Last Updated on February 23, 2021
Is your 2021 resolution to travel more? Adventure travel companies offering small group tours are the perfect way to travel on a budget or solo! Find out the best adventure tour companies and explore trip styles, top destination options, and current travel deals.
Over ten years ago, on my first international trip for work, I fell in love with traveling. I really wanted to see more of the world, but lacked the experience and confidence to strike out on my own. I also needed options for singles travel, since didn’t have a traveling companion. A few other international work trips followed, but I always had “handlers” in my destinations who arranged everything. I never traveled on my own until I discovered small group tours!
When you think of “ESCORTED TOURS,” you might envision big buses unloading masses of people at buffet restaurants and tourist sites. But small group trips with adventure tour operators are different. If you want to travel but don’t know where to start, small group tours are a great option for adventurous budget vacations and meaningful travel experiences. In my case, they gave me the skills I needed to travel solo later. And I’ve kept taking tours with these companies because of the great experiences.
In this guide, I’ll share tons of tips for what to look for in adventure travel companies, the best tour operators, and what to expect. I’ll also keep it updated with the best deals for 2021 travel.
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Best Current Deals from Adventure Tour Companies:
Pin these tips on adventure tour companies!
In this guide to Adventure Travel Tours:
Adventure Travel Company Basics | Choosing a Tour Company | Best Adventure Travel Companies | Intrepid Travel Review | G Adventures Review | Peregrine Travel | Tips for Booking | Pros & Cons of Group Tours
Adventure Travel Tour Basics
Want to learn more about adventure travel companies and what to expect? Start here!
Tour Group Sizes & Leaders
Usually limited to 12-18 travelers, adventure travel tours and small group trips tend to be focused on authentic travel experiences.
These trips have an experienced local tour leader who was born in the region and /or has significant travel experience there. Additionally, there are local guides who are experts on specific cities or sights. The tour, including lodgings, overland transport, and other details are arranged for you and included in the price.
A smaller group size and local leaders allow you to get a more personal, genuine experience. One of my favorite aspects of small group tours is the opportunity to meet and learn from other travelers.
Single Travelers & Solo Adventure Travel
Many adventure tour operators don’t require a “single supplement” (added fee for single travelers) if you’re OK with being matched with a same-gender roommate. But if you prefer your own room, this can be selected at the time of booking. It’s usually a reasonably-priced additional fee.
For some itineraries that include a homestay or unique lodging, single rooms might not be available for those nights. Check the detailed itinerary before you book if having a single room is important for you.
I’ve booked trips with and without requesting my own room. It’s honestly been fun to room with other solo female travelers, and you have less of a chance of oversleeping or missing breakfast! On trips where we had an odd number of female travelers, we sometimes took turns who got the single room when we reached a new hotel.
Types of Adventure Travelers
You might have heard of Contiki or Top Deck, tour operators that target young travelers. While some adventure tour companies only offer travel for a younger demographic, there are many more options for all ages. I’ll recommend the best of these below!
On my group trips, I’ve traveled with experienced adventurers and new travelers of all ages. I’ve only been on one trip with all travelers under 35. Most have included a range of ages, from early 20’s to late 60’s. Some trips included couples or friends, but all have had solo travelers in the mix.
Each tour will list a detailed day-by-day itinerary. You’ll want to check all of the activities and pay attention to the “physical rating” of each tour to be sure it’s for you.
Whether you’re looking for backpacker tours, trips with upgraded amenities or something in between, there are affordable adventure tours for everyone.
Costs of Adventure Travel Companies
Companies like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel offer a variety of destinations, styles, and price points that make travel affordable for most travelers. All are committed to responsible tourism and authentic travel experiences – so you don’t have to choose between affordable and responsible travel!
Additionally, there are often “last-minute” deals on departures and sales throughout the year.
They also offer frequent departure dates on their most popular options, which means that it’s easier to fit it into your vacation time.
What’s Included in the Tour Cost
Be sure to read the detailed itinerary of any tour that you consider booking. Generally, once your tour begins, standard accommodation and transportation within the trip will be included. There are likely to be some activities and meals included as well, such as a simple breakfast at hotels and tours of the top sights in the itinerary.
Most companies offer both “shoestring” options as well as standard and upgraded travel styles, so just be sure you check thoroughly all inclusions before you book. The most budget options will have fewer inclusions. While “classic” or “original” trip styles will include most daily activities and just a few hours or afternoons of free time.
Generally speaking, tour costs do not include meals, tips, or round-trip transportation to your joining point and finishing point (the hotel or location where you meet up with your group, and where it ends).
Choosing the Best Adventure Tour Companies
Before we talk about specific companies, I want to give you my general tips for choosing the best adventure travel companies and affordable tour operators.
- Check out the company’s story on their website. Look for info on sustainable travel efforts and how they give back to communities where they operate.
- Make a note of the different styles or levels of organized trips they offer. Do they offer upgraded options or more “backpacker” trip itineraries? What’s the target age group or audience of each? Is there a guaranteed maximum group size?
- Look for photos of other travelers — are they people you’d want to be friends with and swap travel tales with over a drink?
- Do a little research to be sure you’re getting a good value. Is the guided itinerary full, but with a little time to explore on your own? What’s included, and what is listed as optional? What level of hotels will you be staying in, and is the transport public or private?
- Check out tour company reviews, both on and off their site. Keep in mind that on-site, the comments could be curated; and off-site, they could skew more toward people that want to voice something that went wrong. Look for trends and use your good judgement.
- Remember, unexpected things can happen during travel, so you want a company that has its travelers’ safety as a priority.
- Read blogs! Especially if you’re deciding between guided tour companies that have similar itineraries, look for posts by other travelers to see what stood out for them.
- Read the full trip itineraries and details carefully. Are you seeing just the major highlights, or are there more unique stops too? In off-the-beaten path destinations, you might experience hotels and services very different than what you’re used to. For me, this is an acceptable trade-off for an amazing experience – but it might not be for everyone!
Always do research about the tour company you’re considering. Since this trip might be the only chance you have to visit the destination, you want to have the best chance at an amazing experience!
Need destination inspiration? Check out my guide to dream destinations around the globe, with links to budget small group tours to each!
Looking for dream destinations for your bucket list? Find out some of the most unique places in the world plus budget tour options to actually get there!
Best Adventure Travel Companies
The companies below are established leaders in global adventure travel. With a wide variety of destinations, trip styles and prices, you can see most of the world’s sights with their itineraries!
Intrepid Travel Review
I’m a huge fan of Intrepid Travel. I’ve done several trips with them including their Best of Morocco tour and an Inca Trail Trek, and I think their authentic itineraries, local tour leaders, and overall model are great. They commit to responsible travel and support a number of non-profit programs through their Intrepid Foundation.
If you’re interested in traveling to a particular country or region, you can search for all Intrepid Travel tours that include that destination.
Intrepid Travel “Trip Styles”
Intrepid offers several “trip styles,” which pertain to the level of service and activities included. On the most affordable option, Basix tours, you’ll use public transit and less activities will be included, so you can choose to add on activities that fit your budget. Original tours are balanced, with tourist-class hotels and more included activities, including a few meals. Comfort tours are slower, with upgraded amenities, and even more meals and activities included.
Intrepid Travel “Trip Themes”
Intrepid also groups their tours by theme so that travelers with special interests can find them more easily. If you’re looking for a small-group family tour or are into sailing, cycling, local cuisine, or hiking, they’ve got tours just for you! And as a newer feature, Intrepid has started offering groups trips only for solo travelers. This can take pressure off new solo travelers, since everyone in the group is traveling on their own!
One of the most notable tour themes is the “18-29s Adventures” category. This is geared to young adult travelers who want to experience socially-conscious tours with others in their same age range.
Intrepid also offers “Urban Adventures,” day tours that promise to connect travelers with authentic local experiences. The day tour options have additional sub-categories for different activities like cycling, sailing, foodie, etc.
During my Intrepid trips, I’ve always experienced a good mix of ages, nationalities, and personalities – which I personally enjoy. Intrepid is based in Australia, and I’ve always had a few Aussies and Kiwis as fellow travelers on Intrepid trips.
What Sets Intrepid Travel Apart
One of the best things about Intrepid is that they typically offer a $1 deposit deal in January! Reserve a trip departing that same calendar year for just $1. You’ll pay the balance about two months before the start of the trip. They also have a strong commitment to responsible travel.
You might have heard about their loyalty program – where every 10th Intrepid trip earned a free tour voucher – but sadly this has been ended.
Check out Intrepid Travel’s latest deals here .
Popular Intrepid Travel Destinations
Need some wanderlust inspiration? Check out these top destinations and tours that are favorites of Intrepid travelers!
G Adventures Review
My first adventure tour years ago was with G Adventures (then Gap Adventures) in Cambodia. So of course they’ve also got a special place in my heart! G Adventures, like Intrepid, focuses on sustainable tourism and authentic travel experiences, and both offer similar tour itineraries.
G Adventures tours have four service levels: camping, basic, standard, and upgraded. These basically correspond to Intrepid’s, except that they break out camping as a separate level from basic.
G Adventures is based in Canada, and every trip I’ve done with them has included a few Canadians in the group.
G Adventures “Travel Styles”
Adventure travel company G Adventures offers an even wider variety of travel styles including wellness tours, trips by rail, marine sailing tours, active tours (biking, hiking and multisport), and family trips.
Targeted to young adult travelers, G Adventures offers “18-to-Thirtysomethings” tours. These are faster-paced, budget tours for active travelers under the age of 40 that still offer an authentic experience.
Through a partnership with National Geographic, G Adventures also has an exclusive line of National Geographic Journeys. These trips feature upgraded service levels in truly unique destinations.
Popular G Adventures Destinations
These are some of the top tours and destinations offered by G Adventures plus one new itinerary for this year – a week on Hawaii’s beaches!
What Sets G Adventures Apart
One huge G Adventures plus is their “lifetime deposit” policy. If you pay a deposit to G Adventures but have to delay your plans, you’ll get a credit you can apply to any future booking. G Adventures has also developed a “Travel With Confidence” policy featuring new health and safety procedures as part of their ongoing commitment to safety.
I think G Adventures also has more travel styles, more trip itineraries, and departure dates overall.
Check out G Adventures’ list of “Current Promotions and Specials” or find out their most popular destinations and new trips for 2021:
Peregrine is part of the Intrepid brand family with an upgraded experience. Their website touts their focus on “premium adventures”: a slower travel pace, immersion in local culture, and intimate smaller groups.
Peregrine’s tour prices are higher, but also have more inclusions: airport transfers, many meals, private transport, upgraded hotels, gratuities and all sightseeing. With an average of just 9 travelers, Peregrine also has a very small average group size.
Like G Adventures and Intrepid, they also offer a variety of tour themes, and the option to get private tailor-made itineraries customized just for you.
Peregrine Adventures is a great option for travelers who want a unique local experience with a slower pace and more creature comforts.
Booking Your Adventure Tour
Some tour aggregators or third-party websites (like TourRadar) offer trips by G Adventures, Intrepid, and other companies. I always recommend booking directly from the tour company, rather than a third party, so that you can be clear on what terms and conditions apply.
Also, by booking directly from the tour company, you’ll be eligible for promotions and perks they offer, like G Adventures’ lifetime deposit policy.
Deciding between tour companies
Because Intrepid and G Adventures often have similar itineraries and both are great companies, it can be difficult to decide between the two. Sometimes the dates you can travel might make the decision easy for you, with one of their departure dates matching up with your time off!
If not, I recommend checking the detailed trip notes and comparing them side-by-side. For example, one itinerary might offer a home stay night with a local family. This can be exciting for travelers who want to have a true local travel experience! For others, it might be too close for comfort to stay in a private home or share a bathroom.
Read blogs and forums to see if other travelers have specific feedback on the trip itinerary and company you’re considering. You can even check Instagram tags to see other travelers’ experiences with #intrepidtravel and #gadventures.
OK, But Really: G Adventures vs. Intrepid
In general, I think G Adventures has a better refund policy and more overall departures (meaning more times that the same tour is offered, which makes it more flexible to book). They also offer National Geographic Journeys.
G Adventures extends their pared-down itineraries for younger travelers from 18 to age 39, while Intrepid caps theirs at “18 to 29s.”
On the other hand, Intrepid has a broader range of travel styles, and in the past has averaged a smaller group size. They also have new Lonely Planet Experiences.
But all that being said, I would travel again with both in an instant! For me, it really depends on the individual itinerary. I trust both as responsible tour operators that have built sustainable tourism and community support into their business models.
Pros and Cons of Small Group Tours
When deciding if adventure travel tours and small group trips are right for you, you should weigh the positive and negative factors of each.
“Pros” of Adventure Travel Tours
- Most things will be arranged for you after arrival in your destination. You can even request airport pick-up for an additional charge.
- If you’re a new traveler or have never traveled solo before, it’s a great way to travel with a “safety net.” Along the way, you’ll also learn from the others on your trip.
- It’s not just solo travelers on small group trips – lots of couples, friends, and families book these tours for their vacations.
- If you’re short on time, you won’t have to do a ton of research and planning to be ready to go.
- You can really focus on having an authentic travel experience. Spend your time learning about history and culture, trying local foods, and getting great photographs.
- You won’t have to worry as much about tourist traps, scams, and safety. Your tour leader will give an overview during a group meeting at the start of the trip. They’ll also brief you each day or activity with things to consider.
- On all of my small group trips, I met other travelers I genuinely liked. I’m still Facebook and Instagram friends with many of them including two tour leaders!
- As much as I love solo travel, it can get lonely! Sometimes you just want to be able to exclaim over a sunrise or an amazing meal with someone who is sharing the experience.
“Cons” of Adventure Travel Tours
- You will be traveling with a group, and there will be a lot of different ages, nationalities, and attitudes among them. This can mean interesting travel companions… or people you just don’t get along with. Luckily I’ve found that most people who choose these tours are like-minded souls!
- You’ll need to stick to the schedule. For example, you might not be able to see a site at sunrise for photos, unless it’s in the itinerary. But you can talk to your group leader to see if modifications are possible, especially if your traveling companions agree.
- The itinerary is set, so you won’t have the freedom to stay longer in a place if you want to explore more. However, you can arrive early before the group trip begins, or tack on extra days at the end of the trip.
- Many of the mornings will include an early start. If you like a more leisurely pace, consider an upgraded travel style; but these trips might just not be for you.
- Some of the tours might include physical activities beyond your ability. Be sure to check the detailed itinerary and physical difficulty rating.
- You won’t have the thrill and options of customizing your own trip. I know for some people (like me), sometimes half the fun is in the planning!
Tipping on Group Tours
Many travelers have questions about tipping on adventure travel tours. Tips add to the cost of the trip, and it can be stressful to know how much is appropriate or expected! I’m including info here so that you understand how it could affect the overall cost of your trip and how tips generally work.
Tips are never required, of course. And the companies that I’m recommending make sure that their tour leaders and operators earn a fair wage. But in tourism and service jobs, tips are a standard way to show appreciation for tour leaders and guides. It’s also money that goes directly to them, and benefits their family and (indirectly) the local community.
Most trip notes will suggest a daily tip amount for local guides (who lead tours of local sights), drivers, and tour leaders. These amounts can vary by region of the world. For example, they might suggest a lower amount in Southeast Asia than in Europe, due to the different costs of living and services in those regions.
“Tip Kitties” and Daily Tips
Some tour leaders or itineraries might suggest a “tip kitty,” which everyone pays into at the start of the trip. The leader then uses this kitty to tip local guides, private transportation drivers, etc. This doesn’t cover individual meal service at restaurants. A tip kitty is an easy way to arrange things and lessens your need to always have small change! Tip kitties are common in regions like Southeast Asia.
Tips for Local Tour Guides and Drivers
If your trip doesn’t use a tip kitty, it’s common to tip $1-3 (in equivalent local currency) per local guides and private drivers per day. It’s easiest to tip local guides at the end of the tour with a thanks and a handshake to pass the tip. For private drivers, your group leader might collect a tip to make it easier. Often, these drivers are with you for many days of an itinerary, and help with loading and unloading your luggage, as well as staying with the van at stops.
Tipping Tour Leaders
Tour leaders often go above and beyond to make sure your trip goes smoothly! They’re the ones to help you get the right medication in a pharmacy, sort out issues with a delayed bag, and so many more situations. In my experience, they have also shared invaluable insight into the culture and history of destinations.
Depending on the region of your travel, your trip notes might suggest a tip from $3-10 per day for a group leader. On the tours I’ve done, on the last day of the trip all of the travelers got together to discuss how much we wanted to tip. Then we put all of the money together into an envelope to give to the tour leader when we said our goodbyes.
If you have more questions about tipping, check the detailed trip notes or the website of the tour company as well as traveler forums. And consider tucking some small envelopes into your bag to make tips easier for your trip.
Insurance for Adventure Tours
Most group tours require that you buy insurance for your trip with certain minimum coverage limits, as well as medical evacuation – just in case. it only adds a small amount compared to the total cost of the trip, and is well worth it, especially when traveling in “off the beaten path” destinations.
Check the booking information from your selected company. If you buy your insurance at the same time you book, there might be extra inclusions.
I use World Nomads for my trips. You can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from over 130 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
Ready to Go?
With thousands of tour itineraries to destinations all over the world, there are adventure travel tours for your interests, budget, and travel style. Any of the options above would be a solid choice for your first travel experience, or a way to check places off your bucket list!
Want to read more about small group tours? Check out my tips on small group tours to top bucket list destinations. Or read my review of Intrepid’s Best of Morocco tour and my experience hiking the Inca trail with Intrepid.
Are you just getting started with traveling? Get my best Tips for New International Travelers!
Looking for dream destinations for your bucket list? Find out some of the most unique places in the world plus budget tour options to actually get there!
Is Morocco on your bucket list? Get this two week Morocco itinerary to plan your own trip or tour with Intrepid Travel to see the best Morocco sights: landscapes, history & cultures.