To Join a Tour Group or Travel Independently? 

As a family, you may not have considered a tour group. When would you need to use one? With small kids, it’s mostly irrelevant as most tour groups only start taking kids from about 10-12. It’s obviously dependent upon the activities.

Advantages of a tour group.

  • Ease of travel – your intinerary is structured and organised
  • Tour guide to take care of any issues
  • Opportunity to meet new people
  • Tour most likely to take you to best places of interest in the area, experience in the area.
  • Most admission fees are included
  • Meals included – apart from lunch
  • Remote destinations and volatile political environments may still be able to travelled as part of a group.

Disadvantages of a tour group

  • Stuck with the same group for period of time
  • Structured meals – limiting you to the tours choice of restaurant
  • The intinerary is structured and you can’t change your days or next steps

Things to remember

  • The tour guide is the make or break of any tour. Don’t let one bad experience taint your opinion of tours forever more
  • Guides are used for animal watching and trekking. They are experts. Have faith they know what they are doing.
  • Use a trusted brand – make sure you understand what’s included and what’s not.

Our experience

Last year I wanted to go on a holiday that had more adventure than laying by the pool. I wanted to take my son with me so I thought an animal encounter of some sort would be ideal. When I was researching it was very difficult to find adventure travel for children under 10. The next issue was I didn’t really want a cycling holiday. My son at the time had just got off his training wheels. A lot of family adventure is on two wheels. As I didn’t want a 24-hour flight by myself, I limited myself to Asia. There were orangutans in Borneo, turtle rescues in Sri Lanka, and elephants in Thailand to choose from.

I choose an Intrepid tour to Borneo as it was only 11 days and that suited me with a two-year-old being left at home.

My notes from the trip

Having booked with a company I would expect them to have some tips for each tour. They do this tour about 10 times a year and these things were missing in instructions. The packing instructions we were given were generic, genetic to the point I could of pulled them off the internet.

What to pack if I had written the notes?

  1. Torch for island given venomous snakes and all.
  2. Overnight bag – beach clothes.
  3. Head torch was suggested for night hikes. Actually not as practical as you would think – insects attracted and fly into your face.

Notes on our guide? 

  1. You’re being paid to guide us. You’re not being paid to get drunk with the adults and come back to a long house (a dorm with bamboo walls) and make a phone call at 1.00am for an hour!
  2. Your job is to get the group involved in activities. There are small kids and bigger kids. Evening activities should be organised with some thought that some people need to go to bed.
  3. Your job is to encourage the group to interact. Adults and kids.
  4. Your job is to communicate to every member in the group. When you give a briefing to those that are up drinking at night, you need to make sure you tell others later. Like two families bring up at 4.30am for a sunrise your while everyone else didn’t arrive until 6.00am.
  5. Your job is to have alternatives. We went into the centre of Borneo and up a river to an Eco Centre . There were various activities planned but as the lake was inundated with an algae all activities were off. Is it not the guides job to sort something out and to of known before dragging your group up a river? And if there are no activities leaving under a tin roof for 5 hours is not okay. You need the skills to be able to improvise.
  6. Several times at a restaurant there was an issue. Your job is to intervene and use your local language skills to help.
  7. It is your job to have information about the area. We asked repetitively how people lived and never got a response. We asked for information about the Death Route and got no response.

Notes for the company

  1. When you are given feedback – respond to all of it.
  2. All the kids were sick on our tour. Seemed to be heat stroke but could of been bad water. We had to sit in a remote village in extreme temperatures – the only shade was under a tin roof. This was as a result of no activities at the Eco centre. I question our guides ability to give any level of first aid. One of the tour members fainted (she had been drinking the night before and dehydrat would not of helped) One child had been throwing up for 6 hours before she took any action.
  3. We are used to Western toilets. Instructions would be helpful.
  4. You are running a ‘family’ tour. The bus needs to have seatbelts. Boats need to have life jackets for ‘children’ and suppliers need to have snorkelling equipment for children. They are a part of your tour.
  5. Intrepid wants to promote ‘responsible travellers’ yet there was not water provided at every accommodation. 15 people buying 2-4 plastic bottles of water everyday for 11 days. That is a lot of plastic for responsible travellers. Put your money behind your motto. Provide a stainless steel branded bottle for each traveller and a large drum of filtered water for every bus leg.
  6. Make sure your suppliers are aware you stand behind this and encourage them also to use recyclable products.

Summed up

It sounds like we didn’t have a good time at all. It may be that I am out of practice with tours and all that it holds you too. There were two families with small kids – they needed to go to bed each night at about 8/8.30. As a result we were left together a lot. The two girls were travelling with their grandmother and when one of the girls was too sick to join in, I was happy to help and take the other one. When the grandmother fell ill, it was no problem. My son loved these girls and his holiday was all the more fabulous because of the friendship he built.

I am so glad we used a tour. As a single woman in a country was kidnapping of tourists is not uncommon. I felt very safe. I’m also glad the challenge the tour presented. I would never seen Probiscus in the wild without the tour.

I was delighted with some adult company and conversation.

What has me baffled is as a single person on an Intrepid tour, the accomodation is about 3 stars better. Yet we pay more? I have two friends who went before and after and when they asked if people stayed in long houses, the staff laughed! Yes, people do, family tours do. Meanwhile a single will be sharing a airconditioned unit.

I’m truely glad we had a mix of 5 star before and after our tour. We mixed independent travel where I felt confident and used the tour for the majority of our time in Borneo. We went back to independent travel in Singapore.

Would I use a tour company again? Absolutely. Would I use Intrepid again? I’m not sure for family travel. I get our issues were with the tour guide and our disconnect was with what we expected. Having said that when you give feedback – man up and address it. I have never heard from them. I think they are now so big that they have lost sight of their branding. I hope it changes. Get away from generic and cookie cutter approaches and give people more information. You have experts on the ground. You gather feedback – use it to be better.


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