Hello everyone. I am new to the blog but wanted to share some general insight about these type of trips. Now, I just booked my first trip with GAP for this coming year to Central America. In the end, I hope it is an amazing trip. But, I actually am/ have worked as a TOUR GUIDE for a very similar company called Intrepid. I am from California so work in the North American sector. I believe something is very important to understand about budget travel companies such as GAP and INTREPID: THEY ARE WAY CHEAPER THAN ANY OTHER TOURS OUT THERE. For those of you not familiar with budget travel, get familiar. You cannot have as high of expectations for the quality of leader or accommodations or schedule going into these trips as you would on other tours. These trips basically will help you get from point A to B without having to worry about accommodation or transportation. Now, they usually are so much more than this. I had many passengers on my trips genuinely tell me that they had the best trip of their life with me. They spent not very much money, met some really cool other passengers and never had to worry about getting from A to B. I got to give them a real idea of what it means to be an American and show them some of the coolest places we have here. What happens is that not all tour guides/ leaders/ people are of the highest quality in terms of a leader. Because there are so many types of trips, sometimes a leader will never have been to a place in the itinerary. Someone up here said something VERY IMPORTANT. These leaders basically are to be support to get you from A to B. They are not expected to know everything about every place you go. Nearly every leader that I met in my own travel company in North America was awesome!! They truly were fun, excited and knowledgeable. The thing is that traveling with a budget tour company that has 100s of trips all over the world with a lot of flexibility and start dates will produce different types of trips. You cannot expect EVERY single leader to be top world class as a leader. It's just not realistic. These companies do an amazing job of hiring leaders but that doesn't mean every leader will run every trip perfectly. If you want this kind of service then go spend thousands of dollars more for a way more serious tour (which if you ask me is not nearly as fun no matter how good the leader is). I don't want to sound like the leaders in these companies are poor. They are not. The majority of them are skilled, knowledgeable leaders. What I am trying to say is that if you are expecting a perfect, organized, masterfully knowledgeable leader no matter where and when you go every single time you book a trip then go find an expensive tour company. Budget travel gives you a nice blend. You have someone there to help you and show you around but you also kind of are on your own in a sense. If and when you get a good leader, you trip will be so much more meaningful than traveling alone or being on a strict schedule 24/7 with other tours.
So, if you're thinking about traveling with a budget tour company, keep a few things in mind:
1) You must be flexible and open minded and I mean it. I am not saying flexible like not eating lunch at this restaurant but rather that one. I am saying like crazy stuff happens when you're traveling and for those that have traveled independently or with budget travel, they realize this. You must roll with the changes and embrace them. These are what make the best memories. If possibly skipping a place in the itinerary to be able to spend more time at another place doesn't sound like something you would be willing to sacrifice, then you might want to think twice about budget travel. If you're not open minded/ flexible, you will probably not have a good time even if the leader rocks!!
2) Don't expect too much. Don't get caught up in the little details because this is BUDGET travel.
3) THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO TRAVEL. Budget travel allows you to be somewhere in between a true tour and on your own. It gives you a general set itinerary and allows you to meet and travel with other passengers. You might not get along with another passenger but it's what you signed up for. Those that have the best time don't let silly things like this bother them!
4) It is not for everyone and I believe the people that have the best time are the ones that TRULY realize what type of trip they're signing up for. These trips give you the outline for an incredible experience and it is up to you to help make that experience what it can be.
In conclusion: it is unfair to bash these organizations that are trying to give travelers a more affordable yet organized way of travel. These companies were started for 2 reasons: 1) for the people who have the desire to travel on their own but not the guts. 2) For those wanting group travel but not wanting to spend A TON of money and be stuck with itineraries from 7 AM- 10 PM with constant activity. Companies like GAP give people a happy blend but also take the risk of being ridiculed for endless amounts of things. Traveling alone a person has no one else to blame but themselves. Traveling with a serious tour rarely has logistical problems because you paid a lot more money to make sure that a tour leader knew the whole history of every city you plan on going.
Budget travel gives you that mix and it is unfair to bash leaders or complain about unruly passengers when in actuality, at least most of the time, you're the one to blame. OPEN UP YOUR MINDS AND THINK!