Our picks of the best guided expeditions offer authenticity, sustainability, immersion, and values as never before.
For the past four years, we've dug deep to bring readers the most singular, authentic, and sustainable trips offered in organized travel. This year is no different, but alas, the world is. The global economic crisis has people taking a hard look at their wallets. To many travelers, a big trip may seem unaffordable. But consider this: Travel companies are coping with the downturn by offering incentives, freebies, and discounts. Add that to the traditional savings an outfitter gets by being able to negotiate better rates on trip components and there may be no better time to take that tour of a lifetime.
We asked veteran contributing editor Margaret Loftus to scour the world for the best tours at the best values. Her report includes Wild China's foray into the untrampled provinces of Guangxi and Guizhou in southwestern China, in which guests sleep in the homes of villagers along the way. Cozy to be sure, but what an intimate way to learn about a culture. Another outfitter, Intrepid, keeps costs—and carbon emissions—down by using public transportation when possible, such as a bus ride through Turkey on its Silk Road journey.
Our coverage, organized into three categories—active, classic, and cultural—includes 50 tour listings. You won't find any $50,000 round-the-world-by-private-jet tours on this year's list. On the other hand, many of the tours don't necessarily qualify as "cheap." Sustainable, nonexploitive travel attempts to give back to the community, and comfort costs money. But every tour, whatever its price tag, offers small-group, thoughtfully crafted experiences that are eco- and culturally sensitive, provide uncommon access, and foster interaction with locals. It's the perfect antidote for these tumultuous times, as we reexamine what is important and look for trips that are meaningful and restorative. —The Editors