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Adventure Tours: Asking the Right Questions
Ellen Kolovos

Thinking about adventure travel? Want to go someplace special and off the beaten track? If you can think of an adventure, chances are someone is offering it as a tour. Besides offering bicycling in Europe, trekking in Nepal and rafting in Colorado, numerous companies feature exotic trips ranging from horseback riding on the Pampas to biking in Bhutan to camel safaris in Utah. Finding tours that match your interest is easy: Check the travel section of the bookstore, watch the Sunday newspaper, surf the net or flip to the classified ads in your favorite magazines.

But how do you choose the right tour for you? In a market place full of options and flooded with information, take this question to heart. Not all tour operators are equal. After all, this is your vacation, your bank account, and your dream to fulfill. A few questions up front can introduce you to lands and peoples you have only imagined, pair you with travel companions who will add to your experience and whet your appetite to continue adventuring.

As a traveler turned tour operator, I’ve put together the following questions: questions I wish I’d asked as a traveler and ones I answer whether or not theyapostrophere asked of me when I lead tours.

DOES THE TOUR OPERATOR OFFER ONE OF YOUR DREAMS? You know what you like. Are you a hiker or a snorkeler? Do you like to be surrounded by historical sights or spend your time in the quiet of a lonely landscape? Maybe you are a people watcher and would like to be introduced to a culture that is totally new to you. Whoever you are, pick a tour to match one of your dreams. Cold climate or warm? Out to sea or up a mountain?

You know what you like. Are you a hiker or a snorkeler? Do you like to be surrounded by historical sights or spend your time in the quiet of a lonely landscape? Maybe you are a people watcher and would like to be introduced to a culture that is totally new to you. Whoever you are, pick a tour to match one of your dreams. Cold climate or warm? Out to sea or up a mountain?

WHAT LEVEL OF PHYSICAL FITNESS IS REQUIRED? Do you expect to do technical climbing on ice with crampons or are you a walk-in-the-woods, smell-the-flowers day packer? If you yearn for the former and sign up for the latter, you are sure to be disappointed, no matter how well the tour is run. Maybe the best gauge of physical requirement is to ask, "What is a typical day?" Beyond the advertised description of a hiking tour, you may need to ask about elevation, equipment, climate and suggested conditioning.

Do you expect to do technical climbing on ice with crampons or are you a walk-in-the-woods, smell-the-flowers day packer? If you yearn for the former and sign up for the latter, you are sure to be disappointed, no matter how well the tour is run. Maybe the best gauge of physical requirement is to ask, "What is a typical day?" Beyond the advertised description of a hiking tour, you may need to ask about elevation, equipment, climate and suggested conditioning.

HOW LARGE IS THE GROUP? Visiting the pyramids with 300 people who are simultaneously awed is a good experience, but more than eight companions are too many when you are looking for a lion on safari. Adventure travel does have an impact on the environment, and if this is one of your concerns, it is wise to consider it in advance. WHO ELSE IS ON YOUR TOUR? No tour is for everyone and, although generally adventurers are a great group to be with, selection is part of a tour operatorapostrophes responsibility. You will want to be with people who are compatible in ability and attitude, not necessarily age and marital status. Adventure touring is a two way street. Often other participantsapostrophe attitudes, experiences and abilities will contribute vividly to your vacation. And you can expect to enhance theirs.

Visiting the pyramids with 300 people who are simultaneously awed is a good experience, but more than eight companions are too many when you are looking for a lion on safari. Adventure travel does have an impact on the environment, and if this is one of your concerns, it is wise to consider it in advance. WHO ELSE IS ON YOUR TOUR? No tour is for everyone and, although generally adventurers are a great group to be with, selection is part of a tour operatorapostrophes responsibility. You will want to be with people who are compatible in ability and attitude, not necessarily age and marital status. Adventure touring is a two way street. Often other participantsapostrophe attitudes, experiences and abilities will contribute vividly to your vacation. And you can expect to enhance theirs.

Leadership can make all the difference. WHO ARE YOUR GUIDES? A college student hired for the season being paid a pittance? The owner of the company with facility in multiple languages? And WHAT IS THEIR BACKGROUND AND EXPERIENCE? On a bicycle tour youapostrophell be the mechanic if the guide isnapostrophet. Maybe your interest is wild flowers: Will the guide be able to add to what you already know? Another important question to ask: WHAT IS THE CLIENT/GUIDE RATIO? 7/1 is good, 5/1 is better on active adventures. You may not have thought much about it, but one question you do not want to overlook is: ARE THE GUIDES LEADING TOO MANY CONSECUTIVE TOURS? Burn out is an occupational hazard for tour leaders and nothing is more disturbing than to travel with someone who has lost enthusiasm for the spectacular. Even the guide needs to enjoy your vacation.

Finding out the value of a tour is always a concern. Ask these questions: WHERE WILL YOU BE STAYING? If you are expecting a five star hotel, sleeping in a tent will be a major shock. WHAT KIND OF MEALS WILL YOU BE SERVED? Is lunch a sandwich or a six course sit down affair? WHAT EXACTLY IS INCLUDED IN THE TOUR? and WHAT EXPENSES WILL BE EXTRA? Airfare is key to comparing apples with apples in the travel industry. So are other transportation expenses, museum and sight entrances, as well as the number of meals and nights included. Bar bills, laundry, tips and shopping, of course, are out of pocket, the latter being the secret to keeping costs down. Adventure tours generally are far from malls or downtown shopping, and provide fulfilling activities that keep your mind off acquiring more things to tote home. In looking at cost, ASK ABOUT INSURANCE. Good tour operators will carry liability. Youapostrophell need to evaluate your own coverage for accident/medical abroad and expenses to return home if necessary. Trip cancellation insurance is another consideration.

Two last questions may help you sort out excellence from mediocrity. WHAT IS THE TOUR OPERATORapostropheS RELATIONSHIP TO LOCAL SERVICE PROVIDERS? Does the tour respect and value the people and places youapostrophell be meeting for the first time? Good adventure operators are not in the business only for the money. They trust their contacts and appreciate the experiences theyapostropheve had thanks to local help.

Finally, we have come full circle to your dream. DOES THE TOUR OPERATOR SHARE YOUR DREAM? If the answer is yes, you have found treasure. Just as no tour is for everyone, you won’t always find a perfect tour operator to take you everywhere you want to go. You may have to compromise on points that are not important to you, but by asking the right questions, you will know what you are getting into. Adventure is not always comfortable, but the experience should be worth everyone’s best effort. I hope you find more than money can buy in new friends and places to remember. "Kalo taxid