From millennials to baby boomers, individuals to families, the new age of group travel offers something for everyone.
Sometimes, planning your next vacation is half the fun: Finding the perfect hotel, researching restaurants and dreaming up day trips can get the imagination swirling with possibilities. Other times, though, it can be a relief to outsource some of that legwork. Throw in the possibility of meeting new friends along the way, and it may be time to reconsider group travel.
A backpacker in Ponderosa Canyon in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo courtesy of Intrepid Travel
Broadly defined as a group of people traveling together on the same itinerary, group travel can often result in lower costs due to negotiated rates. Today, there are more group travel services offering a larger variety of trips than ever before. Are you a baby boomer couple looking to fill a month of retirement with a tour of American highlights? A solo traveler who’s always wanted to bike your way through wine country in the Napa Valley? Maybe your family is looking for a guided budget trip to the Grand Canyon. Today, with seemingly limitless group travel options easily researchable online, you can bet that there are trips out there to meet your needs.
One of the biggest trends in modern group travel is “small group.” While a longstanding criticism of the travel genre has been that it can sometimes feel like a senior class trip for adults, today many services offer small-sized tour groups. Not only do scaled-down tour sizes allow you to get to know the people you’re traveling with better, they also help travelers receive more individual attention from personnel such as tour guides.
A stunning Alaska sky. Photo courtesy of Intrepid Travel
For example, Melbourne-based Intrepid Travel has been a pioneer in the small group trend over its three decades of existence. Its group tours, on average, consist of no more than 10 people. “These tours are small enough to feel like you’re exploring a destination independently, but big enough to create a good social environment,” says Leigh Barnes, regional director, North America, for Intrepid. Other major operators cap groups at 16 or 20 participants – so do your research and put thought into what feels right to you!
There is a level of stress that a group trip eliminates. You just have to show up, and everything else is taken care of.
Along with smaller groupings, a diversity of offerings is the defining characteristic of contemporary group travel. If you’re the active and adventurous type, there’s a wide array of quality outdoor specialists, from Outward Bound to REI, whose trips are based on biking, hiking, kayaking and cross-country skiing across destinations near and far. If your idea of a vacation is still adventurous but with the dial turned down a bit, there are plenty of services that cater to you as well. In fact, walking trips are a particularly fast-growing segment of the industry. Such is the case at active travel standout Backroads, which upped its catalog in 2017 to include more than 70 walking trips alone. After all, no matter how adventurous you are, can anyone argue that it’s hard to beat a leisurely strolling tour of, say, the northern California Coast for a bit of active R&R?
Increasingly, however, finding the right operator isn’t the only way to customize your trip. While some group travel continues to lean toward the structured side, many tours now offer a flexible framework for travelers that allows them freedom to choose specific activities. This capacity for personalization is especially important with active trips, where adventure, as well as skill and fitness levels, between travelers can vary substantially.
Rafting in the Canadian Rockies. Photo courtesy of Backroads / Rachel London
Indeed, one reason cited by many fans of group travel as a major driver for return service with providers is the ability to make the trip exactly what they want it to be. Still, it’s worth remembering that, whether you’re looking to climb a peak or walk a beach, opening yourself up to new experiences is an important part of the journey. “The great thing about my first trip was that it allowed me to do things I never would have in my everyday life,” says Aaron Ross, a group travel veteran from Atlanta who participated in his first mountaineering experience over a decade ago. “It really made me confront the unknown.”
Standup paddleboarding in Alaska.Photo courtesy of Thomson Family Adventures
Remember, although it’s called group travel, you don’t need to have a group to join the group. Parties of one are on the rise, with some major services reporting that up to 50 percent of their travelers are “solos.” Although some companies charge an additional fee if you’re going it alone, many won’t add a surcharge if you’re willing to share a room with another traveler. And trips often have at least a handful of solo travelers – so even if you set out by yourself, you most likely won’t be the only one in your group to do so. If you’d rather find a new pal before your trip starts, though, online sites like TravBuddy, Lonely Planet and Travellerspoint offer a whole new way to meet fellow explorers in the digital age.
When you start thinking about your next vacation, you may want to consider group travel as a way to cut out a bit of legwork, make new friends, and, as is always one of the beautiful things about exploring new places, seeing things from a slightly different perspective.
Grand Canyon National Park. Photo courtesy of Geckos Adventures
Sightseeing in Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy of CostSaver