In the moment: A family poses in front of West Sumatra’s iconic clock tower Jam Gadang in Bukittinggi during school holidays. (Antara/Hermanus Prihatna)
Daisy S. Rachmat likes to travel — a lot — whether going to cities outside Greater Jakarta or joining a tour for overseas trips.
For years, Daisy and her husband were holidaymakers, who stayed in holiday lodges with all the comforts of home, nothing very adventurous.
“It was merely because my husband liked something that was comfortable and less daring,” said Daisy, who later discovered that deep down inside, she had an adventurous soul and wanted to do something more exploratory.
The 48-year-old found out about Jejak Kaki (JK), a local travel community that organizes trips, in a women’s magazine and decided to join the group’s mailing list.
Her first tour with JK was a three-day trip to Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara in 2008.
“I knew nobody at that time, but I did not care because I had the desire to explore Indonesia more,” Daisy explained, admitting that she cannot travel alone because she is afraid of sleeping alone.
The first trip led to other exciting ventures, including journeys to Loksado (South Borneo), where she went at bamboo rafting; Sikuai (West Sumatra); Pulau Panjang (Thousands Islands) and Bukit Lawang (North Sumatra), where she tried tube rafting and trekked to see orangutans.
“If I had not joined with the travel operator, I would have never known those far-off pristine places and experienced the astounding adventures. I would have never visited those stunning locations if I had traveled with my relatives or husband,” Daisy says.
Daisy is one among many vacationers who have joined local travel operators, which have mushroomed in the last few years.
Such independent operators, usually established by travelers or travel communities, provide organized trips, along with a complete itinerary, accommodation, transportation, tour guides and other services for the trip.
They are slightly different from travel agents who sell transportation and lodging on behalf of airlines, hotels and rental cars as well as providing package tours to individuals and groups who are planning trips.
Take JK, which was initiated by Eva Fedele and her husband Santos and has been guiding people, mostly middle- and upper-class travelers, across the country since November 2007.
“I like traveling, arranging the itinerary and all those things. It was my husband who encouraged me to set up a trip organizer,” said Eva, adding that she works with her husband, who takes care of the financial matters.
Starting as a community by sharing information on traveling among its members via its mailing list, JK now provides organized local and international trips, open to members and non-members.
JK offers two types of trips — suitcase-style and backpack style — that cater to a wider range of vacationers. The difference is mainly in the meals and lodgings.
This year, for instance, JK is arranging two kinds of East Java Mount Bromo trips — the VIP 3-day tour, which costs Rp 1,550,000 (US$172) per person and the 3-day homestay tour, at the cheaper price of Rp 975,000 per person.
Both prices include admission to the Bromo area, jeep rental, insurance, lodging and meals but exclude flights.
The first option gives participants a chance to stay at one of the most luxurious hotels with superb views of Mount Bromo’s desert landscape, while the latter is for those who are happy to stay in a modest dormitory.
“We strongly recommend our members to go for the trip that suits them and interests them most,” said Eva, who works for a private company in the capital.
Other trip operators, Lintaswisata Organizer (LWO) and Ceria Traveller (CT) provide similar services.
Set up by Agung Pambudi, LWO has been in operation for five years, while Nina Wong of CT has been in the business for around two years.
They mostly offer popular destinations across the country, such as Belitung Island in Bangka Belitung, Central Java’s Dieng, East Kalimantan’s Derawan Islands and East Java’s Mount Bromo.
The challenges of running a trip organizer include gathering participants, arranging an interesting itinerary and providing decent meals.
Such trip operators rely on social media and technology to promote their events and offerings.
Eva uses mailing lists and Facebook to advertise JK events, while Agung makes the most of Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger to get in touch with his clientele. Nina joins several mailing lists to promote her tours.
Doing the research is a must before publishing the offers and guiding hungry travelers. Agung is willing to go door-to-door in search of fine lodgings, places to eat and local tour guides.
“I usually take my friends or relatives on the research and set up connections with the locals, ranging from drivers, ojek drivers and freelance guides,” said Agung, 32, who runs the organizer by himself in between his hectic hours working for an oil company.
The preparation might be flawless, but some problems can still arise during a trip and the owner must be prepared for these.
Problems can be in the form of traffic congestion that lengthens driving times.
“Another thing is sometimes some people like to be relaxed and not too fixed on the itinerary, while some others demand a strict on-time schedule. I have to be able to handle such situations and please everyone,” Agung says.
In addition to earning money, establishing the tour operators has also brought many benefits for the owners.
Nina, who quit her job at a shipping company in October 2011 to focus more on the tour business, has made many new friends.
“I got to know people’s personalities and learned how to treat different kinds of people.”
Check and re-check
As many trip operators have sprung up, it is suggested that travelers check and recheck the quality of each operator before they decide to join a tour. Travelers Hetty Rahardja and Lilies Lestari shared tips for novices:
Search for as much information as possible on a trip organizer on the Internet. Take a look at the comments and reviews posted by its users. A good organizer most likely earns high ranking and positive comments. “Some operators handle their trips really well, while some may not. Therefore, don’t hesitate to ask other travelers for recommendations,” said Lilies.
Choose a trip that suits your budget. “A backpacking trip is usually cheaper than the suitcase style. So, it is important to know what type of traveler you are and what kind of journey that you want to take,” Hetty suggested.
Choose the itinerary that fits you most. There are times when a travel organizer will make a packed schedule, which does not allow you to have a good rest. If you are the type of person who wants to lie low and enjoy things more, you might avoid this kind of itinerary.