Curious about Self-guided cycle tours...? Grasshoppers' CEO, Adam Platt-Hepworth, talks us through the concept behind this revolutionary new travel option now available to tour guests.
What is Grasshopper Self-guided? How does it work? Is it the right trip for me?
Let’s be clear. If you are one of those many people who have participated in and loved our guided tours, this range of much more independent and somewhat self-sufficient trips may not be for you.
So who is it for? It’s for those who want a little quiet time, without the group, without the guide. It’s for those who want the thrill and mental challenge of finding their own way and working some things out for themselves, sans translator.
That is not to say that you need to be exclusively a guided or Self-guided kind of traveler, but you do need to understand what the difference is, because there is a big difference.
Who did we have in mind when we designed these tours?
We recognise that some people just love the independence of riding and that being in a group of people can remove some of that freedom. Generally, that applies to people who are quite confident in their riding ability and who are experienced in using the digital navigation devices (GPS or phone navigation apps). Probably they have also had some prior exposure to Asia and/or developing countries in general.
Many of us do group rides to meet like-minded people and enjoy a sociable experience, and there are those who love coming on holiday and just letting things happen instead of needing to plan and make decisions, in these instances a group, a guided trip can be appealing. It is also true that you can experience a deeper interaction with the locals having a guide on hand, but actually, if you have to forge that connection yourself, without the guide, then it could prove to be a longer lasting travel memory.
Self-guided bike touring as a style of travel is suited to those who are accustomed to taking independent hikes or rides at home. You don’t have to be a finalist on the last season of Survivor or anything, but you do need to be able to think and plan ahead a bit and cope with the unexpected.
If you are someone who enjoys the challenges of working out how to communicate your needs to people with whom you do not share a common language, then self-guided is for you. If you enjoy the thrill of riding into a town where the locals don’t often see folks that look like you, then Self-guided is for you. If you might fancy stopping for 3 lunches a day instead of just 1, well Self-guided might suit you just fine.
You do need to be aware, that if you get a flat tire on tour (if a stray staple makes it through the puncture resistant tires), then you’ll need to change that tire yourself. If you can’t do that just yet, then watch an online tutorial or get someone to show you how and then practice a little. If anything major fails in a mechanical sense (quite unlikely given the high level of maintenance), you can call us and we’ll have someone there to repair or replace the bike, but for a flat tire, you or the old guy sitting on a street corner next to a stack of discarded motor-scooter tires will have to fix it. Never fear though, you’ll have the spare tubes, tools and tire inflation cylinders to complete the job.
Watch a short introduction to Grasshopper Self-guided
So how does it actually work?
For 2 years, we have sent riders off on many such adventures to Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and even Japan. These countries have it all - incomprehensible alphabets in their menus, dialects difficult to reproduce and some really curious and fascinating customs.
The core of the Grasshopper Self-guided experience are the navigation tools, the superior and reliable equipment and the seamless logistics on luggage transfer, hotel bookings and the informative, educational and insightful audio content delivered through our dedicated Self-guided app. Ride at your own pace during the day with clear navigational instructions, roll into a pre-prepared hotel room where your luggage awaits, then take it easy and listen to a mini-audio guide on the app.
The App - Not only does the app provide a series of audio guides on historical and cultural information, but there are also lots of useful snippets on customary faux pas, and explanations on why some curious things are the way they are. The app also provides guidance on how to seek out the best food on your route, by providing a list of staple dishes and regional specialties, accompanied by a point and pick translation.
In safety terms, these countries are all home to a large volume of 2 wheeled traffic that often behaves quite unpredictably, so on the positive side, drivers of cars, buses and trucks are very alert to the smaller vehicles on the road and drive defensively for the most part. They are generally quite considerate and only too ready to give you a wide berth when passing. We also use mostly secondary and tertiary roads on our routes, so you won’t have to deal with heavy traffic anyway.
Security in all of these countries is also quite fine. The population is generally law-abiding and most of the crime that does take place is petty and opportunistic, so practice personal safety around your belongings and you will be fine. In the case of Japan, this is one of the safest and most secure countries on earth.
The Self-guided experience means that you ride from door to door, and apart from only a few sections, the routes don’t require vehicle transfers. Even then, however, we want to challenge our riders with alternative means of transportation such as coastline train rides or ferries. Naturally, we make sure the tickets and means of accommodating bikes for such travels are also provided.
First and foremost, we have planned these rides to be achievable and we’ll always talk through your riding abilities and the trip style during the enquiry process. In Japan, we have engineered the route so that if find you can’t cover the distance there is generally a train station within a few kilometers and you can jump aboard and fast forward to your destination. In Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, we can arrange with the hotel to send a car to come get you if you feel you can’t complete the ride.
What about the costs?
Because of our usual outstanding accommodation selection and the amount of behind-the-scenes support and planning that go into these trips, Self-Guided tours aren’t that much cheaper. The key attraction of these trips is their flexibility. We have a lot of situations where a solo rider or duo, wants to do a ride and we don’t have a group tour running. It would be prohibitively expensive in some cases to put on a guided ride for 1 or 2 people, and there may just not be the resources available to do so. With a Self-guided tour, we can almost always accommodate your preferred dates and do so for around the same cost as a place on a regular, guided tour.
Are the hotels as good as on the guided tours?
One really exciting aspect to these tours is that we are able to use some unique properties that wouldn’t suit tour groups, but for small parties of friends/family, these offer a more intimate experience. Usually, these are operated as family businesses and you’ll have a more personal experience with your host than in a larger, star-rated hotel. You can, however, expect a high degree of comfort. As with our guided tours, we select the accommodation that is very comfortable for a memorable experience in the cities, then out in the countryside, we choose the best hotels available that, at a minimum, offer an air-conditioned room with a private bathroom (except Japan).
So what’s this about Japan?
Japan has two accommodation offerings. First, there are business hotels. These are compact (sometimes very) and comfortable rooms. They’ll usually have everything you would expect in a 3-4 star hotel, but folded into an 11sqm room (at the extreme). The second kind of accommodation is a Ryokan, which is a traditional Inn. In these properties your hosts will have their own way of doing things, so you will be informed of the dinner start time and when the public bath is available. These are a great experience and really encapsulate the Japanese hospitality experience. The rooms are generally tatami-matted rooms with futon mattresses and some of the more modern Ryokan have a dedicated ensuite toilet, but the shower is almost always in the shared bathroom and there is usually a public bath, the famous Onsen. As foreign as this may all sound, it is all part of a really charming, cultural experience that makes Japan an incredibly interesting place to travel.
So, is this for me???
Hopefully you’re convinced this is a great travel experience. If what I have written excites you, or perhaps daunts you a little but generally feels like it’s something you would enjoy, then maybe these tours are for you. Let’s be honest, if you don’t know how to change a tube it’s pretty easy to learn how. If you haven’t used a GPS device before, try using one on your phone, google maps for example. But really the key prerequisite for someone considering a Self-guided tour is a willingness to roll with it, to expect the slightly unexpected and to deal with the minor challenges that come with semi-independent traveling. If you still aren’t sure, give us a call or send us an email and we can talk you through the experience a little more.
See you on the road!