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13 Pros and Cons of Traveling with OAT

OAT stands for Overseas Adventure Travel. They are fairly well named, as they will take you on adventures overseas. They were the ones I went to Mongolia, Indonesia, and Iceland with.

1. Pro: Built in translators! The tour guides don’t just point at whatever a tour site features and tell you what it is. They will sometimes stop people like passing street vendors or field hands and translate any questions you may have. When the group meets with locals like we frequently did in Mongolia, they translate the whole time. You don’t have to learn a dozen languages just to talk to people all over the world. If time allows, and you need the extra help for something like retrieving lost luggage, the guides will often go along with you to do it.

2. Con: Built in translators. The fact that you CAN rely on the tour guides to help you with things like talking to someone at the local pharmacy, finding a restaurant, or just conversing with people you run into on the street with the group makes it tempting to not bother trying to rub along on your own. This can be a little insular. Then again, it isn’t like you aren’t allowed to get out there and pantomime your questions. Just that you never have to.

3. Pro: Small groups. They limit groups to no less than ten and no more than fifteen. This size works very, very well for making friends.

4. Con: If fewer than ten people sign up for a particular tour, they will cancel it. When the hit 15, they close it for that date.

5. Pro: Home Hosted Meal. Most trips include one meal in which the tourists will eat with a local family. This is a separate experience from the restaurants where you eat most of your meals. Often the group will be split into smaller groups and each will be sent on it’s own to eat with a different family. It’s about as far away as you can get from the stereotypical museum oriented tour where all you ever see are other tourists.

6. Pro: Which is not to say you wont ever visit a museum. If there’s a handy one along the way, chances are that you will indeed drop in on it. Likewise, if there’s a temple, or a sacred forest, or a famous volcano, you’ll probably be seeing it.

7: Pro: Action packed. Most days you will see several attractions in a row. I’ve never ended a day feeling like I wasted my time. Well, there was once when I spent quite a few hours in an airport waiting for the ash from a volcano to change direction, but that wasn’t OAT’s fault.

8: Con: Action packed. Most of the time it doesn’t feel hectic or stringent to me to visit half a dozen sites a day. But sometimes I could use a little more me time.

9: Pro: You don’t have to do any particular research or planning. Even when a hotel, restaurant, or other accommodation (yurt, tent, transportation etc) is humble, it will still be better than most of the ones you see around it – or may be the only one. I’ll discuss this at more length when I talk about Greenland. OAT tests every restaurant for food handling safety and palatability. They actively search for the best accommodations they can find.

10 Pro: Flexibility. Although the guide will not let anyone derail the program – so that if you were really looking forward to visiting a particular site it will generally take something like an irrupting volcano to prevent you from seeing it – the guides do have a fair amount of latitude. Express an interest in someone bicycling down the road with a sewing machine attached to the front of the bicycle and you may very well end up flagging him down to learn more. If you don’t feel like hiking, you can often make your own arrangements – like hiring a horse or a jeep to take you on your own tour. As long as you can get yourself back to the group on your own, you are welcome back. Sometimes the tour guides will help set this up for you. Often, like with the hike along the Icelandic shore where I took the bus instead, you can adjust an itinerary to meet your needs. However, they reserve the right to send home anyone who is too disruptive of the group.

11. Pro: Happy Hour! This is a great way to get to know more about your fellow travelers, above and beyond the countless conversations while walking, riding, or eating together. Most OAT travelers I have met ware themselves fascinating. It isn’t uncommon for a group to range from first-time travelers to those who have been on many, many trips. They come from all over the USA with diverse backgrounds.

12. Con: Happy Hour! If you consistently skip it, you may find that certain people have become eerily closer during the course of the trip while you are still relating to people in normal ways. Not that you get excluded. Just that by the end of the trip there tend to be in-jokes and an unusual degree of familiarity, particularly among those who go to happy hour.

13. Con: It aint cheep. You can buy just the trip, or include airfare too. Although when you go through OAT for airfare you get a wonderful safety net that really helps when the clerk in Salt Lake City didn’t understand how the international date line works well enough to check the bags all the way through and inadvertently cancels your tickets for the connecting flights, the costs including tips can add up.

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