Tom Hale’s Top Questions to Ask when Choosing an Active Travel Company
Or… How to Avoid Common Pitfalls of Active Travel
In the 38 years since I started Backroads, I’ve found a great deal of pride in knowing we deliver the very best active travel experiences. But don’t just take it from me… Our guests tell us every day about their experiences on our trips, and I never tire of hearing from them.
“I’m speechless every time I return from a Backroads trip. It’s the most brilliant travel philosophy out there and you guys continue to execute on it better and better each year… You provide a travel experience that restores the soul; for that I can only say thank you!”
– Daisy K, New York, NY (Amalfi Coast walking & hiking tour)
How can you be sure your active vacation will be rave-worthy? If you ask the right questions and hold your responders to their answers, you’re much more likely to be successful.
Here are the top questions to ask when choosing a biking, hiking or multi-sport adventure.
EVERY company says its leaders are “the best.” While there are many ways to evaluate the integrity of this statement, there is one surefire point you should verify: does the company employ its leaders, or hire independent contractors?
The best leaders should be trained personally by their employer. They should exemplify the values ingrained in the company. And they should feel empowered to make their guests’ experience all it can be.
The very definition of independent contractors is that they aren’t trained by the employer and they use their own processes and methods. This lack of consistency and long-term investment in quality rolls down to guests and impacts their overall experience.
Just ask: Do you directly employ your leaders, or are they independent contractors?
Who’s in Charge?
Do you know who’s running the trip? It’s not uncommon for companies in the travel industry to outsource entire trips, which leaves quality and accountability in limbo. Would you want to risk your heard-earned vacation time to an unknown entity?
Just ask: Do you run your own trips?
It’s your vacation. You should be able to go at your own pace, for as long as you want.
Will you be happy stopping every time a fellow guest wants to take a bathroom break, snap a photo or smell the roses? Or, will you feel comfortable hiking or cycling faster than you prefer?
It’s unlikely that you will ever be on a trip where all guests define “the perfect day” the same way or unanimously agree on how far and how fast they want to go. Companies that don’t offer full van and leader support, daily route options and written and GPS directions are simply unable to offer the flexibility you need to make your experience your own.
Just ask: Can I choose from several routes each day? How will I navigate?
There are so many reasons for a support van to be “elsewhere.” A leader may need to jump ahead to prepare a picnic or give someone a lift to the hotel. With only one van, it’s not always easy to get what you want, how and when you want it. Yet, you should expect this from your vacation.
With two or more support vans, you’ve got all the support you need, regardless of which route you take.
Just ask: How many support vehicles will be used every day of the trip?
Are There Enough of Those “Best Leaders?”
What’s the point in having leaders if you never see them? Many travel companies employ as few leaders as possible, which may leave guests to fend for themselves. Having multiple leaders means better service and more contact on the journey–maximizing your active and relaxation time.
Just ask: How many leaders will there be on my trip?
A good group dynamic can mean everything to the quality of your experience. With too few fellow travelers you may miss out on camaraderie and new friendships. Too many and you get lost in the crowd.
Would you prefer to travel with a mix of adult couples, friends and solo travelers? Families with young children? Or those with teenagers? It’s your vacation. You should get to choose.
Just ask: Do you offer different trips for adults and families with kids? What’s your average group size?
Everyone’s abilities differ, so you need options of top-quality bikes. Do you prefer upright or drop handlebars? Do you want to ride a pro-level bike (the Backroads Specialized upgrade retails for $10,000) or would you prefer an eBike (electric assist)? How about a tandem? Do you need a bike designed just for kids?
Whichever style you choose, every option available should be top quality–lighter, smoother and better engineered to get you through your ride in comfort.
Just ask: Exactly what type and quality of bikes do you offer? What is their retail value?
Let’s be honest–no matter how great the adventure is during the day, if you don’t have a fantastic place to relax, rejuvenate and get some rest at night, you’re missing out on one of the best parts of your trip. Make sure you’re guaranteed the hotel quality promised. Many companies book hotels as guests sign up or opt for a different hotel than the one shown in their marketing materials. Don’t fall victim to bait and switch.
Just ask: Where will I be staying? Have you already booked the rooms? Do you ever switch hotels from what’s advertised?
Experience counts. Commitment to quality counts. Creating amazing travel experiences, year in and year out, takes organizational excellence, consistent vision and executional know-how.
Do the travel company and its trips consistently get 5-star reviews from guests? Does the company deliver on its quality promise?
Just Ask: Is company management consistent and present? What are your typical trip ratings? How do you measure quality?
Life is too short to spend time, money and effort on a travel experience that hasn’t been thoughtfully crafted with true dedication to quality. These are the experiences that will be remembered for a lifetime, so make them count.
I hope this advice is helpful (let me know in the comments below, or ask me your other travel questions).
Get out there and see the world actively!