Hack Your Own Adventure Tours

Packaged adventure tours can be fun and useful. A guided hut-to-hut walk in the Italian Alps, or a bicycle tour around the villages of Rajasthan, or a kayaking cruise between Caribbean islands are fantastic journeys that can be hard to program yourself. A good adventure tour agency knows how to smoothly sequence events like this, and on higher-price tours you may get a guide as well.

But I prefer to create my own adventure tours, because I can save many thousands of dollars that way. I use the commercial adventure tour itineraries as a basis for my own travels, and then modify them as needed. The way I figure it, if they can move a dozen people along the route, I should be able to do it with one or two. The most reputable agencies publish their itineraries online in great detail as a sales incentive. But to complete many of the routes they are selling requires private transportation or special accommodations. You might need a pick-up or delivery at a trail-head, or a jeep to reach a village, or even a plane flight, etc. This is where many budget travelers stop. It took me many years to realize that in most places in the world today — even developing nations — it is not hard, or very expensive, to arrange private transportation or expert help. And with the internet, these arrangements can be made beforehand. I’ve pre-arranged jeeps, vans, buses, and boats. The simple rule of thumb is: if a US-based tour agency can pre-arrange it, you can too, and at a great savings.

It will take some time and googling to arrange all the parts of an adventure tour, but the payoff is that you can replicate the same tour for about 1/5th the cost of the glossy professional version. So now I page through the adventure travel sites discovering all kinds of nifty tours I would have never thought about doing. Unlike the unconnected places in a guide book, there’s a logical flow to an itinerary, and because of their high prices, these agencies will hone and optimize a trip for peak experiences. A key thing: pay attention to the time of year they run a tour, which is again highly optimized. Still I wind up modifying them in some way for my own use. I usually chop off the leisurely entry in a big city and head directly to the adventure (see my Laser-back travel advice).

Adventure Tour Agencies

Some famous adventure travel companies specialize in highly-refined premium tours around the world, but they may be low on actual adventures. For instance I find National Geographic Expeditions’ trips (better than their Adventure trips) involve more car and plane travel than suits me, but occasionally they’ll have a nice gem worth replicating. Wilderness Travel gets you walking or kayaking a bit more, but still cover more miles in vehicles than I want, but I have used their itineraries a few times with great success.

Geoex offers pretty cool offbeat trips I’ve not seen elsewhere, but they also have plenty that are too mileage-hungry to count as an adventure. AsiaTranspacific specializes in Asian trips, a few of which stay close to the bone. For Africa and animals I look to Africa Adventure; they have a really good season chart for best times of year and parks for wildlife viewing. I like Zegrahm for inspiration. They do real off-the road adventures, including trips one might describe as “expeditions” which is more my kind of adventure travel.

But of all the tour sites, the one that has provided me with the most appealing itineraries is Journeys International. They emphasize in getting you to walk, hike, bike and kayak and this is really the way to go anywhere. Almost any one of their itineraries would yield a fantastic adventure.

Remember, I have no personal experience with the tours given by any of these outfits. I only use their freely published routes. All these tours are super expensive if you buy them but I would bet they would be really fun and generally well done. I recommend them here only as models to assemble your own.

If you have a favorite adventure tour agency (especially if it is not mentioned here) that you’ve used in any way, leave a comment.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

From Journeys International

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