Traveling and day hiking solo suits me. I get to set my own pace, I can play things by ear – and I don’t need to have a set schedule. That said, I know myself well enough. I am not a planner. If I’m going to make the most of my travel time and the cost of my airline ticket, I will undoubtedly see more and have a richer experience if I engage with a hiking tour of some sort.
My rule of thumb: at least half of my total trip needs to be solo. When I went to Europe for a month last year, one week with a hiking group was plenty. Just got back from a two week trip in New Zealand – and I split it 50/50. It was my first time there and I wanted to have a varied experience that could inform my next visit.
Here’s my pitch for reasons hiking tours are good to add into your travel mix:
- You can always spring for a solo room. All the tour groups I’ve checked out have the ‘solo supplement’ as an option. Something I call ‘the best money ever spent’. Just as backpacking isn’t my thing, sharing a room with a complete stranger is also not my thing. Truly, it’s a deal breaker for me. There are amazing places in the world that I likely will never visit because hiking involves shared lodging/backpacker huts that are just not for me. I like to be able to kick back as I see fit, hang my laundry to dry wherever I like and turn my light on at whatever time of night to read, all in the comfort of my own room.
- Guides have the inside scoop on the food scene. They know the locals and can introduce you to restaurants you’ll likely not find on your own. Last year with Adventures in Good Company, they introduced us to amazing places in Lisbon to eat (and drink). The owners spoiled us with complimentary appetizers and encouraged us to stay with rounds of port. These are the experiences that are harder to come by when you’re traveling solo.
- The conversation is well-rounded. Turns out, I prefer to travel with groups that are based in the country I’m visiting (vs. travelling with US-based companies). Both have their pros and cons, but when the company is local, the people you’re traveling with tend to be more diverse. On the trip I just completed with Hiking New Zealand, my group of 5 consisted of: two Australian priests, one southern belle (you think I could make this stuff up?!) and one power couple from Hong Kong. One night we found ourselves at the same lodge as a US-based group (of about 14 people) and all I could think is ‘I’m definitely with the right crew’. The conversation with the US-based group (from what I could hear) was louder—but not nearly as interesting as the conversations we’d been having.
- Sometimes it’s nice to have someone do all the thinking for you. Now this one I wrestle with. Part of the fun of travel is getting lost, having laugh-out-loud experiences with cab drivers, struggling with the language. BUT, if you can round all that out with someone doing the planning and coordinating for you for a bit – it’s also nice to sit back and enjoy that perspective. When the only thing you need to think about is ‘what time to I need to be downstairs to meet the group’—and you know you’re going to have amazing experiences that day—it’s sort of the definition of a laid back vacation.
What are your thoughts on hiking groups?