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When all your friends are getting married or having children, it can feel like your go-to globetrotting gang is rapidly dissolving – it’s hard enough arranging a night out, let alone a transatlantic adventure. Sadly, there still isn’t a rent-a-buddy app that’ll find you the perfect travel companion, so instead we’re turning to tour operators to fill the void. You’d be forgiven if the thought of a group tour conjures up images of the blue-rinse brigade’s annual Benidorm expedition, but these travel companies are taking us to lesser-known destinations with well-crafted itineraries. Save yourself hours of painstaking planning, let go of your inner control freak and get on board with this rejuvenated travel trend.
1. Sleep Under the Stars in Mongolia
Even the most independent travellers will need a guide or driver to tackle the dirt roads of Mongolia, making this trip perfect for sceptical group travellers. Famed for its nomadic culture (one of the last remaining in the world) the untamed wilderness of Mongolia, where green valleys are met by glacier-wrapped mountains, is truly a sight to behold. Mongolians refer to their homeland as “the land of the blue sky” so take full advantage and sleep under the stars in a ger – the traditional felt yurt that you’ll see peppered across the rolling pastures. Group bonding will occur over bathing in the Tsenkher hot springs, spotting the ever-elusive snow leopard and
2. Roam the Indus Deserts in Pakistan
Some might pale when you mention Pakistan as your next holiday destination, given the often one-sided western portrayal. Quash any security concerns and travel with likeminded adventurers and knowledgeable guides across the 5000-year-old Indus valley. A majestic mix of expansive desert and juxtaposing cosmopolitan cities, you’ll visit the Derewar Fort that rises fiercely from the Cholistan Desert and meet the ancient Mohan tribe who live in houseboats on the Manchar Lake.
3. Make like Attenborough in the Galápagos
Capture a documentary that even David Attenborough would applaud as lava lizards, flamingos and blue-footed boobies come together for nature’s biggest wildlife party. One of the few places untouched by human development and the springboard for Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, an Intrepid tour enables you to scratch beneath the Galápagos surface as you hop from saltwater lagoons to spectacular volcanic landscapes. Given that having a guide is a legal requirement on the islands, it’s a perfect opportunity to give group tours a go – even if it’s just so someone’s on hand to play photographer.
4. Tackle Climate Change in the Arctic
Retreating glaciers and shrinking sea ice threaten to topple the captivating landscape that is the Arctic. Tackle climate change from the front line in Churchill, the only place that the famed Churchill polar bears call home. You’ll be conducting wildlife surveys, assisting teams of researchers and collecting snow samples on snowmobiles before retreating to build yourself an overnight igloo. Camp out in the Northern Lights observation dome to witness Mother Nature’s captivating light display.
5. Sip Sake in Japan
Sift through Nakamise, the oldest shopping street in Tokyo, and gaze beyond the skyscrapers to find the tranquillity that lies at the heart of Japanese culture. With a trip that’s focused on finding your zen, the chauffeur-driven cars, organised itinerary and beautiful hotels will ease you into your break. Take the bullet train to Kyoto for cherry blossom serenity, go sake tasting at the top of Mount Fiji and then attend a sumo wrestling tournament for a truly well-rounded experience of Japan.
6. Go Trekking in Italy
Rambling is the new new raving, didn’t you know? Follow a 2000-year-old Roman road through medieval towns and ancient Etruscan cities in Lazio, with stops at wild swimming lakes and frescoed tombs. Feast on wild boar from the forests and freshly caught fish from Lake Bracciano. With food and wine this good, evening meals soon feel like proper family dinners.
7. Stomp Grapes in Sydney
Go down under with Topdeck Travel to discover a side of Sydney beyond the urban jungle. Head up to Hunter Valley – a spot synonymous with the good life – where you’ll stomp wine grapes in an oak barrel before pouring some of the southern hemisphere’s finest vino. Just as good looking as Bondi, but without the hoards of gap yah backpackers, the silky shores of Port Stephens provide the perfect backdrop for a barbecue. After a couple of schooners of pale ale, you’ll be forming a cricket team with the rest of the crew – ask your permanently on-hand driver to umpire.
8. Camp in Meymand Caves in Iran
Wild Frontiers‘ tour of Iran allows you to explore more than just the heavyweight cities like Isfahan. Travel through sleepy 17th-century towns to the world’s hottest desert, the Lut, where the towering sand dunes and sculpted rock formations dominate the landscape. Dust off with a welcome break from the gruelling heat in the oasis village of Keshit, that appears on the horizon like a mirage. In the evening, join the local people of Meymand and swap stories with your new pals while you munch on gaz, a flavoured Persian nougat, before heading to bed in an ancient cave dwelling. Finish off the trip in the old Persian capital of Isfahan – the exquisite blue tiling that dominates the town will inject some colour into your Instagram feed.
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