An Interview with Gapper Phil Inman

At we're always telling you to go and live the dream. Whether that's working in Australia, volunteering in South America or backpacking around South East Asia, as long as you're out there doing it that's all that matters, but what's it actually like?

It's fair to say gapper Phil Inman has been around the block. If there's one thing he's discovered it's that he really likes tours. As in, he really really likes tours.

We caught up with Phil to tell us what it's like being on tour with Real Gap. Here's what he had to say.

Where have you been on tour with Real Gap?

Ecuador, India, Peru, Vietnam and Zambia.

What's been your best experience?

It's hard to think of one 'best' experience but I'd have to go with the Lares Trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. For me this was not just a highlight of my gap year but a high point in life itself. Literally and metaphorically. It just had the perfect combination of elements with the group, guide, scenery, food and history. The lost city more than lives up to the hype!

A close second? Real Gap's 'Vietnam Experience' - brilliant organisation, dazzling scenery, delectable food and a hilarious group of fellow travellers.

Trekking to Machu Picchu was a highlight

Why do you always choose Real Gap?

They do everything a good travel company does - good organisation at acceptable prices. The staff are helpful, friendly and experienced travellers themselves.

Have you ever been with any other tour company?

Yes, I have also toured with International Student Volunteers and with Xtreme Gap in addition to travelling on my own.

What's the longest trip you've ever been on?

Just over three months visiting India and Vietnam.

What would you say to anyone who thinks tours are rubbish and for old people?

Tours are ideal for those who want to travel without jumping straight into backpacking. It's also really easy to make friends with pre-departure meetings and lists; you can even have travel buddies before you fly! I have met up with people before flying on two occasions and both times have been the beginnings of lasting friendships.

Lastly, I'd say that there is nothing else on earth which is quite like being a member of a tour group that gels together perfectly. A good group is like a microcosm of life itself with all the associated highs and lows.

Getting crazy with Real Gap

What's the most scandalous thing that's happened on tour?

Ok, now we're onto the important questions! I could talk about this for a long time but instead I'll just highlight one. With another tour operator I volunteered at a camp in Goa and this incident was only made possible by the fact that Indian culture tends to lean towards being more easily scandalised than that of other countries.

A celebratory night out in a hotel bar ended with us being politely encouraged to move on after several glasses got smashed and the floor acquired a couple of different decorations to the ones envisioned by the designer. This lead to a 40 minute walk of shame back to the camp complete with people falling into ditches, singing at the top of their voices and loudly proclaiming love to one another while a local gentleman pursued us on a motorbike repeatedly threatening to call the police.

While this could have been ok it took a turn for the worse when one of my inebriated companions fell and hit her head on the stone. I got back at the camp with an accomplice and we were waiting for our injured friend to arrive after us when the appearance of blue lights on the drive to the camp forced us to make a break for it. We hid while the police conversed with the camp security guard, and after they eventually left our friends arrived back much the worse for wear.

Our embarrassment could have ended there, but then at least four of my comrades started to suffer with cases of vomiting that were, to say the least, worrying. The net effect of all of the injuries, the singing and the uncontrollable vomiting was that we had to wake up the rest of the camp staff, including managers, and beg for a 2am ride to the hospital. In all we ended with three people admitted to hospital and placed on fluids, something which is far from cheap in India!

As if we hadn't quite created enough shame and disgrace that camp leader told us the next morning that never, ever before in the history of the charity had police been called to attend the camp. Pretty scandalous, hey!

The girls at the Taj Mahal in India

What's the worst thing about doing a tour?

At one time I would have said the early mornings but I have at least travelled enough to get over that. The worst thing about doing a tour is directly connected to the best thing; other people. As a tour group member you can really find yourself at the mercy of other members whose ideas of time-keeping, cultural sensitivity, standards of dress etc. are different to yours.

My advice is just to chill out, accept the knock backs, roll with the punches and realise that the fun of travelling lies in the fact that we are not all the same. To borrow a quote: "Praise the God of all, drink the wine and let the world be the world."

What kind of person should do a tour?

As eluded to above it is an excellent way to start out as a traveller without immediately jumping into all of the perceived problems and dangers of backpacking. A really good tour is one that ensures you get to see all the "must-see" sites while also having free time to explore for yourself and hang out with your new friends.

As to the kind of person who should do it, anyone with a sense of adventure, a longing to experience new things and openness to being challenged and changed.

What happens on tour?

Anything else you'd like to tell us about Real Gap?

Sally was an absolutely amazing long trip coordinator and I've also got to mention Kali as well, who dealt with me on a couple of occasions and provided my tour group some valuable assistance during a memorable sleeper train journey in India which became somewhat politically delicate... a story for another time!