TRAVEL ADVENTURE JOURNAL
Intrepid: Adventure Travel on a Budget
October 10, 2007
India is at the top of my list for travel abroad. When Katie and I went trekking in Chiang Mai two years ago, we encountered three young women from Australia who had been traveling for several months and had spent time in India before getting to Thailand. They told us it had been difficult at times, especially for women traveling alone- lots of sexist attitudes, although definitely worthwhile.
But India is a vast country, and unless you have a year or so to spend exploring it, you can really only touch the surface. So if you can only get away for three or four weeks, where do you start? I suspect the logistics of trying to navigate it on your own over the course of only a few weeks could easily be overwhelming, so an organized tour probably makes the most sense.
However, as I've noted previously, the problem with organized tours, especially those that cater to the older upscale traveler, is that they are planned in such a way that you see a lot of sights in a short period of time, but really don't have much opportunity to interact with the indigenous population or to experience the local culture.
Over the past few years, during my conversations with others about budget travel, there is one tour company whose name often comes up: Intrepid Travel, an Australia-based organization, earns kudos for its travel philosophy and has developed a solid reputation for its economical tours. Intrepid's tours are designed to create as much interaction as possible with the local population while respecting their values and beliefs. According to their website:
"Intrepid is committed to a style of travel that is environmentally, culturally and socially responsible - we call this 'Responsible Travel'. With your participation we aim to travel in a way that conserves the areas we visit and bring positive benefits to local communities.
Our travel style:
- Grass roots travel using local public transport where possible - minimizes demand for special tourist vehicles and fuel.
- We choose small-scale locally owned accommodation and home stays where available and local restaurants and markets for dining, retaining revenue in local communities.
- Our group leaders facilitate communication of our values to travelers and local communities, educating them in sustainable tourism practices.
- We employ local guides to aid travelers' understanding of local culture and etiquette.
- Small groups allow travelers to experience cultures first hand, offering greater opportunity for cross- cultural understanding.
- We are committed to putting back into the communities and regions we visit by supporting many aid, development and conservation projects in these areas."
I recently read an online review posted by the Wichita Eagle (newspaper) that nicely outlines Intrepid's approach to travel-
"... it's Intrepid's philosophy, not its prices, that have always caught my eye. Intrepid Travel hews as closely as a group tour to the independent travel style. There is a guide to provide insider knowledge and book the best lodging and dining options, but the groups are small (usually limited to 8-12 people) and they travel for the most part as independent travelers do. Instead of giant tour buses, participants take local transport (trains, local buses, ferries, bicycles, elephants, etc.). Instead of chain hotels, they stay in B and Bs, guesthouses or even hammocks slung on the village chieftain's porch. Instead of rubber-chicken dinners in the tour-group room at a restaurant, they feast on street food and elbow in with the locals at down-home eateries."
As I've mentioned previously, I prefer independent travel over large scale organized tours, so Intrepid may be a reasonable alternative for travel itineraries to locales that could be unpredictable and/or difficult to arrange. The Intrepid Travel website (http://www.intrepidtravel.com/) describes a multitude of tours around the globe, all at very reasonable prices, and breaks them down into categories including basix, original, comfort, independent and family adventure. The obvious downside is that the tours do not include air travel to and from the starting and ending destinations, so you'd need to ensure your own arrival at the exact starting date and location specified.