I much prefer to travel alone whenever possible. I like meeting people in hostels, spending entire days at spas, and doing whatever the hell I damn well please when I damn well please it. No one puts Vanessa in the corner. However, I do go on organized tours if I’m traveling through rural areas sometimes. After a near-trafficking experience in India when I was 20, I’ve become rather jumpy when it comes to taxis or other means of transportation; like jump out of a moving vehicle kind of jumpy. I specifically wanted to drive through rural Cambodia so I choose Gecko Adventures as their dates matched my desired travel time and we would be driving the entire time, which cuts down on costs; or so I thought.
I, along with 18 other people, were basically robbed.
While I’m still fuming, this post will be more helpful than negative (I hope) so you don’t make the same mistake as me. I have had GOOD organized tours before through Europe (bravo EF Tours). So for a point of reference, I will compare my experiences between the two.
I know that I’m sacrificing potential partnerships in the future with Gecko’s but #YOLMO. You Only Lose Money Once
Background: For New Years 2013 my EF Tours package flew me to/from Europe and then our guide took us through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria for two weeks. Seeing as flights around New Years are $1300+, $700-$1000 was then spent on food, activities, internal transportation, and accommodation IN EUROPE by EF Tours with private buses, lovely accommodation, and included activities; even most meals were included! Gecko’s took the same amount of money… and gave me nothing for it. If accommodation is $10 USD a night (or less) for 1-2 star hotel and public transportation was (at most) $15 dollars one way (8 bus rides), that’s only $240 USD spent… The numbers just don’t add up. I recognize that there is an administrative fee for the central office and guides, but there’s no reason SE Asia should have cost me more than Europe. None at all.
At the end of it all I was gutted, but I have no one else to blame but myself for not doing enough research. Let me help you learn from my mistake and empty bank account.
1. Choose Tours With CLEAR “Included Activities”
The reason we all felt “robbed” by Gecko’s was because we had to pay extra for EVERYTHING; and I mean everything. Food, water, transportation, activities, and even our bikes! As a Asia veteran, I know for damn well how much things should cost and in addition for the +$700 USD that I paid to be hand-held around SE Asia, I spent and EXTRA $800 USD on basic features that were included in other tours that I had gone with.
2. Choose A Route That Makes Sense
On the “Run Amok” tour, we were shuttled from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap THEN BACK TO Phnom Penh before we took off to Thailand…. We lost over a day worth of sightseeing and 8 hours of our lives.
3. Don’t Waste The Daylight
Each morning, all of us were loaded onto a public bus and we spent anywhere from 4-10 hours on a bus to get to a new location. There was very little time to do activities and we lost most of the day to travel time. As a result, most of our “free time” in cities were only at night, which for someone who rarely drinks, is pretty useless. I’m not trying to bar-hop my way around SE Asia; I’m more of an outdoors kind of person and I’m trying to get my tan on, ya dig? Sightseeing during the day is CRITICAL for a traveler like me, but when you’re arriving to new cities at 3pm or later, there’s really not much you can do.
4. Choose A Tour With An Age Restriction
As a 23 year-old seasoned backpacker, my energy levels and definition of “fun” is vastly different from my 40-something travel peers. And that’s okay. I don’t know the “finer things in life” so my expectations are managed when it comes to accommodation and activities. However, this lead to head-butting amongst the younger members and the older travelers. Go with a group that will be on the same page as you so you can enjoy your experiences the way you want too.
5. Choose A Young Guide
Our guide had been leading trips through Cambodia for over 10 years and he was completely burnt out. He thought our questions/problems were a burden and his clear disdain for our existence was made apparent each and every morning; he was 30-something. In comparison, my EF Tours guide was only 26 and she was bubbly and full of energy! Hell, she organized a table at a club for us AND CAME WITH on New Years. “Jay,” our tour guide in Cambodia, would have nothing to do with us after dinner. In fact, most of us were so unhappy with him that we all bailed on the last group dinner and flat-out refused to tip him… to his face. Hell has no wrath like travelers scorned.
6. Choose A Company With GREAT Customer Service
I’m a pretty flexible person. I’ve sat in “airport jail,” dealt with language barriers, and I’m extremely understanding about geckos or spiders in my room. (They eat the mosquitos!) But I can’t deal with poor customer service. Not once did Gecko Adventures offer to arrange anything for us other than basic transportation and accommodation. I received no help with visas, packing, or joining arrangements other than a dry, standard 12 page document. But that’s not why I’m heated. After 8 of us complained with SEPARATE 12 page documents/emails, we all received copy-and-paste word-for-word responses from their customer service lead. We know this because we either cc’d one another or forwarded the message to our Facebook group message.
In summation, I would still recommend organized tours for solo travelers and backpacking newbies because it’s a safety issue. But with that said, research needs to go into the decision so you aren’t stuck with hidden fees and an unfortunate experience.
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About Vanessa Elizabeth
Vanessa Elizabeth is a cultural chameleon currently based in London. She enjoys sports (such as CrossFit and dating), cooking, and demolishing her savings account. When she's not busy blogging about her feelings, she works full-time and practices Chinese with her English/German friends.
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