by Ellen Barone
Finding it difficult to choose the right adventure travel experience? Here are a few tips from the Wild Pair to help you choose the adventure of your life...
Stretch & Tone
When we join an adventure travel tour, we want more than just calorie-burning and adrenaline pumping. We want to stretch the boundaries of our awareness. We want to come back home having learned something new. Maybe it's a few sentences in a formerly-impenetrable language. Or, new cooking skills that we can utilize in our own kitchens. Perhaps we learn about the geology of the landscape we are navigating. Or the history of a country that didn't even exist before the First World War.
We look for companies that are married to the concept that education is a fundamental part of travel. We yearn to learn.
Green Is Our Fave Colour
Aware that our very presence can erode the fragile environments and ancient cultures we have come to visit, we look for companies that tread as softly as possible in the regions they visit.
Never be afraid to ask an outfitter about personal philosophy and impact awareness. Inquire how a company's practices benefit local communities and what they do to help protect the cultural and natural heritage of the places they visit. If they can commit to the betterment of the planet, you can commit to traveling the planet with them.
Putting a Smile on the Customer's Face
Of course you want to seek out companies with a strong commitment to guest services and a rock-solid rep for looking out for the health and safety of their clients. But, you can go further. Check on an outfitter's accreditation and its membership in respected organizations like the Adventure Travel Trade Association, Sustainable Travel International, The Rainforest Alliance, The International Ecotourism Society and the Adventure Collection. These are top-notch vetters that demand a high level of accountability and service.
Keep It Real
We like our travel to be authentic rather than canned. We love local flava. Whether you decide to you explore the African savanna with native Maasai warriors or heli-hiking through the Canadian Rockies beneath the majestic Bugaboo Spires, it should be a first-hand experience that is unique to your group and seizes on spontaneous events that occur during the trip. When you visit another environment or culture, it should be a catalyst to internal discovery that lasts long after your suitcase is unpacked and your passport is tucked away. That's why we look for companies that not only offer innovative and compelling activities, but also demonstrate a passion for creating the conditions in which genuine experience can take place.
It is Counting on Them That Counts
Let's face it, we're all weighed down by responsibilities at home and on the job. We've got family, friends, pets, deadlines, emergencies, tragedies, complications we have to deal with. There is something truly liberating in planning nothing and enjoying everything, secure in the knowledge that every aspect of your trip has been carefully researched and developed for you. New can be exciting, but when it comes to trip commitment we look for outfitters with decades of experience behind them. We know they have remained on top by gathering the best local guides, pioneering exploratory expeditions to new destinations and devising innovative ways of experiencing familiar haunts.
Seek and Ye Shall Find
Surf the net, or, better yet, use your online and real life networks. Ask others who are into adventure travel which companies they swear by. As you undoubtedly know, people love to share their expertise and experiences. They will pump up their favorite providers and dump on the duds. Their honesty is invaluable.
Ask the Experts
We asked a few industry leaders and travel experts what it takes to keep travelers returning year after year. They have seen it all; from the infancy of adventure travel to its sophisticated and polished present...
1) Make sure you know what you want to get out of a trip.
2) Know your parameters (time, budget, physical activity).
3) Look for a company where the people who answer the phones are experts on the trip you're discussing, not just reading the information from a cheat sheet. Ideally, the person you're speaking with should know the region and share your passion.
4) Make sure the travel style of the company - which you can glean from the individual trip itineraries and descriptions as well as more generally from the company catalogue, brochures and web site - fits your own.
5) Remember that a pure price-to-price comparison can be misleading. Make sure the exact same items (for example, international and domestic airfares, meals, hotels, other transportation) are included in the totals that you're comparing, and factor in the priceless importance of adequate, reliable risk coverage.
- Don George, The Adventure CollectionPromises, Promises
It seems every company promises the best guides, the best food, the best service, but do they provide a safety net for the unexpected? Here are a few suggested questions to ask to make sure your backside is covered.
* Do provide around-the-clock logistical and air support services? (this is especially important in the event of cancelled, delayed or changed flights?)
* Do you include medical evacuation, expense, and assistance coverage, with access to a board certified emergency physician?
* What assurances do you provide to protect my travel investment?
* Do you accept major credit cards?
* Are my deposits and payments placed in a U.S.-based financial institution or an offshore entity?
* Are my deposits and payments in a convertible currency?
* How will you protect me from currency rate fluctuations? (Some international currencies have fluctuated by as much as 40% over the past 12 months) How to do mitigate the fuel surcharge risk?
* What are your payment/cancellation terms and conditions? What are your cancellation policies in the event of a U.S. State Department, Centers for Disease Control, or World Health Organization travel warning?
* Do you offer optional trip cancellation/interruption insurance, including cancel for work reasons?
* Does your company participate in a U.S.-based seller of travel/consumer protection program?
* Does your company possess current liability insurance with an A-rated company?
- Jim Sano, Geographic Expeditions
Creativity and Passion: This is actually at the top and bottom of my list. It is what I look for first and what I look for after the due diligence. I look for their site, the interaction with their staff and their brochure to pull me in with interesting and unique itineraries, great stories, a passion for sharing great trips with others. If I don't feel this I move on.
Word of Mouth: Referrals from friends are always a good option if you know they have similar travel interest in not only destinations but more importantly in types of accommodations, activities, guides etc. Past guests that return multiple years are important. If you are considering a new provider/operator don't hesitate to ask to speak with guests who have traveled with them on more than one occasion as well as guests who have take the tour you are interested in. Call the past guest versus emailing them so you can get a real feel for their impression of the company and trip. Ask them details about the activities, lodging, guides, daily routine and options. Take into consideration trips change based on many factors (weather, tourist season, group dynamics etc.)
Website and Office Staff: The website tells me a lot about a company. If you are like most folks you look at the "about us" page. I look for personal stories about how a company got started, videos and photos about their guests and guides. Check out their Facebook Fan/Like page and see how they are interacting with their guests and how guests are posting and responding.
Years in Business: This is important in terms of experience in running programs through tough times financially, economically and politically
Are they privately owned? This might not be important to you but I like working with privately owned companies. I feel they are often more creative in their approaches to destinations and itineraries. Many companies today are part of larger corporations or investment groups. I tend to choose mom and pop companies. You can speak with the owner and the buck stops with them.
Awards/Memberships: I take these with a grain of salt unless I know what sort of standards or qualifications were involved.
Focus: I look for focus within a niche and/or a destination. I'd rather travel with an operator who focuses on biking in Piedmont versus running multisport trips around the world. Likely they either are local or are very connected with the local areas.
Guides: Having local guides is a must. Period.
Commitment to Responsible/Sustainable Travel: There should be something on their site or in their brochure which talks about their value statement. Whether they employee local guides and stay at locally owned properties or support a non-profit or project in the areas they offer tours.
Review the details: What is included in terms of meals, local drinks, tipping in hotels and for day guides. Are their some options in the level of activity for more or less? What type of restaurants and accommodations do they use...hopefully places that might not be well known by guidebooks or TripAdvisor. If they are good they are one step ahead.
Maximum/average group size: Will they run the program if they only have 4 or 6 guests? What is the maximum size? I prefer group sizes of 12-16 as I think this size offers a good sense of diversity within the group and interesting conversations and opportunities.
- Kathy Dragon, Travel DragonThe Bottom Line
The point of it all - experience, expertise, technology, and technique is this: To enable you to have the unparalleled thrill of heading into the unknown, armed with confidence in your leadership, to inhabit the vastness, and discover the wonder of being somewhere utterly new. Sven Lindblad, Lindblad Expeditions
What about you? What specific traits do you look for in an adventure outfitter? Share your good news/ bad news stories here!
BON VOYAGE from the Wild Pair!
They're smart, sassy, savvy, award-winning travel journalists and photographers and now they've joined forces to become THE WILD PAIR, bringing you cutting-edge information and tips on how to turn your next vacation into a life-enhancing experience.
Photo: Cariboo Heli-Hikers by Topher Donahue.Choosing the right Adventure Travel outfitter can improve your outlook in any situation!