Veteran expedition leader, tour planner and educator, Geoff Green has planned and led numerous expeditions and adventures for such notable organizations as the Discovery Channel, World Wildlife Fund, National Audubon and the Smithsonian Institution. His particular passions are Antarctica, where he has led 58 expeditions, and the Arctic where he has led 20 expeditions.
However, Geoff has also been spotted in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, on the shores of Pitcairn Island and in the rainforests of Madagascar. A former school teacher, Geoff has skippered yachts in the Mediterranean, was the first person to water-ski in both the Polar Regions, has been twice through the Northwest Passage, and led the largest ever expedition to Antarctica during the Millennium.
Geoff is founder of the highly acclaimed Students on Ice program, leading groups of high school students and an impressive roster of scientific experts to Antarctica each December and the Arctic each August. He also conducts an educational and entertaining lecture series for school student and adult groups across North America. And Geoff only just turned 39! Here’s his expert advice on choosing an adventure tour.
There are many factors that contribute to the successful outcome of an adventure tour, and some of these take place even before you leave your home. Below is a short list of questions to ask yourself and the prospective tour company before finalizing tour plans:
Tour Company History and Experience – There are plenty of tour companies and tour choices these days. How do you choose? Some companies have been around for years, while others are still in their creative infancy though the ownership may be very experienced. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find out about the quality and professionalism of a tour company. A company brochure can also reflect, to some extent, the nature of an individual company and the trips they offer, but don’t simply believe what you read. Do some personal investigation! A few basic questions you should ask:
a) How many years has the tour company been operating?
b) Does the company specialize in certain types of tours or regions of the world?
c) Will they provide you with referrals?
d) How knowledgeable, efficient and helpful are their sales staff?
e) If you are dealing with an eco-tour company, what are their environmental
policies and practices?
f) What does the company provide in the way of pre-trip information?
Trip Difficulty and Your Ability – It is very important to identify the difficulty level of the tour, and equally important to be realistic about your own physical capabilities. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a state of exhaustion half-way up Mount Kilamanjaro, when you thought you were taking a guided bus tour just to look at it! Some companies actually provide a Difficulty Rating Scale. You should ask how much walking or hiking is required? How difficult is the hiking? How strenuous are the other daily activities? Are there any special skills required? By asking these questions, you can match your abilities to the type of tour you desire.
Tour Conditions – Adventure tours can range from camping and backpacking to staying in five-star eco-lodges or hotels. Besides the accommodation, you should inquire about the type of food, the service, the weather conditions, expected temperatures and the transportation. I was recently leading a trip in Papua New Guinea where one day we had to drive several hours by bus over roads that gave new meaning to the word ‘pot-hole’. Needless to say, the man who just had back surgery was not too happy. Such situations can often be avoided by your own pre-tour research.
Our enterprising expedition leader gets his icebound ship out of any jam! Photo: Jean Lemire.
Know Your Destination – When choosing and preparing for a trip, do some research on your intended destination. It can be embarrassing to travel all the way to Antarctica and discover for the first time that penguins can’t fly! (It has happened). The more research you do, the better prepared you will be and the more you’ll enjoy your experience. These days it is not hard to research health and safety issues, clothing and equipment requirements, local language and culture etc. Is there a ‘best’ time of year for your destination? If you are uncomfortable with extreme temperatures, excessive humidity, monsoon rains or a high risk of hurricanes, it is best to find out about these possibilities in advance.
Tour Leaders and Staff – A key to any successful adventure tour is the leader and support staff. An experienced and professional leader can turn a good trip into a great one. Don’t be afraid to ask about the credentials and experience of both your tour leader and tour staff members.
Tour Focus – Many adventure tours have a specific focus like bird watching, sea kayaking, hiking or diving, while others have a broader spectrum of activities, including a strong cultural component. Some may specialize in one region in depth, or offer similar adventures in other parts of the world. As often happens with cruise lines, a traveler who has it in mind to do several adventure trips may develop a strong loyalty to an operator’s particular style and focus, with a desire to become ‘part of the family’.
Group Size – One surprise you don’t want to have on the first day of your adventure, is to discover that there are 88 participants on your tour, rather than the eight you had expected. Ask what the minimum and maximum group size is for your tour.
Price – This is usually a big factor when choosing a trip and tour company. Some companies are definitely ‘high-end’ while others cater to the budget-minded traveler. Some companies are more inclusive than others, so be sure to find out exactly what is included in the price. Does the price include airfare and all meals or just some meals? Are all daily excursions included or are some of the best options extra? Are tips and attraction entry fees included? Ask for identification of all potentially hidden costs. Sometimes those great deals are not so great at the end of the day.
Flexibility – As a last word of advise, I would just say that even the best laid tour plans are susceptible to change, especially in the adventure and soft-adventure categories. Pack liberal supplies of patience and flexibility and you will increase the likelihood of a great trip, even though it may not be exactly the one you planned.
Follow Geoff’s other great passion, the Students on Ice program, through the interactive website, www.studentsonice.com. Sign up your graduating teenager or grandchild for the gift of a lifetime, far more influential and way less lethal than a car. A lot cheaper too!
Great value Activity adventure holidays for adults, singles, groups and families.