can sign up on your own, get assigned a roommate of the same gender, and you only have to pay half of the “per person double occupancy” cost (some trips have small single supplements if you become a forced single, in the case of no other singles of your gender signing up). It’s definitely a lot cheaper than going it alone would be, and easier if you’re just getting used to the idea.

These are the two companies I’ve done trips with in the past:

G Adventures




Storm at Saunders Island, the Falkland Islands.

I’ve been really busy the past couple of weeks with family visiting, work and doing a whole lot of captioning for my agent. As a result I haven’t had much time to write up anything. But while adding keywords to a bunch of images from the Falklands, I came across these images of a fierce wind and rain/sleet storm that came up out of nowhere while we were visiting Saunders Island. As the trip was just getting started, this was the first time most of us had experienced the insane changeability of the weather in the Southern Latitudes.

Out of nowhere, a giant cloud appeared and the wind strengthened considerably.

Falkland Islands. Saunders Island. Tourists walk towards a coming storm.

It began picking up the sand and whipping it against our waterproof pants.

Falkland Islands. Saunders Island. Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua)

You can see the haze here, which I think was equal parts water and sand.


Some penguins hustled up to the safety of the colony while others took one look at the wind and just went back into the ocean.


Needless to say, my camera’s sensor needed a good cleaning that night.