To many backpackers, the word ‘tour’ is a dirty word. Designated lunch breaks, cheeky organized bus stops in tacky souvenir shops and ‘manufactured fun’ party nights. I don’t know about you, but this certainly isn’t our idea of adventure, spontaneity and freedom!
So, when dreadlocked, laid-back backpacker, Jeff, came sauntering into our office a few months ago claiming to be a ‘tour leader’, we looked up from our Pad Thai with one eyebrow raised.
Jeff, originally from Canada, has been a group leader with Free & Easy Traveler for 5 years. He runs trips all over the world and has helped to give thousands of travelers the experience of a lifetime! We decided to quiz him with 10 questions on why Free & Easy Traveler is so different from your average group tour, what he loves and hates about his job and why he’d never switch roles with a Silicon Valley millionaire…
Jeff ponders his answers with his thinking cap on!
1. What did you do before Free & Easy and how did you become a group leader?
Way back when, I studied engineering in Canada – luckily, a semester abroad in Leeds, England opened my eyes to countries that didn’t have 4-feet of snow on the ground for half the year! Bitten by the travel bug, I was determined to find a place I wanted to live the rest of my life – and see every country I could in between! I found Free & Easy on Facebook while booking round-the-world flights back in 2008, and after my first 40 day trip around Thailand, (we don’t call them tours!) I was hooked on the easy going, live-life-to-the-fullest attitude that was the essence of the company, and I have been striving to do just that ever since!
“Mmh… now where in the world should I lay my hat?”
2. What do you love most about your job?
Some people would think that working from a hammock, living on a beach, or drinking all night long would be the best parts of this job – and they are great, don’t get me wrong – but the BEST thing about this job is that you get to meet 15-20 wicked cool backpackers every month, hear their stories, and create your own new travel tales every trip! I’m sure all travel companies talk about how much fun their customers have – but until you’ve been on a Free & Easy trip, you have no idea how your newfound travel buddies will turn to your best friends and travel family within 20 or 40 (or 100!) days on the road together!
New-found travel buddies at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
3. Tell us about the adventure you are currently on in Thailand and any gossip on the group?
We’re on a 40-day exploration of Thailand at the moment, which is our most popular trip. In 2012, it won the ‘World’s Most Amazing Tour’ by Tour Radar against many of our bigger, more rigid competitors so we were pretty stoked to say the least! Beginning and ending in Bangkok, with a loop through the islands, beaches and jungles of Southern Thailand, the trip covers the famous highlights as well as some lesser-known hidden gems. Last week we were partying with 20,000 people on a beach at the Full Moon Party and then tomorrow we’re heading off into the jungles and lakes around Khao Sok where we won’t see another tourist for days!
The group we have at the moment are really chilled, a good mix of people from different backgrounds most in their young to mid or late 20’s. There are actually a lot more girls on this particular trip (as usual), so the guys pretty happy (no gossip to share!). Free & Easy definitely seems to attract more female solo travelers who may not be as comfortable to travel alone, so it’s great we’re here to help!
4. Where else in the world do you lead trips?
I am lucky enough to lead trips in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Nicaragua. I also work for Free & Easy as Marketing Director in Eastern Canada, which means I spend a lot more time on my laptop these days (usually with a beer still in reach ;).
Jeff doing what he loves best. Leading adventures and bamboo rafting in northern Thailand.
5. What’s your favourite destination in South East Asia?
That is a tough call! Thailand is like home after all the time I’ve spent here, but Otres Beach, Sihanoukville is a great spot to kick back, and if you’re looking for some diving and supreme beach the Gili Islands in Indo definitely top my list! Free & Easy hits up the less well known spots on a lot of our adventures, so our travelers are getting the bang for their buck in travel off the beaten path (not to say we don’t hit the famous spots for the right reasons… who could miss a Full Moon Party just once in your life?).
The paradise of Otres Beach, Sihanoukville – one of Jeff’s favourite spots!
6. Why do you, and the Free & Easy crew, hate the word ‘tour’?
Leave the tours for the tour companies – Free & Easy offers authentic backpacking experiences for travelers, by travelers – and that is just the type of people who are attracted to traveling with us! I have done the occasional group tour with other travel companies, and I can tell you that Free & Easy is nothing of the sort… I wouldn’t be working for them otherwise! I have also done plenty of my own solo travel, and Free & Easy strikes a great balance between providing you with mind blowing opportunities for adventure at every turn, but still letting you decide your own schedule each and every day! If you’re a beach bum, get at it! No one here is gonna stop you! But if you want to explore everything these countries have to offer, you will be doing it with the coolest group of new friends you could hope for!
We pride ourselves in finding the absolute best destinations and activities and offering them to our travelers so they can enjoy their travel time without the stress and planning some people just don’t have the time or inclination to deal with! Our specialty is the exact opposite of the stuffy, boring group that you may envision when you hear the word ‘tour’ – think theme parties, crazy late night adventures and sunrise cocktails! Free & Easy is made for the independent solo traveler who wants to meet like-minded backpackers and start having fun from day one!
Taking the plunge in Laos!
7. For you, what’s the best thing about a Free & Easy Traveler adventure?
The people, no doubt about it. You may think it would get annoying, being asked the same questions all the time, but that’s the great thing about it – I’m not a “tour guide”! I’m here to make sure you have fun and get to do all the awesome things you came out here to do – so I’m always surrounded by a whole community of like minded easy going Free & Easy travelers! Everyone is up for adventure and fun and trying new things and meeting new cool people to travel with. Who could ask for anything more in their job?
8. And the worst thing? You travel to a load of places with the group, doesn’t that mean loads of long travel days?
Haha – bring em on! I actually wrote a blog about just that a few years back. Travel days can sometimes be the best days! We remove the boring and uncomfortable 18-hour bus-ride-through-Laos-with-a-dying-iPod and turn it into a mobile party on wheels on a bus with couches, disco lights, a booming sound system, with some awesome people to share stories and travel adventures with! I vaguely recall a travel day where we ended up body surfing along the aisle of the bus – one girl even made it all the way from the back to the front without being dropped! 😉 No day can EVER be described as boring with Free & Easy. Hell, I even miss the groups when I’m travelling on my own in between trips! (Although it is nice to catch up on sleep 😉
Erm – the worst thing? Saying goodbye to everyone at the end! The people end up being the best AND the worst part of the job… but there is never goodbye, there is only “til our dusty ol’ trails meet again”!
9. If you weren’t a Free & Easy Group Leader what would you be?
Probably an engineer in Silicon Valley – but I don’t think I could go back to that life anymore! I just can’t imagine giving up the spontaneous life of a group leader for days in the office. As much fun as it is to travel with Free & Easy, it’s even more fun to work for them! My bosses are a bunch of fun loving hippies just like the rest of us. Even though my days can be long and tiring, I love every minute of what I do and I wouldn’t swap my life with a millionaire!
10. So! Where do we begin? How do we find out more about Free & Easy Traveler & when’s the next trip!?
Our trips are all booked on our website, and we have trips that run all year long in 13 different countries. Decide which country you want to travel in South East Asia – Thailand, Laos, Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, or a combination of all of them and then choose your date! You can even start to connect with travelers who have booked on the same trip on Facebook or our mobile app for Apple or Android before you travel. If you need some help to decide, check out our awesome promo videos on Youtube to make up your mind!
Oh and we also run trips in Central and South America. We can’t wait to see you there soon South America Backpacker Magazine!