Often associated with traffic-blocking buses, screechy megaphones and overcrowded landmarks, group tours don’t exactly have the best reputation.
But a new crop of travel companies is totally redefining the concept, catering to millennials and Generation Z.
Leaving tour guide flags by the wayside, next-gen group trips invite solo travelers to explore remote corners of the world with small communities of like-minded people.
Some getaways focus on immersive cultural experiences, while others ensure a balance of work and play. Still more enable participants to dive into a passion or hobby, or volunteer with local communities.
Group tours also make it easier for people to take the leap and travel “alone,” by taking care of logistics and removing potential isolation from the equation.
“On a societal level, if you look back over the past 100 years, we’ve shifted away from community institutions – like religious participation and workplaces – and towards more individualistic experiences, so we’re seeing more loneliness and disconnection,” Michael Youngblood, co-founder of the Unsettled travel community, tells CNN Travel.
“This generation, who grew up with these more individualistic institutions, are spending more time by themselves. That’s why I think more people are actively seeking group travel – to belong to something and bond with others.”
For those yearning for more community and connection on their next getaway, we’ve rounded up a few of the leading small-group operators for modern travelers.
Island-hopping in Croatia, scaling glaciers in Iceland, mud baths in Colombia … FTLO Travel (an acronym for ‘For the Love of Travel’) immerses travelers in once-in-a-lifetime encounters.
Founded by slow travel advocate and entrepreneur Tara Cappel in 2016, the company strives to help solo travelers in their 20s and 30s explore the world and meet fellow adventure lovers.
Offering 250 unique trips to 30 destinations and counting each year, FTLO excursions range from five to eight nights and include a maximum of 15 people – the vast majority of whom join the trip solo.
The FTLO team handles accommodation, transportation, activities and meals. And while every trip has some scheduled activities – say, a cooking lesson with a local chef or a snorkeling tour – they also leave plenty of unscheduled time to allow for spontaneity.
According to the company, FTLO has seen 500% growth since 2021, reflecting a growing demand for small-group travel among independent travelers in their target age group.
FTLO Travel’s sister company, Sojrn, puts another spin on group travel – tapping into specific interests and hobbies.
Billed as “adult study abroad” experiences, each educational trip dives deep into a fascinating topic, such as art and architecture in Barcelona, wine in Tuscany or mental wellness in Bali.
Trips last two or four weeks, giving participants time to discover a new destination and get to know their fellow travelers during hands-on activities.
On a mouthwatering culinary expedition to Mexico City, for instance, gourmet enthusiasts can look forward to devouring tacos al pastor and mole poblano, cooking with experts and touring local markets.
They’ll also embark on side trips to learn more about ancient agriculture systems, indigenous ingredients and traditions.
A global travel community geared towards remote workers and creative professionals, Unsettled is all about forging meaningful personal connections while embracing adventure.
The idea came about in 2016 when global explorer and entrepreneur Michael Youngblood and award-winning photographer and media entrepreneur Jonathan Kalan couldn’t quite find a style of group travel that met their needs.
So they invented a new type of trip – one that would afford a slower pace of travel, better productivity for remote work, and a chance to develop new friendships.
The duo started planning small-group getaways with loosely scheduled itineraries, leaving plenty of room for serendipity and those magical unplanned moments that travel can bring.
Their approach has attracted a diverse crowd, from busy professionals keen to network to creative types and freelancers seeking fresh inspiration.
Most of the retreats combine a mix of remote work and offline adventures. For example, on the week-long Unsettled Thailand trip, participants have a few days to work between optional outings in Phuket before taking off on a boat for five days of diving and snorkeling.
Meanwhile, on the Patagonia trip, travelers stay in the scenic mountain town of Bariloche and spend their days rock-climbing, hiking and kayaking across the vast wilderness.
Each stay includes housing, a place to work (unless it’s an offline retreat) and lots of dinner parties, happy hours, talks and workshops that create a sense of community.
In 1990, ecotourism expert Bruce Poon Tip seized upon a fresh idea: organized trips that marry the thrill and flexibility of solo travel with the comforts and convenience of traveling in a group.
He maxed out two credit cards to launch G Adventures in his Toronto garage, starting with experiences in Ecuador and Belize. Since then, the company has grown to offer over 750 tours across all seven continents.
Over the years, G Adventures has launched various trip styles, from interactive treks designed in partnership with National Geographic or the Jane Goodall Institute to adrenaline-pumping active journeys, rejuvenating wellness escapes, and immersive “Local Living” homestays.
In 2021, the company introduced Roamies by Hostelworld, geared towards 18- to 35-year-olds seeking budget-friendly group trips staying in some of the world’s top hostels.
Ranging from five to 33 days, the trips include memorable adventures such as sandboarding in the deserts of Peru, cycling through the jungles of Mexico to discover a hidden lagoon, and devouring famous blue crabs at the Kep Crab Market in Cambodia.
Travel Girls Getaway
Growing up along the central coast of California, Vanessa Rivers learned to surf at an early age.
Her passion for surfing, nature and travel has led her all over the world. She’s also launched several entrepreneurial pursuits along the way, from Summerlove Swimwear (made with recycled fishing nets) to the We Are Travel Girls community for female travelers.
In 2017, she launched Travel Girls Getaways, which brings intrepid women together to explore new places while picking up new skills, learning about local culture and establishing lasting friendships.
The company currently offers two itineraries, both in Africa: one to Morocco and the other to Malawi. The eight-day Malawi Safari & Charity quest takes small groups of 14 women on an impactful adventure through the country.
The itinerary includes jaunts to gorgeous rural tea estates, a two-night safari in Liwonde National Park and a visit to remote Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. There’s also a chance to spend time at local schools and volunteer with a community mentoring project for young women in the villages around Lake Malawi.
As a stressed-out professional in her 30s, Radha Vyas wanted to travel more – but many of her friends were tied up with work or busy starting families.
While traditional group tours were an option, Vyas didn’t want to get stuck on a crowded bus or take low-budget trips with 20-somethings.
Seeing an opportunity to provide upscale holidays for solo travelers in their 30s and 40s, Vyas and her husband, Lee Thompson, started Flash Pack in 2014.
Today, the company organizes adventures to over three dozen places, including newly added trips to New Zealand, Southern Chile, Belize, Bolivia and Cambodia. While the destinations vary, most journeys focus on active bonding experiences, such as hiking through Petra in Jordan, abseiling down Table Mountain in South Africa, or kayaking over waterfalls in Croatia.
From Egypt to Portugal, Turkey to Japan, the trips – ranging from four to 15 days – brim with outings that you’d be hard-pressed to organize independently. Activities include staying on a secret island in Finland with a private chef and boating through the wetlands of Costa Rica.
A major part of Vyas and Thompson’s mission is to help travelers make new friends later in life – and their recipe of travel, culture and adventure seems to be working.
According to the company, 98% of participants join Flash Pack trips solo and 80% say they keep in touch with their new-found friends well after their journeys.
Inspired by their own travels, co-founders Matt Wilson and Jared O’Toole started Under30Experiences in 2012 to help people travel independently without feeling lonely, unsafe or overwhelmed by logistics.
Despite its name, you don’t have to be in your twenties to embark on one of their three dozen trips across 16 countries.
Generally speaking, however, most travelers are under 35. They’re also looking for similar things: affordable getaways, off-the-beaten-path odysseys, authentic local interactions, personal growth and new connections.
The company’s vast array of tours includes month-long digital nomad retreats in Costa Rica and Colombia, to shorter escapes across Indonesia, Guatemala, Spain, Peru, Alaska, Italy and Ireland.
For travelers seeking a slightly older community, Under30Experiences also runs sister brand Over30Experiences, offering higher-end, immersive journeys to Croatia, Morocco and Egypt.
Copyright 2023 Cable News Network. A Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved. From https://ww.cnn.com. By Kate Springer, CNN.