your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

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Topic Author
bernoulli
Posts: 117
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:13 pm

your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by bernoulli » Thu Jun 20, 2019 8:33 am

Hi all!

What is your experience traveling with National Geographic and/or Smithsonian? We usually travel independently but took a G-tour to India and it was fabulous - small group, knowledgable guide, lots of exposure to the local cultures and a well-organized itinerary. National Geographic and Smithsonian tours are more expensive and I am interested in hearing your experience with them. When we travel, we don't really care about staying at fancy places. Learning the local culture, seeing how the locals live, and seeing the landmarks are our primary (sole) objectives.

For Bhutan, all foreigners are required to have a tour guide and we wonder if we should go with (1) a local tour agency in Bhutan, (2) our tried-and-true G-tour, or (3) venture out to try National Geographic/Smithsonian tours and the like.

Thanks!

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Cyclesafe
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Re: your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by Cyclesafe » Fri Jun 21, 2019 7:46 am

I've been using REI for around 7 trips (so far). They are a wholesaler, so the experience is entirely dependent upon who they contract with locally. These local companies run trips for numerous wholesalers, so the experience is much the same regardless.

Accommodations depend on location. Rei's standard is 3-starish when available, but seems to always provide the best of what is available when in less developed areas.

Transitioning from "independent" to a tour was difficult for me. But I only use a tour if the destination is somewhere I do not want to go alone. Contracting yourself with one of the local companies that does business with wholesalers would be a chance I'd take, but booking randomly with some local company with a kiosk on the main street of a city in a country I was visiting would possibly cause some pause. In the latter situation, there is little recourse when things go South - and they do.

Think twice about Bhutan. The REI Chomolhari trek provides only two days of spectacular hiking, with the rest of the time in towns or in the process of getting to the good stuff. Go to Annapurna first.

Another thing to consider after being independent, is that you'll be with a cross-section of other people, who you'll be cooped up with when riding the bus. They may prefer to hike faster (or slower) than you and the slowest (or the sickest) dictates what the group actually does. Also, the proximity to other people with lower hygiene standards in an environment with lots of germs your body is being introduced means that you will have a far better chance of getting sick than if you were alone. Nobody admits this, but it stands to reason that if within a ten day trip you spend 5 of them throwing up etc. its not such a good experience, especially if you are paying such an eye-watering premium for having a local staff look after you.

Finally, I'd say that whenever you take a tour - especially in high season - you will be, not only with your own group, but among other groups locals, regionals, Asians, Europeans, and other Americans - sometimes by the busloads - even on the trails!

Being independent is far better if you can swing it. But sometimes, you just can't and putting up with the expense, the other people, and the greater risk of illness is the price of admission - so to speak.
"Plans are useless; planning is indispensable.” - Dwight Eisenhower

Topic Author
bernoulli
Posts: 117
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:13 pm

Re: your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by bernoulli » Fri Jun 21, 2019 12:35 pm

Cyclesafe wrote:
Fri Jun 21, 2019 7:46 am
I've been using REI for around 7 trips (so far). They are a wholesaler, so the experience is entirely dependent upon who they contract with locally. These local companies run trips for numerous wholesalers, so the experience is much the same regardless.

Accommodations depend on location. Rei's standard is 3-starish when available, but seems to always provide the best of what is available when in less developed areas.

Transitioning from "independent" to a tour was difficult for me. But I only use a tour if the destination is somewhere I do not want to go alone. Contracting yourself with one of the local companies that does business with wholesalers would be a chance I'd take, but booking randomly with some local company with a kiosk on the main street of a city in a country I was visiting would possibly cause some pause. In the latter situation, there is little recourse when things go South - and they do.

Think twice about Bhutan. The REI Chomolhari trek provides only two days of spectacular hiking, with the rest of the time in towns or in the process of getting to the good stuff. Go to Annapurna first.

Another thing to consider after being independent, is that you'll be with a cross-section of other people, who you'll be cooped up with when riding the bus. They may prefer to hike faster (or slower) than you and the slowest (or the sickest) dictates what the group actually does. Also, the proximity to other people with lower hygiene standards in an environment with lots of germs your body is being introduced means that you will have a far better chance of getting sick than if you were alone. Nobody admits this, but it stands to reason that if within a ten day trip you spend 5 of them throwing up etc. its not such a good experience, especially if you are paying such an eye-watering premium for having a local staff look after you.

Finally, I'd say that whenever you take a tour - especially in high season - you will be, not only with your own group, but among other groups locals, regionals, Asians, Europeans, and other Americans - sometimes by the busloads - even on the trails!

Being independent is far better if you can swing it. But sometimes, you just can't and putting up with the expense, the other people, and the greater risk of illness is the price of admission - so to speak.
Thanks, Cyclesafe, this gives me much to ponder.

quantAndHold
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Re: your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by quantAndHold » Fri Jun 21, 2019 1:24 pm

Cyclesafe wrote:
Fri Jun 21, 2019 7:46 am

[lots of excellent stuff edited out...]

Being independent is far better if you can swing it. But sometimes, you just can't and putting up with the expense, the other people, and the greater risk of illness is the price of admission - so to speak.
We only use tours to places where we don't feel comfortable going on our own. In a lot of those places, it's as cheap to book a private tour from a local vendor (yay, internet!) as it is to go on a group tour with a North American or European tour company, and you can get exactly what you want, with your own personal guide/driver. In those countries it's usually cheaper to let a local tour company book things than to try to DIY, because they can drive much harder bargains with the vendors than you can.

OTOH, our next door neighbor is a single guy. He likes tours because he doesn't want to travel by himself. He uses OAT a lot. OAT doesn't have a single supplement on most of their tours. OAT seems to put out a pretty good quality product, and judging by where he's gone, they go to a lot of interesting places.

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Flobes
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Re: your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by Flobes » Fri Jun 21, 2019 1:38 pm

quantAndHold wrote:
Fri Jun 21, 2019 1:24 pm
...He uses OAT a lot. OAT doesn't have a single supplement on most of their tours. OAT seems to put out a pretty good quality product, and judging by where he's gone, they go to a lot of interesting places.
Another OAT vote from an OAT traveler. Overseas Adventure Travel Great destinations, interesting tours, wonderful local guides, small groups, some focus to culture and people not just places. Wonderful add-on experiences plus pre and post trip stop-overs. Frequent OATer discounts and referral credits. Great customer service. (Except they're overly pushy about their over-priced travel insurance.) I've got two OAT journeys on my calendar now (with a $650 discount on second for having reserved the first).

Topic Author
bernoulli
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Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:13 pm

Re: your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by bernoulli » Sat Jun 22, 2019 9:04 am

Thanks, quantAndHold and Flobes, for your input. :D

veindoc
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Re: your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by veindoc » Sat Jun 22, 2019 10:08 am

We took a private tour in Peru. First time doing that and it was so much more preferable than the group tours we took while on cruises. We spent more time doing rather than shopping/eating. With the large tours we always seem to spend hours doing either shopping and eating which neither of us enjoy.

informal guide
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Re: your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by informal guide » Sat Jun 22, 2019 10:46 am

My spouse and I have used college alumni associations for several tours - -all have been great, including the fellow travelers. On each of the trips, the different alumni associations have, in turn, booked with a travel agency. A couple of the trips had multiple groups going, including, I believe, Smithsonian and the World Affairs Council. The sponsoring associations get to send a faculty member or leader along - -an added treat!

The travel agency is what makes the trip special and good (or not). One travel agency that works exclusively with groups is Gohagan, based in Chicago. Another, that both works with groups and sells trips directly is Odysseys Unlimited. We mostly travel independently, but loved both these providers and would not hesitate to book with them again.

cadreamer2015
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Location: North County San Diego

Re: your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by cadreamer2015 » Sat Jun 22, 2019 11:03 am

We took a Nat Geo/Lindblad cruise/tour to the Galapagos. It was fabulous. Fairly pricey, but the guides were great and this is not a place where you can wander around without a guide.
De gustibus non est disputandum

Grasshopper
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Re: your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by Grasshopper » Sat Jun 22, 2019 11:20 am

We like Country Walkers as an active, but classy tour company. You can do guided and unguided tours with them. We did a CA coastal walk with them unguided but with great accommodations. And did an Amalfi coast and Capri guided walk with them excellent all round. This fall we are doing a walking safari in Zambia, South Luangwa National Park. Only 8 hikers one lodge and 3 bushcamps can't wait..

Topic Author
bernoulli
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Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:13 pm

Re: your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by bernoulli » Sat Jun 22, 2019 11:27 am

veindoc wrote:
Sat Jun 22, 2019 10:08 am
We took a private tour in Peru. First time doing that and it was so much more preferable than the group tours we took while on cruises. We spent more time doing rather than shopping/eating. With the large tours we always seem to spend hours doing either shopping and eating which neither of us enjoy.
We used Aspiring Adventures for Peru, it was good, no shopping which is a huge plus.

Topic Author
bernoulli
Posts: 117
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:13 pm

Re: your experience with tours (National Geographic, Smithsonian, REI, etc.)?

Post by bernoulli » Sat Jun 22, 2019 11:29 am

Thanks, informal guide, cadreamer2015, and Grasshopper, we are very close to choosing an operator, thanks again!

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