Small Group Travel: A Q&A

Thinking about joining a group trip for your next international travels but not sure what to expect? Many people think that a group tour means ginormous buses, a packed schedule that feels bland and characterless, and no freedom within the itinerary. While that may be common in mass tourism situations, small-group “bespoke” tours are a different story. Consider the advantages: meaningful experiences shared with likeminded people, fully vetted activities and accommodations, hassle-free logistics (taken care of for you!), stellar local guides, hidden gems and much more.

After leading small groups around the globe for years, we’ve noticed common hesitancies among some independent travelers who are considering their first group trip abroad. So we sat down with a couple of our recent New Zealand clients (both first-timers to group travel) — Susanna Kelly & Holly Brace— to find out about their experiences before, during and after their recent small group trip with us. Read on to hear what they shared, and find out whether or not they would do it again!

What was it like traveling with a group — did you get along with everyone on the trip?

Group travel pro: sharing the experience of seeing amazing new places with like-minded adventurers.

Group travel pro: sharing the experience of seeing amazing new places with like-minded adventurers.

Susanna: Leading into the trip, this scared me the most I think. I can honestly say that the group we traveled with in New Zealand could not have been more different, BUT we all had two important things in common: we were all very accepting of other people and incredibly open-minded. So, we actually got along great and became close friends. I think Traverse Journeys attracts open-minded people and even if you are different you can appreciate the differences and make new friends. Isn’t that what traveling is all about, making friends from around the world?

Holly: I loved our little group, Susanna! Prior to this, I had either traveled alone and/or as a couple. So traveling non-stop with the same group for a week was going to be a whole different ball game for me. I think it really helped being such a small group. I was constantly praising the fact that I felt like I didn’t need to “work the room” (something I really can’t do) as much and could get to know people at my own pace without forcing it.

How did you feel about booking the trip, knowing that you’d be traveling with strangers?

Susanna: I think most people who travel are outgoing enough to deal with strangers. I do like my own personal space sometimes, so having the option to book my own room was really helpful, though toward the end I realized I would have been fine to share rooms.

Holly: Knowing it would be a small group definitely made it easier. Even though I didn’t know anyone I was confident knowing that I had freedom to do things I wanted to do. If I wanted to book an extra excursion, that was available. If I wanted some time alone, I could do that too!

Susanna: Yeah the itinerary was a perfect balance of together time and free time away!

What was it like having all the logistics taken care of throughout?

A group excursion in New Zealand’s abundant forests on a quirky train ride. Photo: Susanna Kelly.

A group excursion in New Zealand’s abundant forests on a quirky train ride. Photo: Susanna Kelly.

Holly: I’m so used to being the organizer, that it was a welcome change to sit back and let someone else take the reigns for once. I never once felt like we were rushed or had to miss out on something.

Susanna: Yes, I could sit back and relax, which was a new feeling for me while traveling. Everything was taken care of. It took a minute to adjust as an independent traveler, but it was actually nice being able to take everything in without worry about transportation or time or any of that.

How was the balance between group time & free time for optional activities or downtime?

Holly: I was able to have my own free time while others were on extra excursions, but I loved that it was flexible enough for me to book onto any extra activities that I wanted to. There are a few things I’d change in terms of the extra excursions I did/didn’t do - I definitely would have booked onto more looking back! However, the basic itinerary was perfect for me.

An optional hike up Queenstown hill. Photo: Holly Brace

An optional hike up Queenstown hill. Photo: Holly Brace

Susanna: The balance of group time vs free time was perfect. We bonded over group dinners but then also had some space on other evenings, so we could all stay friends haha. I think I was a bit aggressive with my additional activity booking, so I definitely caught up on some sleep in the car, but I enjoyed everything I booked and wouldn’t have done it any other way.

How much extra money did you need while you were on the trip?

Susanna: So much was included, which was great. It was the perfect amount of included food options and time on your own to stick to a budget if you needed. I would say on average I spent an additional $35 USD a day, plus some additional excursions I had to pay on location. I could have spent a lot less since I like to drink a lot of coffee.

Holly: Same, Susanna. Coffee is my vice and it doesn’t come cheap here in New Zealand!

Susanna: It was such good coffee, though and so worth it!

H: Despite that, most meals/excursions and all accommodations and transport are accounted for in the cost of the trip. So I did not spend much on top of that.

How did having a local guide with you the whole time affect your travel experience?

Maxy — our local New Zealand guide in 2018, in his element.

Maxy — our local New Zealand guide in 2018, in his element.

Susanna: Our local guide was great, we could ask him anything and he had an answer. It was like having Wikipedia in the car with us! I always knew he was very helpful, but while I was inner tubing in the glow worm caves I talked to several people who had bad experiences at Hot Water Beach. It was too crowded, they didn’t find any hot water… However, our experience at Hot Water Beach was one of the better nights we had. That is because our local guide knew when to go to the beach and how to find hot water. Having that local knowledge was valuable.

Our late night low-tide excursion to Hot Water Beach. Photo: Susanna Kelly

Our late night low-tide excursion to Hot Water Beach. Photo: Susanna Kelly

Holly: I don’t know what we would have done without our local guide! Even though I call New Zealand home for now, I learned so much that I never would have known without him. It’s true, you could ask him anything and he knew the answer. Even if he didn’t, he would endeavor the find it out for you.

Susanna is so right about Hot Water Beach, I had been prior with a group and had such an average experience. But this time, with our local guide along, I had a far superior experience! It was definitely a magical night for all of us.

Susanna: I also think it was the company we were with…

Since you are both passionate about creating a positive impact when traveling abroad, how do you feel you were able to give back to New Zealand on this trip?

Susanna: Well, I was very happy some of my booking fees went to Project Jonah a group who works endlessly to literally save the whales. It was great we got to meet the people running the program and to learn about their work, so I knew my money was going to a good cause. In addition to that, almost all the tour operators gave some of their proceeds back to conservation and we were mindful to leave no trace.

Holly: This was honestly, my favorite aspect too. Although I have lived here for some time, I never knew about Project Jonah or what it stood for. Knowing I contributed slightly to their hard work really set the tone for the trip. I now want to do more to help such a great organization, and am considering volunteering with them while I’m here. Oh, and the food! During the trip we ate at so many awesome farm-to-table establishments which meant we were able to eat locally and give back to local communities - all while getting a deliciously prepared meal.

Susanna: I’m having flashbacks to Eggcentric - that amazing restaurant we ate at with the line caught fish that was fresh from that day. Best. Food. Ever.

So… you’d join a small group tour again?

Holly: Yes!

Susanna: Definitely!

So there you have it! If you’re ready for the experience of a lifetime on your next trip abroad, check out all the group departures we have coming up. Don’t see the destination you’re keen on? See what’s coming up in the pipeline here.

For further insight into Susanna’s thoughts about joining our trip check out her “10 Reasons Traverse Journeys Changed my Mind on Organized Tours” and read about Holly’s reasoning in her post about “Travelling New Zealand With Traverse Journeys.”

Still not sure? Reach out to us anytime and we’ll be happy to go over your questions or concerns about joining a group trip, or leave a comment with your questions below.

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Day 2 traveling with @traversejourneys ended on such a high. . We left Auckland early in the morning and continued exploring this gorgeous country. We boarded a historic and quirky train that wound up a mountain while we learned about local vegetation- including the iconic silver fern and conservation efforts in the area. We then hiked along the beach to Cathedral Cove for a stunning panorama view of unique rock formations before checking into an adorable eco friendly cabin along Hot Water Beach. After a fresh dinner, sourced locally, we ventured out to the beach late at night. With flashlights and shovels in hand we began to dig until we found boiling hot water - heated by geothermal activity. With our small group of five, we dug a nice hot tub sized hole and plopped down to star gaze while soaking in natural hot ocean water. . I think it's so great that with the help of a local guide and small group sizes Traverse Journeys is able to provide a unique experience I would not have found on my own. . ⁉️What is a great local experience you've had? . #sponsored #purenewzealand #capturenz #newzealandguide #destinationnz #visitnewzealand #hotwaterbeach #drivingcreekrailway #explorelocal #newzealand #cathedralcove #sustainabletravel #greentravel #savethewhales #nzmustdo #bestnewzealand #newzealandfinds #postcardsfromtheworld #globalstorybook #travelvibes #teampixel #Femaletravelbloggers #ABMtravelbug #Flashesofdelight #wheretofindme #openmyworld #weekly_feature #shotzdelight #worldtravelbook #wonderfulglobe

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