* Prices may differ from that shown
The Adventure Company is a travel agent in the same genre as Exodus, Explore or Intrepid Travel for example. That is, companies offering organised trips with fixed departure dates, for limited size groups, often involving more adventurous activities or unusual destinations and with an emphasis on local culture and economies. By this I mean that local guides, local transport and locally owned accommodation will be used wherever possible.
The Adventure Company has branched into a couple of additional areas that as far as I know the others have not yet, in that they also offer family group trips and they have the "Adventure Collection" holidays which provide a more luxurious standard of accommodation and travel, whilst staying true to its other principles.
I have now been on three Adventure Company trips. My first was a week in Turkey on an activity holiday and later the same year I booked a short tour of Vietnam whilst I was already travelling around the SE Asia region. I joined both these trips as a solo traveller about five years ago. Earlier this year, my husband and I booked a two week holiday in Tanzania and Zanzibar. As this was the most recent trip, many of my comments to follow are likely to focus on this latest experience.
Booking and before you go~~~
The company produces printed brochures which can be ordered but the starting point for me and probably for most people is the website. There are a few ways to find a trip, from the home page you can click directly onto the "Late availability" section or you can go the "Adventure inspiration" section which groups together certain types of holiday such as walking trips, safaris, eclipse trips, festival departures amongst others and these trips could be anywhere in the world.
I usually plan ahead and know where I want to go so I use the advanced search. This allows me to search through the catalogue of trips by selecting any or all of: a continent, a country, preferred length of trip, start date after, return date before and price. The results page will list the holidays meeting my criteria and will provide some high level information of each including the price, the specific duration, the maximum group size, the activity level (e.g. leisurely, moderate, strenuous) and whether the trip is specialised in any way, such as if it is a family trip, a walking trip, or if it one of the collection trips. If the summarised information looks interesting, then it is possible to select it and obtain the detailed information which will include a day by day itinerary and the specific departure dates and prices as these can vary at certain times of the year.
It is possible to book the holiday over the internet, however at this point I have preferred to deal with a real person as I usually have one or two questions about the trip. I have used both the 0845 number and the instant chat function and found both the phone and my 'chat' answered very quickly.
On my most recent trip, I was not entirely happy with the way the booking went. I prefer to organise my own flights rather than travel on the group flight, so I researched and identified some suitable flights. Unfortunately I was faced with the dilemma of whether to book them or not as the Adventure Company told me it would be several days before they could tell me whether the trip was available as they had to check with the local operators in Tanzania. I was also told that they would not check with the operators unless I paid in advance in full. I was concerned that I would pay for the trip, find it was available days later but have missed out on the good deal on the flights in the meantime. So in the end I decided to book the flights, cross my fingers and be prepared to put something together myself if the trip was not available. It did work out for us and to be honest, most people book the trip with flights included so would not have this complication. I am just very fussy about what airline I fly with.
After booking we were asked to provide details of our travel insurance arrangements, I found this a bit nannying but sent it anyway. On my previous trips, near the departure date I had received a pack containing items such as a packing list, luggage labels, joining instructions and had expected to receive the same this time. Joining instructions would have been particularly handy considering we had to make our way to the first hotel and did not even know its name! I followed up with the Adventure Company and discovered that they had not sent this information as (they thought) they had not received my insurance details! Despite the fact that I had sent them anyway, I was left wondering if they were not going to contact me or send me any more information nor tell me where I should meet the rest of the group. Weird.
Group and group leaders~~~
Each trip will have a maximum group size indicated in the literature and in most cases this will be between 12 and 16. I have found the actual Adventure Company group sizes to be below the maximum permitted; my first two trips had about eight people booked and my most recent one had thirteen. I have done four group tours with different companies and they were all larger groups. The individual's ages on my trips have ranged between about 30 to about 60. One of my trips was an activity holiday, so the average age was younger and most people were in their 30's.
There will be a mixture of people travelling on their own, with friends or as a couple. On my most recent trip we had three couples, a brother and sister, three solo women and two solo men. In the past, I have endeavoured to find out before booking what the make up of the group was going to be. As a solo traveller I didn't really want to find myself the only singleton on a trip full of couples.
There are no compulsory single supplements on the tours and instead the single travellers are paired up. If there is nobody of the same sex to share with then that is too bad for the company and good luck for the traveller. When I travelled by myself, I chose to pay the single supplement as I prefer to have my own space. It is possible to pay for a single room on most trips, although it is difficult to find this information from the website and you may need to ask. From memory, I think I paid about an extra 25% for the single rooms.
The group leaders on my first two trips were locals and I found them both to be extremely knowledgeable and personable. The same guide stayed with us for the duration of the trip. On my most recent trip the set up was different in that there was not one guide allocated throughout, we had different guides at different places. Only one of them on this trip was any good as a guide and in fact he was not really the Adventure Company's guide, he was the person who owned the accommodation when we were on the safari part of the trip. I barely even saw the other guides and when I did have an issue (which I will come to later) the guide was totally ineffective.
Accommodation and transportation~~~
After my first two trips with Adventure Company, I was definitely of the opinion that the accommodation and means of transportation used was just a cut above that offered by similar companies like those I mentioned at the beginning. On both my earlier trips I found myself in very pleasant, locally owned and perfectly comfortable accommodation.
My trips have involved travelling around the country and similarly I found the quality of transportation to be a touch higher than that offered by the competitors. For example I have been on a trip that involved an overnight train ride in Thailand with another company and was put in second class even though first class was just a few dollars more. My overnight train journey with the Adventure Company through Vietnam was in first class and my conclusion was that there was a little less penny pinching.
Sadly the accommodation on my most recent trip fell short of my expectations. The first two nights were to be spent at a beach resort outside Dar Es Salaam. First impressions were not too bad, individual wooden cottages, the bathroom and storage area was downstairs and upstairs was a huge bed covered by a mosquito net plenty of space around and opening out onto a balcony complete with hammock and chairs. I was surprised that it had neither fan nor air conditioning though.
There was some music playing from somewhere around us and at first we did not mind it. However it went on and on and got louder and louder. The cottages were open, i.e. the style of them meant gaps between the logs making up the sides and the roof was not fixed, so it was impossible to blot this noise out. By this time it was a heavy techno noise, the bass reverberated around the whole site and it was truly the worst noise pollution I have ever heard in my entire life. My vocabulary is too limited to properly describe the awfulness of the experience. So after trying to ignore it we went to reception to complain and discovered that the noise was coming from the complex next door and that there is a court case pending to have them silenced. We were asked to sign a petition of support, which we did, but this was not going to stop the racket.
So I decided to speak to the guide who was with us for these two nights. I said that the Adventure Company should not be using accommodation with this kind of known and ongoing problem and he agreed with me. I asked to be moved to some alternative accommodation and he spent the next two hours pretending to speak to somebody about it on the phone and waiting for them to get back to him. In honesty, I don't think anything was being done, I think they were just hoping that the music would stop eventually and I would give up and go to bed as it was getting late. I also called the UK number to complain, they also promised to phone me back but did not and have not to this day. We had to put up in the end.
The next accommodation was much better and the only thing I did not like was that it did not have air conditioning or a fan (covered in my Sable Mountain Lodge review). I had now done a week in Africa without air conditioning and was surviving but I would still have preferred it. The next accommodation was a couple of nights in an old fashioned hotel in Stone Town on Zanzibar, full of character. Standards dropped again with my final accommodation (covered in my Flametree Cottages review). To summarise, the accommodation in my most recent trip was well below the standard in my previous trips and I was very disappointed.
I think that there are advantages and disadvantages to this type of organised travel. It can offer travel to more unusual places off the beaten track and perhaps involving a lot of travelling around once inside the country, which would take time and effort to organise yourself. The itineraries are usually very full and I think many people would struggle to put something so busy together themselves, especially in a more challenging destination.
There is certainly an appeal for single male and female travellers who either feel cautious about travelling alone around some regions or simply want some ready made company. I have often heard people who have not been on an organised tour like this express concerns that they won't get on with the rest of the group, but in fact I think most groups of people will get along for a couple of weeks especially during a new shared adventure. I have never experienced or heard of any problems anyway.
The disadvantages include a loss of freedom, everything is to a timetable and there is not usually any flexibility with the day to day itinerary. I would prefer to choose my own accommodation or at least know where I will be staying in advance, this information can be hard to obtain. Finally there is just the whole feeling of being a group and not an individual.
It is very difficult to make any objective comments about cost, there are too many trips of too many budgets. I think that a holiday with the Adventure Company would be more expensive than backpacking but I think cheaper than putting together something with a decent high street operator like, say, Kuoni.
I chose to go with the Adventure Company for my Tanzania holiday as it was significantly cheaper than anything I could find myself. Beforehand I had assured my husband that it was a very good option but we ended up disappointed. It was my husband's first organised tour and I think he would hesitate to go on another. So would I, although I will not rule it out completely and might give them one more chance one day.
For worldwide adventures, for the family or for those looking to travel for adventure inspiration.