In the last few years, I’ve tried out a variety of companies offering some kind of adventure travel or outdoor activities, ranging from single-day one-to-one instruction, through to full-on 2-week trekking trips on the other side of the world, and pretty much everything in between. Free walking weekends, paid-for walking weekends, instructional scrambling and mountain biking days and weekends, cycling holidays, supported and unsupported trekking holidays, and ranging from the Peak District on my doorstep to as far afield as South America, Asia and Africa. I’ve posted a lot about these individual trips, as a quick search on this blog will tell you. Trips have ranged from the do-it-all-yourself type where you’re responsible for all your own food and accommodation, to all-inclusive treks where you literally just have to turn up at the appointed hour with your rucksack or bike (and in some cases you even can get a bike provided). To be honest, I don’t really have any preference for these things: local vs Western guide; bring your own food or not; arrange your own accommodation or not.
I have a small preference for having my accommodation arranged, because it means that everyone stays together and you get more of a communal spirit going on, but I also appreciate that people have different budgets and tastes, and while I might be happy to slum it camping or in a shared dorm in a youth hostel, not everyone is. I’d rather people didn’t participate in something they don’t like if it means they’re going to moan about it for the whole trip. What I find strange, however, is the number of people who book on a trip where the accommodation is organised, and then complain about it during the trip because they haven’t done their research or really understood what it means. I’m talking about those people who book on a trip knowing the accommodation is in a bunkhouse or shared dorm in a youth hostel, and then are grumpy because of having to share or because they don’t have their own ensuite. Those who complain about the noise of rodents in a teahouse in the middle of the Nepalese countryside, or that the water supply doesn’t work in winter because the pipes are frozen. People who complain about snorers in a shared room but don’t take the single room supplement option. People who complain that they’re cold camping when they don’t bring a 4-season sleeping bag in mid-winter up a mountain. If you go on a trip like that without first checking what it’ll be like, you only have yourself to blame if you don’t like the conditions. But enough of my complaining — I’ve been on enough trips to know that you’ll always get people on trips who complain about things, so it would be hypocritical of me to complain about such people, really.
While I quite like being responsible for my own food, because I know what I like and don’t have to worry about whether suitable food will be provided for me (and whether to bring some of my own snacks just in case), on the other hand it can be a pain when you’re in a foreign country to have to faff around going to the local shops to buy your own sandwich materials each day, rather than just have it handed to you in a bag in the morning, or even literally on a plate. And other than the things I can’t eat (which is basically bread) I’ll eat pretty much anything, and quite like the surprise of not knowing what I’ll get!
As for the choice of local vs Western guide, I only have strong feelings in one respect. As long as the local guide has the right mentality, I’m more than happy either way. Unfortunately I’ve come across guides in Asian and Middle Eastern countries who just don’t have the same mentality as Western guides, and who feel that as long as they manage to get everyone safely from A to B without anyone dying or falling off a cliff, their job is done. They have no desire to socialise with their clients, to eat with them or chat with them, to make them laugh, to encourage them when things are tough, to compliment them when they do well, to cheer them up if something goes wrong. This is not true of all non-Western guides, but it seems to be more common. I understand that it’s nothing more than a job to them, but so much of the enjoyment of a trip can be made or broken by the guide, and they don’t always appreciate that. A Western guide once told me that a good reason for not having a local guide is that people sometimes feel uncomfortable discussing personal issues such as health problems with local guides. I beg to disagree — I’d rather discuss an embarrassing ailment with a complete stranger that I’m never going to see again! But maybe that’s just me.
Then there’s the issue of small vs large company. I’ve posted before about this, and again, there are advantages and disadvantages of both. Whichever company I go with, however, I (not surprisingly) get teased whenever I mention rival companies I’ve done trips with. I do feel very disloyal to the smaller companies when I pick a different company to do a trip with, but there are always good reasons for picking a particular company and trip each time. As often as not, it’s simply about the dates of the trip, especially as I tend to book trips on the spur of the moment without much notice. And while there are certain companies that I remain fiercely loyal to, every company has its own good and bad points. Plus it’s interesting to ring the changes occasionally and see what different companies have to offer. Since I usually blog about my trips afterwards, maybe some of them have learnt a thing or two from my comments on their rivals 🙂
My final words on this matter, however, go out to all those lovely people who’ve taken me on trips in the past or who run the companies that have done so — please don’t take it personally if I choose a different company or guide to do a trip with. Or even if I keep promising to do a trip or course with you and haven’t yet (you know who you are!). I’ve had fantastic experiences with every single company. You’d know about it on here if I hadn’t.