Dispatch, Jordan: The small-group advantage

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Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran recently visited Jordan with Intrepid Travel. View a slideshow from the trip here. Her second dispatch follows. Click to read Michelle's first dispatch.

Traveling through Jordan this past week has been an opportunity to see and experience a country that, as I described in my last dispatch, is unfortunately suffering unjustly due to turmoil beyond its borders.

It was also an opportunity to experience traveling with Intrepid Travel, an Australian company that has been pushing more fervently into the U.S. source market. The Jordan trip was hosted by Intrepid's Peregrine brand, considered to be in the company's comfort category, which generally means staying at three-star hotels throughout the trip (Bedouin tented camps in Wadi Rum notwithstanding -- though these were arguably five-star-plus in terms of a memorable experience).

While the accommodations were adequate, what I found is that the type of travelers coming to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and Iran with Peregrine are much more interested in being connected to the destination than they are in where they are staying. As long as the hotels are decent and clean (good WiFi is an added bonus), these travelers are happy. There doesn't appear to be an obsession with brands and high-touch service the way there is in the luxury travel market.

What really matters to them is having a knowledgeable, tuned-in guide (kudos to Ahmed!) and above all the flexibility and freedom of traveling in a small group. Intrepid limits its group size to 16 travelers, and that enabled the operator to tweak and adapt the itinerary each day according to the group's moods and interests. Impromptu van polls can lead to last-minute meal and sightseeing decisions that offer a more immersive experience than being herded from one stop to the next with a larger group of travelers.

We also had more free time on our own to explore Amman, Aqaba, Wadi Mousa and Madaba, discovering the friendliness of Jordan's people the country's fascinating places.

Travel writers (and travel sellers, too) often get spoiled when they travel, staying at over-the-top properties. The welcome mat is often rolled out with a bit too much vim and vigor. It's easy to lose sight of what really matters (hint: it's not the brand of the toiletries in the hotel).

Here's to companies like Intrepid, which are focused on travelers who are more interested in being hoisted out of their comfort zone than being transported elsewhere within it.

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