Fun! Adventure! Excitement! These are adjectives that are used when advertising the youth travel tour market. There is a large youth travel segment that specialises in packed tours for younger travellers:
Contiki: 18-35 years
Trafalgar: 21-38 years
Trek America: 18-35 years
Statravel: from as young as 12. Maximum age 65 (insurance restriction) if you have a valid student card (12 weeks or more per year counts as full-time), or you are a teacher.
Is it always the cheapest?
No. It is often possible to make arrangements, either on your own, or through a travel agent and come out ahead. If you travel independently you also have the ability to vary your programme if you see fit. You may not be the drinking type, for instance. Or maybe you would prefer to spend a day in a museum instead of being bussed between foreign shopping malls.
Gap year travel and volunteering
The economic downturn has made the gap year less popular than it was previously. Even before that, instead of tramping aimlessly around the world a number of young people had chosen instead to volunteer for charitable work in far-flung, scenic, but poor areas of the world. For those that could not come up with their own idea, the youth travel groups have been helpful in identifying projects that might be suitable for them.
It is not all tenting and youth hostels, depending on the tour operator and the price range that you are booked in. Contiki, for instance, have three classes of accommodation for their European tours: Camping, in which you share a three-man tent with another person; Concept, where you stay in a variety of places including cabins in their own “villages”, and some hostels; and timeout/superior, where you may stay in an actual hotel.
The social side of things is emphasized. The common factor is that the same folks in your tour group are with you everywhere and a number of friendships form and often romantic attachments. While that may often not be wise, it is one reason behind its popularity and a number of youths take the tours in the hope of carving notches on their bedposts. This may result in unwelcome attention if you become an object of desire.
Depending on the destination young folks may encounter cultures where drinking is commonplace at ages a few years younger than may be the case at home, and pubs and clubs are usually featured high on the list of places to go.
Lisa Wooldridge, Contiki’s vice president of marketing explains “It’s not your grandmother’s tour” and their web site indicates that they create “eye-opening experiences for young travellers”. Suffice it to say that it is not a protected environment.
Many youth orientated tours also make it a constant feature that their tour guides and managers fall within the same age gap as their clientele. While this may make it more ‘fun’, it is the course of wisdom to have older people in charge, who have more experience.