Thursday, May 31, 2012

Intrepid Travel's Classic Rajasthan Tour/I'm Not Too Proud for a Group Tour, Part 1

At this point in my life, I feel like I've traveled a few places. I feel completely comfortable planning my own trips with multiple destinations, hotels, and local tours and guides, etc.  If that's the case, I'm sure a few of you might be wondering why I decided to go on a group tour for part of my time in India.

Before getting into the whys, let me describe my experience with Intrepid Travel. For those of you not familiar with Intrepid, it's an Australia-based travel company that offers tours all over the world. They pride themselves on small group tours of no more than 12 people and trying to expose their customers to more local "off the beaten track" experiences. I have no interest in being on a large tour bus (nothing wrong with that. It's just not me), and I really was impressed by the company's stated commitment to local charities and causes. Intrepid seemed to fit my travel philosophy, so I picked them.

Walking through the streets of Jaipur. Jaipur is BUSY.


I picked Intrepid's Classic Rajasthan tour through the state of Rajasthan, one of India's largest and most traditional regions. My 15 day (more like 13 day) tour went to the following places:

Ranthambore National Park

I have to admit that Classic Rajasthan wasn't exactly my first choice tour, but I am glad I did it. In addition to the monsoon season that engulfs the country from June to about the end of September, April and May are NOT the easiest times to travel through India. Most of the country, with the exception of the mountain regions, is HOT. April and May are definitely the beginning of the low season for international travelers to India, and therefore many of the tours I wanted were not being offered. Based on my plans for this year, I decided to take my chances traveling to India in late April. Classic Rajasthan is one of Intrepid's most popular India itineraries and had numerous departure dates, so I felt like I would be going on an interesting tour that many other travelers had experienced and critiqued.

In Udaipur, near the banks of Lake Pichola

The tour could be a little whirlwind at times. At many of the places above, we were only there for a night, but I don't think we really needed to be in certain towns any longer than that. I liked that we had a mix of private cars, trains, jeeps and buses. We really got to see Rajasthan's countryside in depth that way.


We weren't in five star accommodations. Not even close (I'll blog about a five star hotel in Delhi though), but the hotels were were always clean, comfortable and often had wifi access, which I wasn't expecting.  Many of the hotels were called heritage properties, i.e, local historic homes and castles (yes, castles) that had been converted for use as hotels. One of the possible drawbacks of a group tour like this is that you don't pick where you stay. If that is of utmost importance to you, then find a company that provides that information up front.

My room at Castle Bijapur 

My Group

Because we were traveling in the off season, my group was tiny. There were only 5 of us. My four other trip mates were actually two Australian couples, one of which was on their honeymoon! Both couples were fairly well-traveled, curious and open people, and I felt very lucky to have been matched with such nice folks. I read another blog post describing this tour that stated that the blogger's group size was 18 people (more than Intrepid advertises). I'll talk more about that later in this post, but I was glad to avoid that. I was very nervous about who would be on the tour (you're spending 2 weeks with these people!), but we had a very nice time. I learned a lot about Australia, and I hope they learned some more about the U.S. I'll refer to them throughout my posts as Team Ozzie. :)  

Team Ozzie walking through Udaipur. You'll see their faces at some point.

Also I was expecting to be the oldest in the group, but I wasn't by a long shot. For some reason (maybe my American travel biases?), I thought that this style of travel wouldn't appeal to people older than me. One couple of Team Ozzie was in their late 40's/early 50's. Our tour leader, Pancham, said he once had someone in their 80's on one of his trips! According to some members of Team Ozzie, for whom this was their 4th Intrepid trip, they've traveled with a range of ages. I found that pretty refreshing.

[Confession: I was nervous about the group because I'd had a few bad travel group experiences with Australians before. I wasn't worried about me not liking them, but THEM not liking me. Luckily, the travel spirits were with me by giving me very nice travel partners, and I feel like my good travel karma was repaid on this trip. Much love to Team Ozzie!]

Our Tour Leader

I also feel like we lucked out with our tour leader, Pancham. He's born and raised in India but has traveled all over the world working on the Queen Elizabeth II prior to becoming a tour leader with Intrepid. He's super funny, knowledgable beyond belief, and I always felt like he cared about our experience during the trip. We all joked that he tended to crack the whip with the local staff, but I think he was concerned about the level of service our group received. I like to call Pancham a "Walking India Encyclopedia." He could identify wild birds, tell you about the preparation of an Indian dish, rattle off random facts about the Indian economy and Hinduism. Plus, he's super into food. Score! He never led us astray with his restaurant suggestions.


For those considering a group tour like Intrepid, I would think about the following things:

1. Are you traveling during the peak or off season for your destination? There are definitely pros and cons to both. It will affect everything from group size to the atmosphere of the locations you'll visit.

2. Confirm the maximum size of your group, if that's important to you. Size can matter. While my little traveling family of 5 was great, companies like Intrepid have sister companies, and groups may be consolidated together. 18 or 22 people isn't necessarily bad, but it may not be the small group experience you're looking for.

I'm not even sure where this. We drove through this town on the way to Bijapur. 

3.  Confirm that your guide is local. While I'm sure that a non-Indian/non-local guide would have been fine, I think it helped that Pancham was familar with local customs and food, speaks both Hindi and English fluently, and just knows what's up. I'm not saying that a non-Indian/non-local guide can't be helpful, but having someone who can communicate well and knew what was safe for us in a variety of situations made our trip easier.

4. If you're traveling solo, are you willing to pay a "single supplement"? One of the worst things about traveling solo on group or packaged tours is that companies will often charge you for being a single traveler. That makes no sense to me! You're taking up less space and resources. Intrepid gives you the option of paying a single supplement only if you would like to guarantee a private room for all or most of your trip. I paid the single supplement, and, in the end, I probably didn't need to because there were only 5 of us. That being said, I wasn't sure if other people would book after I did. I wanted my own room. I need a little alone time. :)

So that's a little background about the group tour portion of my trip. I'll get into WHY I chose the group tour route in another post.

Have you gone on a small or large group tour? What did you think about your experience, and would you do it again?

I am in no way working in partnership with Intrepid. This post isn't sponsored. I got nothing free from them. Yadda, yadda, yadda. 


April D. Thompson said...

So glad the trip worked out well. Never done a full tour like this, but it's definitely something I've considered, specially for a destination like India. I'm dying to visit, but the thought of starting to plan the trip is overwhelming.

BTW, love your disclosure statement. :-)

Erin said...

Great post! Covered a lot of interesting topics.

I admit that I did one of those bus tours in law school. I went to Italy with a friend for spring break. We only had 9 days and the bus tour was the easiest way for us get a taste of Italy without having to think too much.

The only other time I've done a group trip was our Galapagos cruise. We were also concerned it would be a lot of older people and/or not our "type" of people, which would be a drag because the ship was small and all the activities are done as a group. We totally lucked out (in part because it was off season!). The group was only 11 people, on a ship that could hold 30 passengers (plus crew). The other couples were also fairly well-traveled, had interesting jobs, and all-around normal people. It worked out really well and made the experience even more fun in some ways.

Unknown said...

This is a good post. I was thinking about doing a group tour to ease my way into travel before I go it alone. It's less intimidating that way, I suppose. I found a group tour for Africa that I've been looking into.

Dale Sheridan said...

Great post Terri. It's always good to hear fello travellers perspectives. Sounds like you lucked out having such amazing, wonderful and humorous Aussies on your tour ;)

Shermika said...

Wow! This looks like quite the trip lady. I imagine you had a great time. I wanna see some food now. I have never traveled with a tour company, but I will look into it next time. Always wanted to visit India. Love the quaint room.

Ekua said...

Haha I love the "I'm not too proud for a group tour" bit... neither am I! In a challenging place like India, I think it would be pretty sweet to have someone arranging transport and rooms for you. I did India on my own and while I appreciated it in a masochistic learning experience kind of way, I probably wouldn't want to do it that way again.

I've done one tour with Gap and one with Intrepid. Depending on where I was going (the Middle East for example), I'd do a tour again. The Intrepid one was to Cuba which is a more challenging place to travel too. I did it in the off season and got a huge discount and had decent sized group of 7 (mostly Aussies, but only one couple) that meshed pretty well for the most part. With the Gap tour in SE Asia, I had the experience of feeling rushed in places and the group had a couple people I clicked with but it was huge range of ages and personalities that didn't always go together. Overall, each tour had it's ups downs but it's nice to have things taken care of sometimes...

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