Tours for young people a nice compromise

Almost always, the tours for young people — ranging from high school students to professionals in their early 30s — are identical to the tours operated for middle-age baby-boomers and seniors. A 45-passenger bus arrives at their hotel early in the morning, taking them to the first museum. They alight from the bus, visit the museum as a group, re-enter the bus and drive to the next attraction. The experience is sterile beyond belief and divorced from the life about them, whether they are in Florence, Italy — or Antigua, Guatemala.

That kind of regimen has now been replaced by a new program for people from ages 18 to 30, offered this coming year by the Toronto-headquartered, Canadian adventure tour company called GAP Adventures. It's called YOLO ("You Only Live Once"), it's described at, and I predict a big future for it. Already, GAP's programs are booked heavily by U.S. travelers.

Apart from being limited to people between the ages of 18 and 30, YOLO follows the general operating formula for GAP's overall program. Groups are limited to a maximum of 15 people (though they average 10 people); they make no use of motorcoaches, but instead transport their passengers either by public transportation (bus, train or taxi) or — on rare occasions — by van; and they house their participants in locally operated, non-chain lodgings (usually simple hotels, hostels or guesthouses). In the case of YOLO, they reserve the right to use multi-bedded dorm-type lodgings, segregated by gender. And they point out that on very rare occasions, participants will sleep sitting up on an overnight ferry or bus.

YOLO also provides no meals. Participants are told to bring a suggested amount of cash for purchasing meals at whatever cafe, restaurant or grocery store they select. And finally, honoring the inclination of most young people to sightsee and wander on their own, YOLO's tours almost always limit their organized sightseeing of different towns and attractions to an initial introductory walking tour conducted by the tour leader who accompanies each group. Thereafter, members of the group are on their own (although they usually walk about with one or more other members of the group).

As you'd expect from that summary of tour features, YOLO's tours are far less pricey than the normal variety. In low-cost areas like Central America, they average $63 to $90 per person per day (plus the cost of airfare to the destination). Thus, a 17-day "Volcano Trail" (Guatemala to Costa Rica) costs $1,199 ($71 a day). There is no single supplement, because no single rooms are ever provided; virtually everyone is a single, and shares a room. A "Roam Vietnam" tour of 12 days costs $799 per person ($67 a day), plus the cost of air to Vietnam.

There are, of course, costlier tours than these, involving internal flights within the country visited, or more expensive cruise ship accommodations (such as those offered on YOLO's trip to the Galapagos Islands). But all of YOLO's offerings are far less expensive (and infinitely less pretentious, more adventuresome, encountering the authentic life of the destination) than the normal escorted-tour variety.

Here, to me, is the perfect compromise between those young people wishing to travel totally independently without a guide, escort or accompanying group, and those parents who want them to travel only in the company of a group and tour escort. Here is the answer for young singles in their mid- to upper 20s who crave an authentic travel adventure, but one limited in risk and accompanied by a few other people of the same age — and an experienced guide.

To learn more, go to the Web site listed above, where you can also obtain the address for obtaining a printed catalog of GAP Adventure's new, groundbreaking program.