We attempt to right a wrong – with these 5 ways to choose the best tour for you!
Safety in numbers isn’t just a catchy phrase. While travelling solo can be a rewarding experience, sometimes it’s a much better idea to travel with a group of like-minded adventure seekers under the watchful eye of an experienced guide.
A tag-along tour is exactly what the name implies: You drive your own 4X4 and follow a tour guide in his or her vehicle. Tours will range from one day up to three weeks out in the bush and you’ll typically be travelling with other tour members – people just like you who have joined the tour – so there will be a convoy of vehicles. They’re an excellent means of catering for people who may not feel comfortable out in the bush (or who just enjoy some good company); and they can make a trip a whole lot more enjoyable.
So why should you unplug the GPS and sign up for a tag-along tour? And what are the benefits over travelling solo? Let’s find out…
1 CHOOSING YOUR TOUR OPERATOR
Your tour operator should be licensed to operate in the area that the trip is being conducted; this is usually via National Parks, State Forests, local Councils and local Indigenous communities. If the tour operator is not licensed they’re operating illegally and you should not be involved. This licensing situation will invariably place restrictions on the number of vehicles that can be taken into the area. For example, most New South Wales and Victoria National Parks restrict numbers to eight vehicles. This is done to lessen the impact on the environment and other users of the Park.
Tour operators will often restrict numbers depending on the difficulty of the trip and whether it will be suitable for trailers or not – so be sure to ask before handing over your cash. If the operator is willing to take 100 vehicles with trailers up the Old Tele Track, you may want to look elsewhere…
2 WHAT ABOUT FOOD?
Catered or non-catered? Some tour companies will offer catered tours only; while others offer only non-catered trips. Some even offer a mix of both – having some participants who have paid extra provided with catering, whilst others look after their own meal needs. How you select what style of tour you want is a personal choice. If you join a catered tour, it relieves you of some of the anxiety of cooking and gives the head chef in your family a holiday from the regular chore of feeding the tribe. The downside is you may not get exactly the type of food you prefer (and if you have any special dietary requirements these may not be easily addressed in a bulk meal preparation environment). It’s really a personal choice. Go catered if you’re not overly fussy and don’t want to worry about keeping bellies full; or non-catered if you don’t mind firing up the gas stove and cooking a kosher/halal/vegan/gluten-free feast after the tent’s up and you’re happy to save a bit of coin in the process.
3 WHERE DOES YOUR MONEY GO?
This is the question most-asked of tour operators, especially on non-catered trips. A lot of it comes down to their experience and knowledge of the particular area you’re visiting – many operators have been travelling the in bush for decades and know plenty of sights, locations and tracks you’d miss if you were travelling alone; not to mention things like being first-aid trained, having sound mechanical knowledge, having the requisite emergency equipment (such as sat-phones and locating beacons) and including all fees and permits into the price. That’s a lot of stuff you don’t have to carry with you and you know you’re getting a lot of local knowledge and expertise for your buck.
4 AVOIDING THE PITFALLS
It may sound obvious, but first determine whether the tour operators you’re looking at are running trips to the areas you want to visit. Check their website (a good indicator of quality – a poorly designed website should be a red flag) or give them a call to have a chat. Most operators are talkative types and will be happy to discuss their trips and provide further details. Ask about their experience – the more they have, the more value you’ll get from tagging along with them – and ask other questions such as what will happen if your vehicle breaks down during the trip.
Also find out how long they’ve been in the game – running tours is a way some folks try to get others to pay for their trips around Australia (these people usually don’t last long in the business). All information should be freely given and the operator should be upfront and forthcoming. If they’re not, move along.
5 WHY YOU SHOULD GO ON A TAG-ALONG TOUR
Tag-along tours are great for those who just don’t have the time to research how to cross the Simpson Desert or see the best that the Kimberley has to offer. Similarly, they’re great for those who may not have the mechanical knowledge or recovery experience to get themselves out of a problem in a remote area, and they’re perfect for those who yearn to experience the Outback but don’t feel comfortable doing it on their own.
If the tour company offers shorter day or weekend tours, join them on one of those to sample what they offer before committing to a longer trip. That way you will know what you are getting into and whether a tag-along is what you really want.
The main thing is to get out there and have fun. Having someone who has ‘been there, done that’ can make the experience so much easier and more exciting, for those just starting off as well as for people who have been remote travelling for years. If you’re tired of your sat-nav telling you to make that left you just drove past, a tag-along could be exactly the thing you need.