Yachting in Greece
Going Dutch: A New Dimension in Travel
By Stephen Hartshorne
One of the best ways to get to know someone is to take a trip with them. Many North Americans take trips to exotic destinations and wind up becoming better acquainted with the other North Americans on the trip. Certainly there's nothing wrong with that; friendship is a good thing; but a growing number of US and Canadian travelers are opting to travel with international groups and form friendships with travelers from other countries.
Lucette "Luke" Neal, president of Djoser, Inc., which operates tours and safaris all over the world, says her company has many US clients who prefer to travel with the Dutch tour groups organized by their parent company, Djoser Netherlands, one of Europe's largest tour companies.
"We have a huge group of loyal Djoser fans who will only travel with Dutch groups," she says, "because they are generally quite active and adventurous. The Dutch are very experienced travelers and people from the Netherlands from all walks of life have seen the world many times over. It's not just limited to the upper crust."
"Most Dutch travelers have a great command of English," she says. "After a day or two, most of our Americans and Canadians have merged into the group fairly easily."
She says many clients have formed friendships with fellow travelers from the Netherlands and sometimes whole groups get back together for more touring.
Dogsledding in Lapland
One trademark of the Djoser tour is flexibility. Groups meet in the morning to discuss plans for the day and travelers can either join group activities or explore on their own. Neal says this appeals to experienced travelers, Dutch and American.
"The Dutch of all ages are very independent minded," she says. "They like to go for a hike or rent a bike and explore. And many more Americans are becoming savvy travelers."
"Due to the active nature of our trips, our small groups, the level of flexibility required and our focus on genuine cultural experiences, we attract an open-minded, hearty sort of traveler. Many of our most loyal clients are former independent travelers who never considered group travel prior to discovering Djoser."
Another reason to travel with the Dutch, Neal says, is value. "It's true what they say: The Dutch are frugal," she says. "Travel with the Dutch and save a dime.
A Djoser group leader in Tibet
"Djoser does not take charge cards nor do we work through travel agents so that we can keep costs down. We also do not include the costs of meals and entry fees in our published prices. Not only does this allow for flexibility for the traveler (join the guide or explore on your own), there is also no mark up on any of these items. This is a huge source of the high cost of travel with many companies."
The tour leader will accompany the participants for some meals and activites, but not all. She notes that the tour leaders are always available to recommend restaurants or interesting local sites.
Djoser tours are frequently listed among the best travel deals on Frommer's and Budget Travel Online, and these sites also speak highly of the way their tours are organized:
Riding elephants in Thailand
"Djoser trips take you deep inside the culture and way of life of the areas they visit," writes Jason Sheftell of Frommer's.
"Djoser believes self-exploration is the best way to understand or experience a country. Freedom to go out on your own is encouraged wherever safe and possible. Skipping planned sightseeing trips is also encouraged, which is why entrance fees are not included. The traveler decides what they want to do and when."
Another hallmark of the Djoser tour is a fairly high level of activity with quite a bit of walking and nature exploration. There are challenging hikes and activities for the most energetic travelers and "more relaxing choices" for other participants.
Djoser offers more than 90 different tours and safaris virtually everywhere in the world from Antarctica to Bhutan. They generally use family-owned hotels and guest houses and local forms of transportation, except for trips like camping safaris or dogsled expeditions where the accomodations are more basic.
Riding camels in Morocco
If it really matters to you whether the bedspread matches
the curtains, or if you have to have a refrigerator in your room, then a Djoser tour is probably not for you. But if you want unique opportunities to experience other cultures and you're willing to rough it a little bit (compared to accomodations in the US) then you should check out the Djoser USA website.
Despite the large size of the company, Djoser trips maintain an intimate feeling. After 20 years in the travel business the company has developed a solid network of land agents, tour leaders and local guides throughout the world. Every year they all gather at the company's headquarters in the Netherlands to refine programs and discuss new tours for the coming year.
Neal says that when Djoser first began combining European and North American travelers in tour groups, they drew half of each group from one continent and half from the other, but now they limit the number of North Americans to four per trip (out of a group of 20-22).
A horse-drawn carriage in Krakow
"This is because when we booked equal proportions of North Americans to Europeans, the group would split into two separate groups. With an uneven split, everyone integrates nicely, which was what we had in mind!"
Djoser offers two kinds of international tours "International-English" where the tour leader conducts the entire tour in English, making communication simple, and "International" where the tour leader conducts the tour in Dutch and then translates the information into English.
Neal says travelers who prefer more personal attention from the tour leader should probably book an International-English tour. She says the International groups are recommended for more independent minded, experienced travelers.
"If this is your first experience with an international group, merging with the Dutch group is usually easier if you have a travel partner," Neal says. “Of course, we have outgoing singles who do just fine on these groups.”
"While these trips are a lot of fun, they can present certain challenges that people should be aware of prior to booking," she says. "If you travel as a single or if you are introverted it can sometimes be isolating on the bus or at meals if the group is speaking Dutch.
"But almost everyone from the Netherlands has a wonderful command of English and socializing usually comes easily as the group warms up to each other. Traveling with an international group may require a little more patience, but the typical Djoser traveler will enjoy the added dimension of the trip."
Stephen Hartshorne is Associate Editor of GoNOMAD. He writes a blog called Armchair Travel about books he finds at flea markets and tag sales.