There are backpackers aplenty floating around South East Asia – some first timers and others a dab hand – so it may seem unnecessary to choose small-group travel there.
On an Intrepid 18 to 29s trip, however, everyone is within their first decade of entering the adult world. They’re ready to enjoy the company of like-minded 20-somethings. And they’re all passionate about seeking out local experiences and hidden gems, as well as the obvious bucket list sites.
I travelled around Asia on my own before joining an Intrepid trip through Cambodia with fellow 18 to 29 year olds, so when I praise the benefits of a group tour, you can trust that I’ve really seen both sides.
Here’s what it was like, and why it’s an option you should seriously consider:
You miss out on 100% of the responsible tour operators you don’t travel with
Despite the rapid growth of veganism and there being more concern for the environment than ever before, people often overlook that travel can be responsibly-minded too!
But us millennials have grown up avoiding single-use plastics in a way that wasn’t ingrained in people’s minds even 10 years ago. Choosing to travel with Intrepid makes this easier to achieve than tackling things on your own. They help you avoid accumulating unnecessary waste, which is still a massive problem in parts of Asia.
Not even five minutes into my Real Cambodia tour, I was handed a reusable shopper to avoid plastic bags along our route. Immediately it became handy for day trips when I didn’t want to bring a bulkier backpack. It also made us feel like a group right from the start; our own Intrepid wolf pack.
Is happiness waking up without a hangover? Or when everyone’s got one?
On our first night, bonding games quickly became drinking games. You can imagine the horrors of the next morning, facing 8 hours of travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh (2-hour border crossing included)!
But we were all in the same boat… well bus, technically.
Despite our cross-country itinerary, we could turn up for buses carefree, as the logistics were taken care of. You might be hungover but you won’t miss that transfer!
Boat trips, snorkelling and even transportation to take us out to the Killing Fields, outside of Phnom Penh, were arranged for us along with local guides and plenty of water to refill reusable bottles. It meant we could focus on the experiences in front of us and learn about Cambodian history rather than worrying about bus timetables.
But what if I want some time to myself?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried that my trip would be planned out minute-for-minute. However, it turned out my time wasn’t already spoken for.
Our second last day of the tour was entirely free in Siem Reap. I was exhausted after a 4am start the previous day exploring Angkor Wat followed by a sunset river cruise around the floating villages. It was all phenomenal but I needed some “me-time”.
So, I took a day all to myself including a stroll around the city winding up in a cute vegan café that had goals to feed 10,000 Cambodian school children and nourish them through their education. It aligned with all things Intrepid and maybe this was something that had become subconsciously ingrained in my mind along the way.
I spent the rest of the day enjoying the markets and a beer before meeting up with the rest of the group for some dinner.
A problem shared, is a problem halved; but an experience shared is an experience DOUBLED
Imagine you’re on Pub Street in the middle of Siem Reap, a busy tourist town, too scared to hit up a bar alone, well here’s a ready-made group for your night out! Or if you’re like my group, a little nuts, you’ll be up together at the crack of dawn in Sihanoukville for a HIIT session at sunrise so as not to miss out on those “gains” while travelling.
Now imagine the tastiest, most mouth-watering Amok curry in a tiny Cambodian haunt hidden down a backstreet. But having people to share the experience with – not to mention the added perk of being able to try 11 other people’s food! – enhances the experience even more.
Let us all say: “Chul Muoy” (Cheers to that!)
Our local guide, PJ, was K-E-E-N for us to learn some of the local language and it was great fun putting it to use.
On our last night in Cambodia, he invited us all round for dinner, a local experience I might have missed had I not been on this trip, and it was time to put our newfound lingo to the ultimate test. He cooked us a traditional meal and we met some of his family and neighbours (cue Khmer greetings). In fact, every time a neighbour walked past, they would be invited in for a beer and cheers everyone at the table… CHUL MUOY!
PJ helped us venture safely off the beaten track and go beyond the guidebooks, showing us the best local restaurants to support, his favourite karaoke bar and the best hacks for local markets. As he was from Siem Reap, he knew the place like the back of his hand.
He provided the perfect amount of guidance and was an all-round gem, even giving us sympathy when hungover!
In summary…10/10, would recommend.
Ready to take the plunge and explore the world with travellers in their 20s? Check out Intrepid’s entire range of 18-29s trips.
(All images courtesy of Caroline Joseph and taken on Intrepid’s Real Cambodia trip.)