THE FIRST TIME I traveled with a small group was when I moved to Central Europe. I liked having a few travel companions to ride the trams of Vienna with, and our local guide in Budapest proved essential when I totally butchered the Hungarian language asking for directions. Small-group travel allowed for a tight-knit community to develop based on our new, shared experiences abroad, and since our numbers were few, we got to do things larger tours couldn’t — like looking at Communist spy photos behind the scenes at the Institute for Totalitarian Regimes in Prague.
Some things — concerts, clubbing, being in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day — are better experienced with a lot of people. But for everything else, I definitely prefer to be in a group I can count on two hands. Here are 35 attractions that are way better to experience in a small group while traveling.
1. Market browsing, Morocco
Shepherding large groups of people through cramped Moroccan market stalls is stressful and overwhelming. Smaller groups can take their time exploring and engaging with local vendors.
2. Polar bear tracking, Greenland
Polar bears can weigh between 500 and 1,000 pounds, and can run up to 60kph if threatened. But they’re more curious about seeing small groups of trackers than eating them. This doesn’t mean travelers should get friendly with these wild animals, but aiding in documenting their whereabouts will help scientists keep tabs on the endangered species.
3. Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni
In the dry season, the salt expanse of the salar creates a white desert. In the rainy season, the plains become reflective, with a mirror-like effect. Both are better experienced when fewer people are present, so as not to interfere with the ethereal atmosphere.
4. Nature spotting in the Amazon Rainforest
Vibrations generated from walking on the forest floor can cause wild animals to keep a safe distance; fewer hikers on an Amazon trail increases the likelihood of seeing macaws, lizards, anteaters, tamarin monkeys, and more from a close distance.
5. Rock climbing, Thailand
Rock climbing shouldn’t be the sort of thing where mass amounts of people act like spiders trying to get out of the rain – it’s a very emotional moment, to be hanging off the side of a cliff, above the ground and looking skyward. Local guides can provide one-on-one instruction for small groups interested in climbing the limestone karst formations of Tonsai and Railay.
6. Archaeological dig, Easter Island
Participating in a dig is a privilege best left to small factions of experienced archaeologists; however, those looking to learn a bit about the trade can often observe these sites. Cave paintings, stone platforms, over 4,000 petroglyphs, and 887 Mo’ai statues have been discovered on Easter Island’s 63.2 sq miles.
7. Anne Frank Huis, Amsterdam
While it’s one of the most famous attractions in Amsterdam, the Anne Frank Huis provides an intimate, sobering experience by limiting the number of people who can enter at any given time. Like most of the city’s architecture, the house where Anne Frank and her family were hidden from the Nazis for two years is small and narrow, and the furnishings are sparse; the largest room in the annex is the attic, at 7.30 x 5.68 meters.
8. Multi-day trekking in Patagonia
9. A Galapagos Islands sailing trip
The design of most sailing vessels allows for only a few people to live-aboard at any given time. However, this type of trip creates a very holistic experience for travelers; everyone is expected to contribute to the success of the journey. The reward is an opportunity to observe one of the world’s most ecologically diverse areas, where travelers can interact with blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, seals, and marine iguanas.
10. Tango lessons, Argentina
Dancing is one of the most intimate art forms; to tango, all you need is one partner. Fewer people per dance class means more personal time with instructors, who can focus on perfecting your every move to make the tango as sensual as it’s supposed to be.
11. Hot-air ballooning over Sossusvlei, Namibia
The dunes are so big that you need extra time to take in the scenery, and enough quiet to contemplate how nature could create these mountains of sand. It’s best to see them from above—Big Daddy Dune, for example, is 380 meters tall.
12. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, NYC
This UCB theater might hold 152 people, but the bare-bones stage, casually dressed actors, and reliance on audience participation is why improvisational theater feels more like you’re hearing jokes at a friend’s party, and less like an overwhelmed viewer at a stand-up comedy tour. Famous comedians like Aziz Ansari, Amy Poehler, and Paul Scheer have been known to randomly perform alongside rising improv students here.
13. Stonehenge, UK
Many visitors have said that “Stonehenge is just a pile of rocks surrounded by hordes of slow-moving people.” At peak hours, this is absolutely true. But booking a private viewing with a small group, at sunrise or sunset, offers an entirely different experience.
14. Nomadic experience in the desert, Oman
Members of the Harasiis tribe of Oman welcome small groups of outsiders who are willing to participate in and learn about their way of life.
15. Road tripping across America
Traveling with a few people in the overstuffed compartment of a car is half the fun; it’s easier to make spontaneous stops along the way, and visit places like the “World’s Biggest Cowboy Insect Corral.” There’s nothing to stop you from pulling over and admiring America’s natural scenery along Route 66, or wherever you’re traveling.
16. Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef
Intimacy is key for diving, where smaller groups of travelers are happily outnumbered by those inhabiting the ecosystem around them. With over 2,900 individual reefs, the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia, is so vast that even with a small group, you can still feel like the only human for miles.
17. Learning to cook in India
Small group cooking classes offer international chefs the chance to really explain and teach participants the best ways to cook their local cuisines. Marching 50 people through a local market not only attracts attention, but also dilutes the personal nature of collecting and sampling ingredients which will be used later to synthesize a delicious part of Indian culture.
18. Flying in a prop plane
Intimidating to some, the aerial view from a prop plane is worth the cramped quarters. Too many planes in the sky not only inhibits your experience, but may cause those on the ground to feel like they’re being invaded. An exception to this rule is if there’s an audience awaiting any tricks your prop plane might decide to make mid-air.
19. Learning from artisans in Peru
It’s much easier to learn how to render intricate Peruvian textiles as a small group, where local artisans can focus their attention on your technique and design and provide personalized advice to better integrate your efforts into their art form.
20. Staying overnight in a Mongolian ger
Most residential gers can sleep a family of five comfortably—cramming in more people than this will make a Mongolian ger feel more like a summer campsite and less like a home. Gers are practical for travel, as they pack easily, and each structure only takes a few people to set up.
21. Walking along the Great Wall of China
Even at 13,170 miles, the Great Wall can feel crowded and underwhelming if you’re squished up against the stones. Walking along the wall with only a few people at sunrise can make travelers feel like they’re the only ones there, discovering this important piece of Asian history and architecture for the first time.
22. Listening to music in Cuba
Jazz, nueva trova, timba—take your pick, but make sure to experience it in a small group setting. Hearing the notes within arms’ reach of musicians playing them offers a totally different experience than listening to Cuban music in a larger arena.
23. Beach camping
Large caravans of campers can make the beach feel like a Jersey boardwalk. It also makes it hard to hear the natural sounds of the waves, wind, and wildlife that inhabit these areas.
24. Sea kayaking, Antarctica
Kayaking in a large group can sometimes feel less like an adventure and more like being in a pack of weird orange and yellow dolphins. When paddling in Antarctica, travelers get a better sense of this isolated part of the world when they themselves are isolated as a small group.
25. Beer tasting in the Pacific Northwest
Some enjoy the rowdiness instilled by large-scale beer operations like Oktoberfest. Small-group brewery tours are better for learning about beer history, sampling different types, and discussing the brewing process with brewmasters without feeling overwhelmed.
26. Ziplining in Mexico
One person with a fear of heights can hold up an entire line of eager zipliners. With fewer people per group, guides can help ease the minds of the apprehensive, while letting the fearless fly ahead. Visitors can experience this adrenaline rush virtually anywhere in Mexico, from the Sierra Madre Mountains of the west to the dense jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula.
27. Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo
This historic market only allows 120 visitors a day—which is like 0.0001% of the city’s population. Visitors wear hazmat-style suits and are guided through the auction area, where they can observe fishmongers bidding for choice cuts of tuna brought in fresh from nearby ports. If you’re partying in the area, most locals advise staying up until dawn, as travelers start lining up between 3 and 4am for the 5am tour. Alternatively, Intrepid’s Real Food Adventure Japan tour includes a visit to the market.
28. Pizza Brain, Philadelphia
Philadelphia resident Brian Dwyer has collected pizza memorabilia since college. In 2012, he opened Pizza Brain—the world’s first pizza museum—with an attached pizzeria that seats around 25 people. The collection on view to the public is a small cross-section of Dwyer’s obsession, which has won him a place in the 2011 Guinness Book of World Records, but Pizza Brain’s combination of Philadelphia-based art, gourmet and eclectic pizza toppings, and pizza-flavored ice cream in the shop next door make it a super niche place to experience one of America’s favorite foods.
29. Wli Falls, Ghana
Travelers hike through green forests lined with cocoa and mango trees to get to Wli Falls, located in the Volta Region of Ghana. Locals often picnic and swim there on the weekends, but the crowds are never very large. It’s entirely possible for a small group to be the only visitors on-site for hours.
30. Fishing in Halong Bay, Vietnam
In and around Halong Bay, travelers can find over 200 species of fish and mollusks. Smaller groups are less harmful to this ecosystem, which is often overrun by large party boats that damage mangroves and sea grass.
31. Diving off the Mostar bridge, Bosnia
Young men have been diving off Mostar’s bridge for almost 350 years. At 24 meters high, it might feel less intimidating to take the dive if surrounded by a group of close friends, rather than several hundred strangers (and speedos).
32. A gallery tour with a local artist
Seeing art in person is one thing; conversing with the artist is another. Small groups can take advantage of visiting local galleries or workshops and interacting with artists in a casual way, exchanging cross-cultural ideas and expanding on their sense of the global art scene.
33. Cycling in South Africa
The Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour has become the world’s largest individually timed bicycle race, with over 35,000 participants. This massive group of cyclists miss out on admiring Cape Town’s diverse topography, however; small groups of travelers have a better chance of exploring the different types of terrain.
34. Going behind the scenes at a museum
Most museums offer private tours of their storage rooms and archives for academic purposes. Small groups of students and those interested in specific areas of science or the arts can make an appointment to see hidden collections and hold discussions with museum curators on topics they’re curious about.
35. Flamingo watching, Bolivia
Flamingos are social animals, but even in colonies they can get startled by large groups of people. A few travelers watching them in their native habitat from a distance is less intimidating, for both parties.