Prior to Japan I have joined two travel factor trips; the first was a photography workshop called Photoholic Ilocos organized by Leia and the second was the river rafting trip Conquer Kota Kinabalu facilitated by Eric.
For backpacking Japan, there were 11 of us in the group:
- 1 travel coordinator with 4 of his TF friends;
- me and 3 of my friends and
- 2 other first time TF solo travelers.
I too was disappointed with the service; TF is not the same without Leia's touch. On the other hand, from day one it dawned on me, I was with the wrong company; no matter how much conditioning of the mind I did to my friends prior to joining a backpacking tour; they cannot stop complaining throughout the trip. When you're used to some luxuries in life, it's somehow difficult for some to accept the thought of living in hostels and using public transport.
Travel Factor is for you when you don't mind:
- not having airport transfers - in Japan, when we move from one city to the next, we had to lug our luggage around; up and down the stairs in between stations/subway ride; this for me was hell. Escalators or elevators are not always available; or if they are, some could be a block away from the desired exit.
- taking public transport like bus, trains and overnight buses - in Japan, no transportation was chartered exclusively for the group to go around sightseeing; unlimited day pass on bus or subway was provided as part of the package; overnight bus was chosen over shinkansen (bullet trains) or flights between cities.
- sharing a room with other TF participants - they normally book a hostel room for four or more and share it among TF participants; if you are a group of friends, chances are they'll put you in a room together (with or without other participants).
- using common toilet and bath - condition will depend on the chosen hostel; in Japan, they are generally clean.
- not having a tourist guide - the tour coordinator does not act as a guide; they will only arrange the accommodation and transportation; you'll be left on your own to explore the sights or get lost with them. It is likewise important to do your own research, there won't be much input from the coordinator especially what to do during free time. If there are issues like folded train ticket, laundry or room key you have to deal with it on your own. Basically, the group is organized to share some travel cost like transportation and accommodation.
- having a flexible itinerary - the itinerary agreed maybe not be followed; some sights may be skipped (in this case, you'll be refunded by that amount of entrance fee) due to time constraints. You may join the group or opt to explore on your own. The pace is normally laid back and meet up time is not strictly observed. Even the tour coordinator shows up an hour after call time.