Disclosure: I was hosted on several Intrepid Travel trips. As always, all opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links.
I still remember my first group trip. It was September 2016, and I went on the Intrepid Travel (then Geckos Adventures) Bangkok to Singapore tour. Since then, I’ve been on four trips with Intrepid and I figured it was time to update this Intrepid Travel review with everything I’ve learned.
When Intrepid Travel invited me on their Bangkok to Singapore tour, I admit that I was a teeny bit nervous. I can be a little Type A when it comes to planning a trip, and I was worried that I’d be shuffled in a giant group from place to place, following a guide carrying some sort of flag or stuffed animal on a stick. You all know what group tour stereotypes I’m talking about :p.
Luckily, this was not the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Having been to Southeast Asia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and Peru with Intrepid, I can say this: you’re guaranteed to leave each tour with great friends. No, you won’t always love everybody in your group, but three years later, the Southeast Asia trip’s group chat is still active.
Although I’m an independent solo traveler at heart, I still take at least one Intrepid Travel trip every year. So who is it that travels with Intrepid, and what is it really like to travel on a group tour? Keep reading this Intrepid Travel review to learn who would be a good fit for Intrepid (and who wouldn’t be) as well as all the things I loved (and didn’t) on my tour.
Table of Contents
What’s a small group tour?
Before I start in on my Intrepid Travel review, I first want to explain what a small group tour is, because frankly, I had no idea it was a “thing” until I took my first Intrepid trip – and I think many people are in the same boat (hence the common stereotype of large groups of seniors getting schlepped around on big tour buses).
Intrepid (and other small group companies) typically limit their groups to a certain number of people (12 in Intrepid’s case). This number allows you to feel like you’re traveling independently but is still big enough to create a good social vibe. Not only are you able to get to know everyone in the group, but you also get some time to chat with your tour guide – you never feel like you’re just a face in a sea of people, which sometimes happens in big groups.
In fact, as a somewhat shy introvert (surprise!), I love hanging out with people one on one but am anxious around big groups. Fortunately, it never takes long for my fellow travelers and I to become friends. There’s just this indescribable bond about being part of the Intrepid family (*cue the cheesy “aww!”*). The small group size pretty much guarantees you’ll make a bunch of BFFs.
Why Intrepid Travel? A Review
I’ve been on four tours with Intrepid Travel across seven countries on four continents, so I’ve been fortunate to experience how they operate all over the world. Yes, Intrepid is the world’s largest small group adventure travel company, but that’s not why I travel with them. Intrepid prides itself on slow(ish) travel, connecting with locals, eating local food and being led by local guides, all philosophies that I believe in when I travel independently. They’re not the only tour company I’ve traveled with, but they’re definitely the best. The below are just a few reasons I love traveling with them.
Different trip styles
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The Explore Jordan trip is an original trip with lots of inclusions
Group tours have the misconception of being pricey, but that’s not necessarily the case with Intrepid. Why? Because they offer three different trip styles for every kind of budget. Each varies in level of “luxury” and inclusions, so you can choose according to how you want to travel.
Basix trips are the best trips for travelers on a budget. The accommodation is clean and simple (and never more than two people per room), local transport is used whenever possible, most meals aren’t included, and travelers have plenty of free time and optional activities. With Basix trips, you get the most flexibility with how you’d like to spend your time and money, which is perfect for those who want a more independent style of travel.
Original tours are the ones Intrepid built their reputation on. You’ll get placed in 3-4 star accommodations, and sometimes have the opportunity to stay in a local guesthouse or homestay for one of the nights. Some meals are included and you get to experience a mix of private and local transportation. Lastly, you get a good mix of inclusions and free time – perfect for those who want most “big ticket” items included in their tour but still want the flexibility to do their own thing every once in awhile.
The comfort tours are the most “luxurious” of the three options. You’ll typically stay in 4-5 star comfortable and / or unique accommodations and most meals and activities are included as well. Most of the time, private transport is used. Note that these aren’t luxury tours per say – just very comfortable.
Local tour leaders
Before taking my first group trip with Intrepid, I didn’t realize that most tour companies don’t use local guides. Most companies hire one guide to take you on all of your adventures, and that guide is rarely a local. One of the coolest things about Intrepid is that you always have a local guide for your whole adventure – and sometimes you’ll have local guides in every city you visit as well, depending on the destination. Not only does Intrepid Travel do its part in supporting the local economy this way, but this also means that we, as travelers, learn about each place from a local who lives there. There’s no better way to learn about hidden gems and cool experiences!
There’s no minimum number of bookings required for an Intrepid trip, which is seriously awesome. It’s nice to know that once you hit that book button, you’re in for the trip of a lifetime. Almost all of Intrepid’s trips have guaranteed departures except those booked over a year in advance, and some of the Expeditions trip. That being said, although I’ve never personally been on a trip by myself, nearly all of the Intrepid tour guides I’ve met told me they’ve led single-passenger trips once or twice. So I can definitely vouch for the fact that nearly all the trips will run, whether it’s one traveler or twelve.
Not only does Intrepid offer plenty of awesome adventures that are open to anyone, they also have some cool themed trips for those that want to delve a little deeper into a destination. Think the great outdoors, local cuisine, wildlife, and more.
- 18-29s: If you’re between ages 18 and 29 and would rather travel with people in your age range, these trips are for you! I did a couple of these in my mid-20s and they were great, but I generally prefer a wide range of ages.
- Active: If adventure travel is your calling, Intrepid offers plenty of trips for the adventurous traveler: think mountain biking in South Africa, hiking in Cambodia and kayaking through the Amalfi Coast.
- Adventure cruising: There’s regular cruising and then there’s adventure cruising, where the focus is the destination and the number of passengers is limited to 50 maximum. Plus, you get the added bonus of porting in smaller ports, which means you get to visit both popular and more local cities.
- Expeditions: Expeditions are for those who want some seriously unique experiences. That could mean any number of things: camping with reindeer herders in Russia, swimming with sharks in Djibouti, or visiting a tea plantation in Turkey.
- Family: Think group trips aren’t for families? Think again. Intrepid offers tons of kid-friendly trips, for those who want to adventure with their whole family.
- Festivals: If you’re considering visiting a city or country for a cultural festival, Intrepid offers a few trips that help you make the best of your festival experience. Think Day of the Dead in Mexico, Carnaval in Rio, or Diwali in India.
- Food: Foodie travelers of the world, let’s be friends (then maybe go on a foodie trip together?)! Intrepid food trips are just like the regular trips but focus a lot more on local cuisine. Think sampling street food, taking cooking classes with locals, and doing home stays at local farms.
- Polar: Yes, you can visit the Arctic and Antarctic with Intrepid. If you do, please send me a photo from there so I can live vicariously through you!
- Sailing: I’ve been on one sailing trip before (although, not with Intrepid) and it was SO much fun. You spend a lot of time lounging on a boat and swimming (or floating) in a sea and still get plenty of time to port and explore island cities. So much fun.
- Short Breaks: If you’re short on time or looking for a small introduction to a place before wandering off on your own, consider booking a short break (3-8 days) with Intrepid. They’re awesome add-ons to both organized tours and independent ones.
- Urban Adventures: Urban Adventures is Intrepid’s day tour arm. This is my personal go-to for things like food tours, street art tours, and more – options vary depending on the city, but I did a street art and food tour in Valencia, for example.
- Walking and Trekking: Want to hike the Inca Trail or go trekking through Patagonia? Intrepid has plenty of tours for hiking lovers. And speaking from personal experience, those tough hikes are way better with a support group, trust me.
- Wildlife: If your idea of the perfect trip means seeing animals up and close in the wild, then Intrepid’s wildlife adventure tours are for you. Think meeting gorillas in Kenya and Uganda, scoping out sloths in Costa Rica, and seeing sea turtles in Borneo.
I know responsible tourism is a buzzword floating around in the travel world, but Intrepid has been walking the walk in this aspect for a long, long time. So, what is responsible tourism, anyway? To me, it means making a difference while traveling – whether it be supporting and respecting the local economy, reducing my carbon footprint, or boycotting cruel tourism practices.
Intrepid has an entire section about responsible travel, including things NOT to do like volunteer in orphanages, give money to beggars or *ahem* ride elephants (they were the first tour operator to end elephant rides). Intrepid also carbon offsets their trips, gives back to communities through The Intrepid Foundation, promotes gender-equity within their tour guide force, and discourages any and all plastic usage. You can read about their responsible tourism practices here.
I went on my first solo trip in the summer of 2015. My primary concern wasn’t my safety or my accommodation – it was how I was going to make friends. Well, that and eating alone, but that might just be me. Anyway, my point is that many people don’t take trips because they don’t have anyone to go with them and they’re scared to travel solo. Going on a group tour is the best way to remedy this. Not only are you guaranteed to meet some travel besties, but you also avoid paying a single supplement (unless of course, you want your own room – that’s an option you can do, too). Around half of Intrepid tours are comprised of solo travelers, so “I don’t have a travel buddy” isn’t a real excuse not to travel.
No single supplement
Traveling solo? No problem! I’ve actually never done an Intrepid trip with a friend – only solo (I do have friends though, promise). Half of Intrepid’s passengers are also solo travelers. Unlike other tour companies, you don’t have to pay a single supplement since you’re on your own (although you can if you want your own room). Instead, you get randomly assigned a roommate of the same gender. Easy, right? Even better: Intrepid also offers a few tours specifically for solo travelers. You can check them out here.
Travel solo but not alone – that’s part of the Intrepid motto and truly one that many travelers live by. I’m an introvert and a little more on the shy side, so making friends while traveling solo takes some extra effort on my end. However, on group trips, you get a built-in safety net of instant new friends. You don’t have to love everyone in the group, but I’ve found that there are always at least a few people that I vibe with in the group. Plus, with the built in free time, you can always go off and do your own thing when you need some you time.
I’ll be the first to say that overall, the world is a pretty safe place to be. I’m a firm believer that the media shouldn’t scare you from traveling because most of the time, places aren’t even half as scary as the news makes them out to be. That being said, as a solo female traveler, there are certain countries that I’ve visited that I know would be more enjoyable as part of the group. Whether it’s a cultural tendency toward sexual harassment or a pickpocketing problem I’m worried about, traveling in a group always makes me feel a little more relaxed about my surroundings. And there’s no doubt that feeling safe makes a trip better.
One of my favorite things about Intrepid is that all of their tours include some sort of unique experience that would be difficult to do on your own (if not impossible). Some examples of these include things like a visit to a Quechua community in Peru, where we learned about natural dyeing methods and weaving of alpaca wool. Or when we visited a women’s carpet-weaving collective in Turkey. Or even a visit to an Intrepid Foundation local project in Egypt. No matter where you go, there’s always some delightful yet unexpected activity that you’ll get to experience.
I’ve already mentioned that I’m an introvert, which means I need to recharge after spending too much time with people. I often do this by purchasing a single supplement on my trip, but I also take advantage of free time to do my own thing.
Because another awesome thing about Intrepid is you get free time (especially on Basix tours). You’ll often have about half a day’s worth of planned activities and a free afternoon with plenty of optional activities, depending on the tour or the day. Sometimes you’ll have a couple of free days thrown in, too. I almost always break off from the group and do my own thing at some point during every trip and it helps me feel grounded and enjoy my time with fellow travelers even more.
Although groups tend to stick together for the most part, I’ve never felt pressured to do what the group was doing, which has made my trips that much more enjoyable. I need me time!
One of the many stereotypes of group travel is that it’s expensive. Although that is sometimes true, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Good news: Intrepid offers plenty of affordable trips – especially the Basix ones. They’re great value for money. With Basix trips, you get a lot of control over which activities you choose to do and where you eat your meals, so you can easily keep your budget in check.
Feeling spontaneous or just a last-minute planner? Me too! I know that habit doesn’t always work in our favor but when it comes to group trips it does. Intrepid has sales on last minute trips (those departing within the next two months), so you can snag an awesome deal if you’re a fellow procrastinator.
Ease of travel
Despite being a seasoned traveler, I definitely still get a tad overwhelmed when planning trips independently. I’m not the type to just show up to a place and figure things out and always book my transport and accommodation ahead of time. One of the best things about group trips is not having to worry about planning almost anything (except maybe adding on a few days before or after your trip). Besides booking your flight and travel insurance, everything is taken care of from the minute you hit book. And that’s pretty nice sometimes.
Cons of group trips
Just because my trips have been sponsored trip doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep it real. Travel isn’t all butterflies and rainbows, although I’m pretty sure it’s the closest thing to it. I totally get why group tours aren’t for everyone, at least not all the time. There are a few of things about group trips that I don’t love.
To be honest, most of the cons I’ve listed aren’t specific to Intrepid, but rather to group trips in general. I understand that group tours aren’t for everyone (although I’m a firm believer that you should try them out at least once). However, I’d have to say that my main gripe about tours is that you visit a lot of places rather quickly, which isn’t my travel style when I’m traveling solo – I have the luxury of traveling slowly, so I do. That being said, for those who have limited vacation time (i.e. most people), Intrepid trips are awesome.
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I would have loved to spend more time in Kas during the Turkey Encompassed tour
If you’re someone who changes your travel itinerary frequently, then (all) group tours are not right for you. I can count the number of times I’ve spontaneously decided to make serious changes to a trip on one hand. So for me, having a schedule where I know which place I’ll be in on which day is actually how I normally travel. However, I’m adding this point in here because I know that many long-term travelers and backpackers do indeed travel spontaneously, booking whichever location strikes their fancy at a moment’s notice. Obviously, this is something that you can’t do on a group tour.
Not so slow travel
Let me preface this by saying that I am fully aware that I can only complain about this because of my current lifestyle. Back when I worked at an office, I would try to squeeze in as many cities as I could on my vacations with the mentality of “I don’t know when I’m coming back here” and “my time is limited and I have to see ALL THE PLACES.” Fortunately, thanks to the fact that I work remotely, I no longer have to travel that way…so I don’t.
That being said, the pace of the trip also depends on which tour you’re on. Of the tours I’ve gone on, I thought Peru, Jordan, and Egypt were well-paced, whereas Turkey and the Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore trip were a little too fast for me. So overall, check the itinerary for the number of places you’ll be visiting during your trip if you don’t like fast-paced travel.
Transportation time (some tours)
This is really just an expansion on my last point. On itineraries where we visited lots of different places, we naturally spent a lot of time on buses or minivans. Again, depending on the trip itinerary, your transport time can vary a lot.
The people on the tour
This can be both a pro or a con depending on who is on your tour! Obviously, you have no control over who actually ends up traveling on your tour. So if you end up with someone who complains a lot, talks incessantly or is overall unpleasant, that can definitely put a damper on your trip. I have to admit, this has only happened on one trip with one person, but I avoided her most of the trip and had an overall good time. You can’t control what people do or say but you can control how you react to them. The overwhelming majority of people on trips are perfectly pleasant though.
Optional activities can add up
This is especially true for Basix tours. The low price point for the Basix tours are temping, but it’s definitely worth checking prices for the optional activities you want to do before booking. In some countries, you might find that you want to do almost all of the optional activities, in which case you should see if Intrepid offers a similar tour with a different trip style. Either way, if you’re on a budget, definitely check on prices for optional activities beforehand so you can budget accordingly.
Group meals can also add up
I know, I know. It’s super tempting to just eat wherever everyone else wants to eat, especially if everyone agrees on a spot. However, I’m pretty selective about where I eat – especially when the opportunity to eat street food or at a local spot arises – so I have no problem telling the group that I’m going to explore some options instead (and usually a couple of people come with me). Don’t be afraid to be the first split from the group – oftentimes, there are a couple of others who want to try somewhere else as well!
Who travels with Intrepid?
Intrepid Travel attracts people from all over the world. In my experience, most of the travelers tend to come from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. The age range varies wildly – I’ve been on trips with 18-year-olds and 80-year-olds, and everything in between (which makes for some seriously interesting perspectives and characters)! I have to say that the majority of the time, travelers tend to be curious about other cultures and genuinely interested in gaining new perspectives and experiences. Out of all my trips, I’ve only dealt with one unpleasant passenger (it happens) but have often left the trips with plenty of new friends.
What’s included in an Intrepid tour and what’s optional?
Depending on which trip style you’ve chosen, your trip inclusions can vary wildly. No matter what, all the trips include accommodation, transportation, a few group activities and meals, and a local guide. With original trips, you’ll get a good mix of free time and inclusions, and with comfort trips, most activities are included.
What’s the accommodation and transportation like?
The accommodation and transportation depend a bit on the trip style you’ve chosen. In terms of accommodation, the hotel rooms are always clean and centrally located, and you never have to share with more than one person. Basix accommodation is more basic, whereas Original is 3 stars or so and Comfort is 4 or 5 stars. With Basix, you’ll likely use a mix of public and private transport whereas with Original, it’s almost exclusively private. Be sure to read the description for the tour you’re interested in booking.
What’s the food like on Intrepid tours?
One of the best things about Intrepid trips is that the meals are pretty flexible – even for Comfort trips, where more meals are included. You’ll never end up at a crappy tourist restaurant (unless by your own accord). You generally get a fair amount of flexibility to eat wherever you want, which is excellent for everyone. For meals that are included, you typically have some choices and the restaurants are usually good.
Comparable tour companies
If you ended up on this page after looking up small group tours, it’s likely you stumbled upon G Adventures in your research, Intrepid’s main competitor (they were once the same company).
I’ve never traveled with G myself, but have met plenty of travelers who have and said great things. I’d say that the tours are pretty comparable (although they have slightly bigger groups). Prices do vary depending on the trip, but significant price differences are usually due to the number of inclusions (or lack thereof). G Adventures tends to be cheaper in South America and Intrepid in Southeast Asia. Overall though, you should compare tours before making a final decision either way. You can browse G Adventures collection of tours here.
Would I recommend traveling with Intrepid?
Having been on multiple trips with Intrepid (and a couple with other tour companies), I would wholeheartedly recommend traveling with Intrepid. Their tours are incredibly organized, fun, and cover the highlights of the destination. The local guides I’ve had have all been excellent and I’ve made tons of friends on all the tours.
I strongly recommend group tours for expensive countries (independent travel ends up costing more), countries that don’t see a lot of tourism (oftentimes this is due to lack of infrastructure, which usually makes it challenging to get around), countries that aren’t particularly stable politically (safety in numbers) or countries where the language barrier can be a huge deterrent. Check out all your Intrepid tour options here.
When shouldn’t you travel on a group tour?
Although I definitely recommend traveling with Intrepid as a company, there are certain destinations where independent travel is incredibly easy and affordable so you really don’t need to bother with a group trip.
North America and Europe are both continents where you can generally travel pretty easily (and cheaply) on your own. Europe especially has amazing public transport options and tons of accommodation for every budget – plus most people speak enough English where you won’t have to worry much about language barriers.
In the United States, as long as you’re comfortable renting a car, you can go just about anywhere (although there aren’t many hostel options). In Canada, both public and private transport is easy to use and there are plenty of hotels for different budgets. Mexico is probably the only country of the three where I’d recommend a tour if you can’t speak Spanish or are interested in visiting a variety of destinations.
Lastly, I’d say that some countries in Southeast Asia are relatively easy to travel in – specifically Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. All three are quite used to tourists and have incredible infrastructure in terms of transport and accommodation. If it’s your first time out of the country, then perhaps consider booking a tour, but otherwise, it’s fairly easy to travel in those three countries on your own.
Which Intrepid tour should you choose?
There are so many great tours with Intrepid Travel to choose from and I know it can be overwhelming if you have no idea where you want to go. First of all, check out both the Intrepid homepage for sales and the last-minute deals to see if anything catches your eye. Alternatively, you can search by themes, travel style, duration, region and more. The sky’s the limit (literally).
Overall, I’ve had amazing adventures on all of my Intrepid Tours and am excited for the next one. It’s always nice to be able to sit back, relax and let someone else take care of all the logistics for me.
P.S. To all my American friends: I know how sucky it is to only be able to get two weeks off max. Been there, done that. Don’t worry though, Intrepid has dozens of excursions that are 10 days or under. Just hit the search button and filter by duration.
>> Check out all the Intrepid Travel trips HERE.
>> Join a last-minute discounted Intrepid trip HERE.
Tell me: have you ever been on a group tour? What was your favorite part? Share in the comments below!
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