Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reviews: Backpacking Japan with Travel Factor

Travel Factor (TF) is a pioneer in organizing budget tours (especially for 40 below) around the Philippines.  In recent years, it's new partner Cedric Valera expanded its reach by covering international destinations while it's founding partner, Leia Nagal, decided to tie the knot and settled down in America.

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.  
All my friends and the 2 solo travelers swear they will not join or recommend Travel Factor.  They were completely dissatisfied with the service.  There was an absence of a leader, who will do some briefing or break the ice and unite the group.  In the primer it said; there are 11 travelers, please be friendly; i guess the tour coordinator himself failed to observe this.  It was a consensus that it felt like joining the travel coordinator's friends' vacation rather than joining a group tour.  One said, it felt like "nakikisabay lang and paying for their share".  We barely see them in some days, so we had to explore on our own; and "adopt" the 2 solo travelers to our group.  The itinerary is not necessarily followed; they tend to appear much later (minutes or an hour) than the agreed time.
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.
For me, joining Travel Factor is about managing expectations.  Traveling is about the experience.  It doesn't always have to be luxurious; it's with these modest pleasures that you'd appreciate even more what you have and don't have.  Going around Japan for ten days for U$999, what do you expect?!


    nina said...

    Yup, expectation management is the key specially with the super low cost.

    Also, backpacking and budget travel aren't for everyone din talaga.

    It's sad that you had this experience with them. I hope they use this as a way to improve their services.

    freeze said...

    I hope so too! They're promising pa naman sana but they still need a lot of improvement in terms of quality of service.

    one of us attempted to give some feedback to no avail. i guess some were not properly informed of what to expect.

    D said...

    (came upon this while searching for japan itinerary)

    I joined a TF trip back in 2011, Mt. Pulag. And I agree, essentially what the do is just arrange the transpo and accommodations, then lug you around. They don't serve as tourist guides, they don't bring the group together. They didn't even initiate conversations with us or ask our names. Imagine if you were a solo traveler looking forward to joining a group tour thinking it would be a fun welcoming group! Good thing you guys "adopted" the solo travelers. GOod for you!

    I thought it was just our experience. Apparently, it isn't. HOpe they have training sessions with their guides.

    Search This Blog