Trek Talk - ElderTreks Blog


Tour Leaders can make or break a small-group tour. They're in charge of the entire experience from start to finish, from the airport transfer to the return on the way home. Whether or not you enjoyed your experience can often be attributed to how the Tour Leader ran the schedule or set your expectations for the trip. It does vary on who the best Tour Leader is for each person, because everyone has different personalities and expectations for their guide. However, thinking about the question critically, there are 6 essential Tour Leader qualities that came to mind.

So, what makes a good tour leader?


A Tour Leader works days on end, for long hours, sometimes with back-to-back groups. They have to learn how to survive on little sleep, and with lots of caffeine! A Tour Leader must always be alert and energized, because they have to share that energy with their group. If they show how tired there are, it effects the group.


On the same token, enthusiasm is a huge must for Tour Leaders. Even though they may have seen a site a million times, their travelers have not, and it’s up to them to share the excitement of the place. They also have to be the one that gets people ready and eager to go somewhere after they’ve spent a long day on the bus, or out in the heat with a 5:00AM wake-up call. Their enthusiasm is infectious and helps elevate a group’s spirits.


Knowledge is an essential part of a Tour Leader’s job. Not only do they have to be energetic and enthusiastic, they have to know what they are talking about! The best Tour Leaders have the answers to the questions you are asking, and if they don’t, they have the resources to find the right answer for you. They also know the difference between providing important and relevant information but without boring the group, and balancing the information given with the needs of the members of the group.


Organization is one of those skills that if the Tour Leader has it, you don’t even notice that it’s one of their skills, but you will certainly notice it if they are NOT organized. The reason being, the organization goes on behind closed doors, while you are quietly walking through a site or museum, enjoying your lunch or before you even wake up in the morning. Your Tour Leader works hard at confirming visits, double-checking on weather or traffic, and fixing problems you (hopefully) didn’t even know existed.


The best Tour Leaders are well connected and can think on the fly. They need to be creative and know how to solve problems swiftly and efficiently. If is a road decides to close last minute, they have to know of alternative routes to get you where you need to be quickly. They might also need to fill in time if the group finishes too early, but may not have the budget to spend on a paid event, so they need to know what’s close, accessible and would be engaging for the particular group they are with. It’s definitely an art! They sometimes need to fix group member problems within the group as well, which takes experience and a level of thoughtfulness to ensure that everyone feels as if they were treated well.


Empathy is another huge part to a Tour Leader’s success. Empathy is listening and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. They might not be 50+ and have any medical conditions that make it difficult to travel for multiple days on end, but they always understand and consider the feelings of their small-group travel members and be respectful of them.

At ElderTreks, we are proud of the Tour Leaders that lead our trips. Check out the amazing leaders who are traveling with our groups to destinations near and far.

Do you agree with the above list of Tour Leader Qualities & Skills? What are your top qualities that you love in a Tour Leader? Comment below!

- August 31, 2016

A question on a lot of people's minds lately is should I travel to places like Egypt? Are there safer destinations closer to home? Is it worth it for me to travel so far for places that could be unsafe?

Abdul, our Tour Leader in Egypt wanted to share his insights on his beautiful home country and to break away from the negatives that travelers often see in the media.

Abdul says: "I would like to let you know that touring Egypt nowadays is such a unique experience because clients can explore and visit the sights avoiding crowds. Being at sites on their own sometimes make them feel that they are the only tourists around. The only feedback we receive from clients regarding this matter is that they enjoyed their time very much in Egypt and they felt very safe and well taken care of".

The photos and stories that come back with our travelers share the same sentiment. Imagine being at the pyramids on your own, gazing at some of the greatest structures on Earth? All tour groups are well protected with any necessary security, and are welcomed into the cities as most people understand how important tourism is to their economy.

If you are interested in visiting Egypt soon, here are Abdul’s top recommended must-see’s (in conjunction with our travelers too!)


1)    The Pyramids of Giza & Sphinx

Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx


2)    The Egyptian museum including King Tut treasures


3)    Ramses II Temple in Abu Simbel.


4)   Valley of the Kings in west bank and Karnak temple in east bank (Luxor)

Valley of the Kings

5)    Siwa Oasis - the best natural oasisin the world.

6)    St. Catherine as a holy site


Are you interested in exploring Egypt? Consider joining Eldertrek’s 22-Day Egypt tour. Abdul would love to welcome you in Egypt.


- August 26, 2016

What to Expect on Your First Small Group Tour

It might seem a little daunting – signing up for a small group tour when you’ve always traveled on your own. Will I like being in a group, or following an itinerary? What if I dislike my Tour Leader? What will the other members of the group be like? Will I want to break away from the group? All of these are valid (and often-asked!) questions for first-time small-group travelers.

For those of you considering or preparing for your first small group tour, we've put together a list of some things to expect.

You will know the answers to “What is that building over there, in the far distance?” or “Why do the local people do _______”.

You can swear by a Frommers or Lonely Planet Guide, but they can't provide all of the answers while you're out exploring. You might miss a huge cultural moment if you don’t have the insight and knowledge of an expert Tour Leader. Not only do they provide you with valuable awareness of your surroundings, but they also come with invaluable recommendations for the cities and places you will be visiting (and they are usually really fun!). Need a post-office or particular store? They will know the answer before your phone can accept Wi-Fi or roaming data charges.

Your itinerary may be a bit more rigid than you’re probably used to – but you will manage to see everything (in the most efficient way possible).

Everyone loves flexibility and the ability to explore on their own, but there is a benefit to having an itinerary. The nice thing about small group itineraries is that they’ve been specifically designed by the travel experts with YOU in mind. They’ve often spent weeks or longer designing the ideal routes, and making sure there’s a perfect balance between seeing the highlights and allowing for downtime to soak in the local culture (and you know, maybe relax a bit). You can rest assured that you are seeing the very best and you’re not missing out on anything. The itinerary is perfectly planned so that you don’t show up at a museum on a Monday when they’re closed, or try to visit the Antiques market when it’s on Fridays, not Saturdays. We’ve all had this happen when we’ve traveled solo.

You won’t have the stress of figuring out where to eat.

If you haven’t planned out your own vacation down to the last second, often one of the most challenging aspects of a trip is finding where to enjoy a meal. You don’t want to eat in the main squares, or touristy places, but you also don’t know the place well enough to find the off the beaten path restaurants. Or, you might be in a country where food safety is hard to determine and you are nervous about which restaurants to try, for fear of your sensitive stomach. When you travel with a small group, you don’t have to worry about where you will eat – your Tour Leader has selected the very best options for you.

You will meet very interesting people.

Along the way, you might make longtime friends, or you might just have fun with some people you meet in your group. Either way, you can be assured that you will have curious conversations, and you will create some unique memories! Some ElderTreks travelers have even met their life long traveling partners on their trips. Even if you just have some friendly folks in your group, you are guaranteed to learn something from everyone, and having some stimulating dialogues along the way! You can also always pick the brain of your fellow travel companions to find out which countries or tours you should take next.

You will have an incredible time!

(That’s a given).

What did you experience on your first small-group tour? Is there anything we missed? Comment below.


- August 24, 2016

New Zealand, a world full of natural wonders from mountains to valleys, caves, rivers, lakes and glaciers. The beauty of this nation leaves the most seasoned traveller breathless. From the North Island to the South, there is no stone left unturned with the landscapes New Zealand has on offer.

Queenstown New Zealand


One focus, particularly since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series hit the cinemas, are the mountains, lakes and glaciers of the South Island. A few days touring the lower sections of the South can leave you spell bound and wanting for more.

Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier

These two glaciers, though superb to explore and admire, are also two of the world’s glaciers still yet to retreat from global warming. On top of that, they are some of the more convenient glaciers in the world to visit, laying at low altitude in a temperate climate.

Fox glacier is around 13 kilometers in length and drops over 2,600 meters from the Southern Alps to the river valley below. The nearby Franz Josef Glacier is considered one of the more inspiring sights in the world. Guided and hiking tours are available to those wanting to get up close and personal.

If you're fortunate enough to find a company that can take you on a trip from the glaciers through to nearby Wanaka to see her stunning lakes, and Queenstown’s surrounding mountains, then you’re in some luck.

Franz Josef glacier, New Zealand
Photo Courtesy: Galengray

Wanaka Highlights

The gems of Wanaka are the sights that only imagination and Mother Nature can conjure. Nestled in the Southern Lakes district, you’ll find gorgeous and peaceful Lake Wanaka.

Surrounded by mountain ranges as far as the eye can see, Wanaka township is the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park and only an hour’s drive from Queenstown. If you go via Cromwell, you will also have the chance to experience Kawarau Gorge.

The Wanaka township itself, particularly in autumn and winter, is the perfect place for a little R & R, as you stroll through the ski shops and great cafes. It really is picture perfect.

The Lake, so pristine, is sometimes referred to as the “mirrored lake.” The small pebbled beach is perfect for those wanting to do a little soul searching; and the location is far from commercialised.

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka, New Zealand
Photo Courtesy: Mark Nunneley, Travel Photographer


Going via Cromwell, the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown is around 90 minutes, depending on how many times you stop to admire the rolling views.

Queenstown has much to offer. Lakes, mountains, beaches and the Shotover River are but a few of the sights to take in. Couple this with the city life of clubs and countless restaurants, galleries, wine tasting and bungy jumping and you will always struggle to find the time to cover only half of this booming location and its world renown landscapes.

The town, named because it was considered “fit for Queen Victoria” back in its time, holds Moke Lake nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. You can take a walk around the lake, enjoying the undisturbed nature of this wildcard. Lake Wakatipu, the crystal clear shores of which Queenstown sit, are equally as majestic and soothing to the depths of your core.


The author, Russell Calvert lives in nearby Australia and loves sharing the beauty of Australia and New Zealand through Great Ocean Road Tours.

Russell Calvert - August 17, 2016

Travel to Cuba


As a Canadian traveler, Cuba didn't hold much of a mystery for me. We’ve always been allowed to go. The only way I really knew how to travel to Cuba was through an all-inclusive vacation package to go sit on the beach (with a day trip to Havana thrown in if you wanted "some culture"). So when the opportunity arose for me to travel to Cuba with ElderTreks to explore a completely different side of the island – I was interested, but not quite sold yet.


The ElderTreks Cuba itinerary is a truly unique itinerary in the industry. In 13 days it crosses the Western part of the island, covering Havana, Vinales Valley, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara. It was carefully created to see the highlights, but also to experience the people and the unique culture of the country. I think one of the major appeals of Cuba is the fact that you are able to visit a socialist state and understand how it works. Through visiting maternity homes, schools and a senior center, you get a feel for the programs and the effect that the government has on people's lives in Cuba. Everything from wages, education and food is controlled by the government, and on this tour you get a chance to see and learn more about this way of life. Reading through the itinerary, I started to get more excited about the opportunity to learn more about this unique Caribbean island.

While preparing for this Cuban experience, I spoke with many travelers who were a bit concerned about what the experience in Cuba is like. They mostly asked questions about somewhat negative topics, so after returning from Cuba, I wanted to share my thoughts on them here - If only in the hope that understanding how and why things are the way they are will set better expectations in traveler’s minds when visiting Cuba. On the same token, there are many positives about life in Cuba and I wanted to share those thoughts too.

Havana Musicians

Food is greatly affected by this and the embargo that was placed on Cuba. If you speak to anyone who's been to Cuba, they will immediately tell you their thoughts and opinions on the food. Yes, it’s repetitive, yes it’s relatively bland – but you only have to eat it for 12 days, not an entire lifetime, so just keep that in mind. You can, and will survive for a short amount of time. If you like ketchup, just bring your own.

Another common complaint is about the quality of hotels. Having come from my last trip where I stayed in only 5-star hotels, yes, Cuba was a shock for me. Sheets that don't wrap around the entire bed - if that's your biggest concern, traveling to Cuba might not be the best fit for you. AC is my weakness, I hate the heat and humidity, but most of the hotels didn't have any issues with keeping me cool at night, and for that I am forever thankful. Hotel staff aren’t paid to care about customer service issues (the same goes for restaurant wait staff) so what may seem like rude behavior in any other North American establishment, is commonplace here. By the way, this one took me the longest to learn...

But, wait, what about the positives?


Trinidad, Cuba

Cuba has incredible people who are willing to share their stories and their way of life. We met a tobacco farmer in the Vinales Valley who was eager to share how he works and how involved his entire family is. At the end of the year, and after all of that hard work, he has to ship off most of his crop to the government. He does get to keep some for himself (I bet you can guess which quality he keeps for himself?). There are also local artists who are still using an almost antiquated art form of lithography (which my Grandfather proudly did for many years), or pottery makers who are proud to show you their craft.

The music was also a huge draw for me. The upbeat nature of the songs and the infectious melodies made me want to tap my feet from start to finish each day. Watching Cubans dance was mesmerizing – the way their hips moved and they seemed to effortlessly glide across the dance floor. I was too shy to get up and dance for fear of embarrassment of my two left feet. I swear, Cubans are born moving their hips that way. It’s a gift, and I was sadly, not born with that gift. I think one of my favorite activities from the ElderTreks trip was a percussion lesson with a local musician. Although I was terrible (I have no rhythm), having a chance to play and make music was one of the moments I will cherish from my trip to Cuba.

Connection to home is also getting easier. You can’t use your cell phone as an American (and barely as a Canadian) in Cuba, but the internet connection has spread to local parks and outdoor areas. Although it’s not the best connection and half the time you might be throwing the internet card/phone at the wall, it works enough to check emails and to browse some social media sites, all while enjoying the beautiful park views. It can pretty much only get better (I hope) so things should be improving as Cuba-US relations progress. There is something, however, about going to a place where you can’t connect, and that is definitely another positive for me.

And of course, I can’t forget the incredible architecture, furniture and classic cars. Those are more of the reasons why Cuba is so remarkable. It’s like you are stepping back in time, remembering the beauty and simplicity of designs from the 50’s. Or if memories of a classic time aren’t you thing, perhaps enjoying arguably some of the best tobacco in the entire world is?

All in all, Cuba is a completely distinctive type of Caribbean island, it so much more than beautiful white-sand beaches, it is a place that can take you on a cultural journey and allow for a completely special type of adventure travel. Cuba is a place where you can explore and connect that few American travelers have had the opportunity to do so.

Do you have questions about Cuba and what it’s really like? Or have you been before and want to add anything else? Comment below!


Amanda Dunning - August 15, 2016

Traveling Solo

"I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them."

Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad


When you are traveling solo, it can often be less expensive to share a room, and you may end up sharing with a friend, family member or even a stranger.  If you aren’t interested in adding on a single supplement, you will need to share a room. You and your roommate may get along great...or, you might not! To ensure that you have an enjoyable experience with your roommate there are some key rules to follow. We list 4 easy ways to be the BEST travel roommate below.

Be Considerate

It sounds like such a simple task, but being considerate and conscientious goes a LONG way!  Everyone has their idiosyncrasies: Some people can only fall asleep with the television on, and others can’t fall asleep with any noise, or light. Others like to put their alarm on snooze for an hour before they wake up, and others get up immediately once they hear their alarm. It’s best to mention your preferences up front so you can set out any expectations or needs right away. This helps avoid any passive aggressive resentment that may build up over a long tour when someone is doing the exact opposite of what you like or are comfortable with.  Plus, being courteous and considerate never made any enemies, so always kill them with kindness!  Also – make sure never to use any of their belongings without asking them first. We once heard of someone who used someone else’s toothbrush! Yikes!

Plan out Bathroom Time

You don’t need to make an exact schedule for the bathoom but it’s a good idea to ask your roommate ahead of time when they expect to shower, and how long it takes them to get ready in the mornings. Some people prefer to shower in the evenings, or in the mornings, and figuring out who will go first will help keep things organized and feel less rushed There is nothing worse than feeling like you are going to be late for when you are meeting a group!

Tidy Up

Not everyone is a neat freak, and nor should they have to be in their own space (to an extent.) Still, everyone deserves to be able to rest after a long day of touring in a tidy space that they feel comfortable in, preferably without towels on the floor, a dirty washroom or clothes spread across the room. If you are going to be messy - keep it to your side of the room. Luckily on long tours, you are moving around so you will have to keep most of your suitcase organized because you’ll be switching hotels often. Make sure to mention to your messy roommate if you need things a bit tidier, especially in the communal spaces, like the washroom.

Give Space

On long tours, with lots of meals together and time spent touring, everyone (even married couples or best friends) needs alone time. When you are sharing a room, sometimes it’s difficult to really get away and get some down time. Don’t be afraid to (politely) tell your roommate if you need some alone time, and come prepared with the tools to spend time alone (books, crosswords, music, etc.). Your sanity and your roommate will appreciate the quiet time!

When all else fails, bring items like earplugs and blinders. These are the most common tools to help with a noisy roommate (or one that turns the lights on first thing in the morning!). Also, don’t be afraid to politely tell your roommate if something is bothering you, or if you need something. Often times they don’t realize what it is that they are doing, or they are happy you mentioned it. It beats being upset for your trip over something trivial. If anything does get out of hand, you can always speak to your Tour Leader to help resolve issues, but they will always ask you if you’ve tried to rectify the situation on your own first, so it’s best to have that chat first before you speak to your Tour Leader.

Hope these tips help you on your next trip!


What are your tips for being a good roommate? Who was the best roommate you’ve ever had, and why?


Amanda Dunning - August 11, 2016

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