It’s easy to get carried away with customer reviews on the world wide web. I’m one of the worst culprits; I pore incessantly over reviews before I commit to anything. And although conducting these silent surveys is oddly empowering, they become debilitating as you find conflicting opinions.
So, I’ll do something a little different. Rather than post reviews based on personal opinions, I want to look at Intrepid Travel and Gap Adventures from an objective perspective. For example, who travels where, what type of travel does each specialise in, what are the typical trip lengths, how do costs compare, etc.
History - In 1988, Darrell Wade and Geoff Manchester traveled with a group of friends across the Sahara in a converted tipper truck. It was during this trip that the two university friends developed the idea for a style of travel that would take small groups of people to travel at the grassroots level, meeting local people, trying local food, staying anywhere and everywhere and traveling predominantly by local transport. [from Wikipedia]
Where – Intrepid runs almost 250 trips to Asia, which supports anecdotes that Intrepid is an Asia specialist. They also run 80-130 trips each to Oceania, Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Compared to Gap, Intrepid more evenly covers the continents of the globe.
Type – At its core, Intrepid is a grass roots tour operator. What does that mean? Well, it means experiencing a new location through the eyes of a local. You’ll travel on public transport, eat traditional foods and talk with native people. Additionally, Intrepid places a lot of focus on sustainability: everything from carbon-neutral offices, to carbon offsets for trips, to an explicit policy on responsible travel. On top of this, Intrepid operates tours specifically for families, gays & lesbians and private groups. It also has a branch called Urban Adventures, which focuses on shorter city-based tours.
Length – Intrepid’s new Urban Adventures can be as short as a few hours, whereas their Short Breaks start at two days. Intrepid’s most epic tour is 150 days from Istanbul to Cape Town. From browsing their website, the majority of the 700+ trips are between 8 and 28 days. This is a few days longer than the average Gap Adventures tour.
Cost – Intrepid’s adventure tours (excluding Urban Adventures) range from USD100 for their 2-day Short Breaks and go up to USD12,000 (including the trip kitty) for their mammoth 150-day Istanbul to Cape Town tour. Kilimanjaro climbs start at about USD2,400 and a 12-day Egypt tour is about USD1,900.
History – In 1990, Bruce Poon Tip founded Gap Adventures with nothing more than two credit cards and a burning desire to create an authentic, sustainable travel experience like nothing the world had ever seen. By offering adventure-craving travelers an alternative to the resorts, cruises and motorcoach tours they were accustomed to, he not only changed the way people looked at their holiday time, but changed the face of travel forever. [from Website]
Where – Gap has more than 450 trips to Latin America. That’s three times as many trips as to any of their other continental destinations. Anecdotal evidence seems to correctly suggest that Gap Adventures are the Latin America specialists. They are a little less widespread than Intrepid, with very few trips through Oceania and North America. However, they have 80-140 trips each in Asia, Africa and Europe. I also like that they have a separate category for Arctic trips.
Type – On paper, the Gap philosophy seems very similar to Intrepid’s. Both companies extol the virtues of adventure and cultural travel, and they both place focus on sustainability. The notable differences are that Gap doesn’t have a dedicated gays & lesbians product and Intrepid doesn’t have dedicated winter tours (Gap has a range of winter trips they call Canadian Goose).
Length – Gap adventures start at 2 days and go to 80+ days for epic journeys through South America and along the north coast of Africa. Of Gap’s almost 900 trips, the majority seem between 5 and 20 days. This is somewhat shorter than Intrepid’s average length of trip.
Cost - Tours start at about USD100 for 3-day trips in Central America and go to USD12,000+ for their epic 80+ day trips and Antarctica expeditions. Kilimanjaro climbs start at USD1,800 and 12-day Egypt tours range USD800 to USD 2,700 (Shoestring to Comfort). This is a little cheaper than Intrepid, but remember itineraries and inclusions vary greatly, so don’t expect to compare apples with apples across tour companies.
I hear people say, “If you’re going to Asia, go Intrepid; going to Latin America, go Gap.” They also say, “if you prefer travelling with Australians, go Intrepid, or with Canadians, go Gap.”
I don’t think it’s that simple. In my opinion, your experience will depend on the following (in order of importance):
- Relationships with others in the group (impossible to gauge beforehand)
- The quality of the tour guide (difficult to know beforehand)
- The various cultural inclusions (difficult to compare beforehand)
- The variety of the itinerary (more easily comparable on paper)
- The organisation of the trip (customer reviews start to matter)
As you can see, it’s pot luck for the most important factors because they can’t be compared until after you travel. So for me, it comes down to picking an interesting itinerary that’s available when I’m available. I know I’m taking a gamble on the group and guide regardless of which company I choose, but that goes with the territory of packaged group travel.