This summer I did something I haven’t done in quite a few years. Instead of being the usual googling and research guru I pride myself in being, I decided to be lazy for my trip to the Balkans, and join up with a group tour where all of the logistics and details were taken care of.Though the lazy side of me was excited, the side of me that is accustomed to researching every detail and creating an itinerary that suits my whims was nervous. This was my first trip with Intrepid Travel, a tour company I first heard of through Nomadic Matt, and I decided if a travel expert like Matt recommended it I should certainly check it out.
When I say I didn’t look anything up for this trip I can’t stress enough how little I knew about these places. I hadn’t even done a google image search which is like the absolute lowliest amount of general knowledge that it’s possible to have. This made me concerned my travel mates would discover my ignorance and then recite the history of the Balkans in tremendous History Channel worthy detail as I asked questions like exactly how do you pronounce the word Herzegovina.
Meeting up with your travel mates for a group trip is always an exhilarating moment as you’ll be spending the next 10 days and nights in each other’s company. My past experience in a group tour with EF College Break was mixed, and I feared the loathsome conversations where tour mates brag about their travel exploits or partake in the dreaded one-up-man ship of who’s visited more countries. But, as we met in the hotel lobby, and after only a few minutes, I breathed a rather audible sigh of relief. A solid group. My group was diverse and a great combination, and kicked off the start to a great trip. I’ll get more into the details of my tour later, but for now I’m going to dive into my top reasons for choosing Intrepid and why I completely recommend them to anyone considering a tour group whether due to laziness, or planning ability.
If you’ve ever taken a trip on a bus with 90 other tourists you know that this can scare anyone away from any type of organized tour. The intrepid tour groups are limited in size, and you can see the maximum number of people per tour before signing up. My trip ended up being a group of 12 and it was big enough where there was always someone you could pair off with for an activity, but small enough that group dinners felt intimate and you really had a chance to get to know everyone. To me this is perhaps the most important quality because you just can’t like 90 people at one time.
Intrepid guides are locals in the areas tours are led, which means they haven’t just memorized the top 10 facts about the place. In the Bosnia and Serbia it was especially interesting to hear about events from people who lived them, and not from the media. It was a lot different. The guides also genuinely showed an interest in history, and as a history enthusiast myself, this was appreciated.
Intrepid has different styles of trips, and mine was “basix” which means it was pretty cheap, but also had very few things included. I didn’t mind as this gave me the chance to pay to do things I genuinely wanted to do. It also meant a fair bit of free time in each location, which gave the feel of fairly independent travel without any of the leg work.
Many tour groups have a reputation– like Contiki being for young party people. I like to have fun, but that’s not what I’m focused on. It’s not to say I didn’t stay up till 5 am at a club in Bosnia and then watched the sun rise from the street where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, but I want to explore cities and culture too. The pace of the tour really gave people the option to focus on what they wanted to. Some people partied a lot, some not at all, but it all blended together well. I also enjoyed the fact that my fellow travelers were from all over: Australia, Tasmania, Canada, Hong Kong, England, US.
When I’m traveling with a friend we spend hours researching where to go, but even more time consuming and detail worthy is the how to get there part. It’s great to say you’ll take a ferry, but after the first time you attempt this in a country where tickets can only be bought at the location and no services are specified online, and it’s a language you don’t know, you realize the beauty in having someone else sort out the details. Those are the parts of travel that can often blow, make you frustrated, and make you lose time and money. I liked not having to find the entrance to the hotel, or know to knock on the unmarked door to the restaurant. To be fair a lot of tour companies probably get this right, but I can say that with Intrepid this was easy.
FEEL LIKE A LOCAL
The accommodations and transport used on tour made you feel like a local. Eating in local restaurants, staying in guest houses, meeting other local guides, and going out in local bars all added up to feeling like an authentic experience.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my Intrepid Tour, I must give at least partial credit to my amazing fellow travelers who truly made the trip. That being said, if you have a great group Intrepid lays the ground work for you to have a great time. For me, small group tours are the way to go!