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Frequently Asked Questions

Giant Sequioas - Yosemite National Park - Green Tortoise

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Do I need to have a sleeping bag, a tent or camping experience?

We have rental sleeping bags available for most trips. A tent is recommended but not absolutely necessary since you may choose to sleep on the bus in some locations or outside under the stars. Camping experience is not necessary we welcome first-time campers! The campsites we visit range from remote and rustic to full service with showers.

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What does flexible itinerary mean?

Flexible is wonderful! Many of the best parts of the trip were not even on the itinerary.
Matthew, 30, USA

One of the most thrilling elements of adventure is the unexpected. Our adventure trip itineraries are general overviews. Unforeseen circumstances, including (but not limited to) weather and road conditions may result in the alteration of published itineraries to give you the best possible trip. Flexible itinerary does not mean that we will forgo major highlight attractions at random; however, we cannot guarantee the inclusion of specific minor attractions or activities and ultimately, your drivers will use their skill and experience to make final decisions regarding the route.

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What are the buses like?

I had a great time, meeting new people, seeing beautiful places and having an adventure. The bus provided a backdrop for all of us to be ourselves.
Irene, 52, USA

Our converted sleeper coaches are custom designed, hand-made and comfortable. Personal reading lights and volume controls for our sound system are located throughout the bus. Most coaches are equipped with toilets although their use will be selective. The coach has the capacity for 36 passengers to sleep lying down. Though we often drive through the night, because of the vast mileage covered on some of our trips, it may sometimes be necessary to drive during the day.

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What should I bring?

You are allowed to bring one checked piece of luggage, one carry-on, plus your sleeping bag/pillow and tent (if you opt to bring one). Your sleeping bag/pillow and tent do not need to fit inside of your checked piece. Our custom designed coaches do not have the same amount of storage space as standard coaches; please heed the luggage guidelines. After you make a reservation with our travel office you will be sent a complete list of things to bring.

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Do most people travel alone?

Most of our riders are solo travelers but we also welcome couples, friends and families to hop on board.

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Can I take a shower every day?

Showers will be available, but not always daily. There is no shower on the bus. We'll take no-soap baths wherever possible in waterfalls, rivers or lakes when developed campgrounds aren't available.

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Can I take a bike on the bus?

Only on our buses to Burning Man. Please see our Burning Man information for further important details.

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Can everyone sleep on the bus lying down?

Yes. Sleeping space is not assigned and you should expect to share close quarters with limited privacy.

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Can I smoke or burn anything on the bus?

No, but we stop frequently for smoke breaks.

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What is your alcohol policy ?

The Tortoise follows all prevailing laws concerning the consumption of alcohol (which vary from location to location). It is sometimes legal to drink alcohol on the bus, and usually okay to drink alcohol at camp. Please check with your drivers for rules regarding any particular location and respect your fellow passengers by consuming alcohol in moderate amounts.

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Does the bus leave from the hostel?

Most Green Tortoise buses depart from the intersection of Columbus and Montgomery Street in downtown San Francisco (see directions), unless otherwise noted on your ticket or reservation.

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How many people are on the bus?

The coach has the capacity for 36 passengers. The average number of passengers is about 28. When the coach had seats it held up to 47 people.

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Can my child/teen ride the Green Tortoise?

In a word, maybe. Generally, you will need to call us and speak to the office manager so we can make a decision on a case-by-case basis. For more details, we ask that you read our policies and advice on child passengers.

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How many buses does the Green Tortoise operate?

Currently we have nine converted sleeper coaches criss-crossing North and Central America.

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What does my food fund cover?

The food fund for most trips covers about 70% of your meals, though this varies according to each particular trip. At times when meals are not included, we will be in locations where there are restaurants or grocery stores for you to purchase a meal. You do not need to bring your own food or cooking items. The proceeds of the food fund also covers the costs of your camping as well as state and national park entrance fees within the United States.

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What kind of people ride the bus? Age? Nationality?

The adventure is fantastic for anyone that likes community and nature no matter what age. Being a little older than the average, I found the more strenuous hikes were too much for me yet there were plenty of moderate hikes that were beautiful ... thank you for the vacation of a lifetime!
Carol, 54, USA

A lot of folks wonder if the Tortoise is only for young people. While there are certain trips that tend to specifically attract a younger crowd spring break trips, summer cross country trips, and Mardi Gras our culturally engaging winter trips tend to invite a more mature crowd. We value the diversity of experience brought by passengers of all ages.

Families traveling with small children should consult our travel office prior to making a reservation. Though we have no age limits, all passengers should be reasonably fit, able to care for themselves and their belongings, and comfortable sharing space on one of our unconventional sleeper coaches. International travelers gravitate toward our trips year round.

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How much additional spending money should I bring on my trip?

We have eliminated the frills of overindulgent, hotel-a-day, never-leave-the-pavement type tours, because we believe that true adventure travel should challenge your senses, not your wallet. However, our trips are not all inclusive. Every trip includes a large array of activities at no additional cost, as well as optional paid activities.

On certain trips, hotel/hostel stays are required and you will not be able to stay with the bus. The cost of hotel/hostel accommodation is at your expense. For trips with overnight stays in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, hostel choices and contact information is included with your ticket, and we recommend making advance reservations. For trips with overnight stays in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, you will not be able to stay with the bus. For other trips with overnight stays (such as Mexico and Alaska), we do not recommend making advance reservations, and you may overnight on the bus if necessary. For a complete breakdown of additional expenses or more information about overnight stays, contact our travel office.

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Do I need travelers insurance to ride?

We do not require that you have travelers insurance in order to ride the Green Tortoise. However, we do strongly encourage you to purchase a policy that adequately covers both yourself and your belongings. Please keep in mind that our insurance does not cover you while you are off the bus, and it is limited in any coverage of your belongings.

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How much should I tip the driver?

It is customary in the US to tip between 18% to 20%, depending on the service you feel was provided. Tipping is optional, but chances are the drivers helped provide you with a lifelong memory, as well as great food, good times and safe passage. Please don't forget them!

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What is your Cancellation Policy?

Please read our cancellation policy.

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What kinds of things can I do on my trip?

I had an incredible time on this trip! I'm sure like everybody else who does one of these for the first time I had no idea what to expect, especially what the other people would be like. But I can honestly say that at the end of the trip my new friends and I all wished we had longer to hang out together and visit some cool places. It exceeded my expectations!
Kelly, 23, Ireland

Our adventure trips are geared towards activities such as hiking, swimming, rafting and horseback riding. Whether you're on a budget or not, there will always be a variety of activities included in the cost of your trip. Participation in all activities is optional. One of the best things about our mid-sized groups is that there will always be a small group or individual interested in doing activities with you. Contact our Travel Office for a complete listing of the activities on the trip that interests you.

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What does "Combination Trip" mean?

We have combined some of our trips to provide you with more travel options. For example, the National Parks Loop is made up of two 8 day trips. The combined itineraries listed in this catalog include the National Parks Loop, Northern Pioneer, Western Trail, Cross Country Loops and Maya Dream Weeks.

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Are the trips guided?

The GT concept seems to be the right mixture of a guided tour by people who really know the places you go with room in the structure for individuality and independence ... a good mix of urban experiences and time spent in nature. It works for me!
John, 37, UK

No. We will bring you to beautiful places and provide you with all the resources to make a fantastic adventure. When we arrive at our destinations, please be prepared to organize with and look after your fellow passengers to make the most of your trip.

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Who are the drivers?

Everything was so well organized and clear, and took all the "where shall I go / how will I get there / where will I stay / what will I eat" hassle out of traveling - LOVELY!!
Megan, 34, New Zealand

All Green Tortoise drivers are fully licensed commercial drivers with CPR certification. Your drivers are facilitators, advisors and maybe even your friends. But they are not parents, camp counselors, or policemen. Your drivers don't enjoy bossing people around (who does?). Please respect their position and efforts. Tips are welcomed as a great way to show your appreciation for their hard work.

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Are there bathrooms on the bus?

Most of the coaches are equipped with toilets, but their use will be selective (mostly for emergencies). We stop frequently to use the restroom, even in the middle of the night.

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Do you have rides from Seattle or Portland?

We used to have regularly scheduled North/South buses with pick ups in Seattle, Portland and Eugene, but no longer. We discontinued our commuter service from San Francisco to Seattle back in 2001 in order to better concentrate our efforts on our legendary adventure camping trips. We still have a great hostel in Seattle but unfortunately, no buses connecting the two hostels. If you are looking for an alternative to Greyhound, you might have some luck on the Craigslist bulletin board. Check out rideshares/carpool on www.craigslist.org.

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What if I have special dietary needs?

Pantry and cooler space are limited on the bus. We normally carry enough of a variety of food options to sufficiently accommodate many food allergies or preferences (such as rice or bean noodles, corn tortillas, seaweed, non-wheat cereals, etc for wheat-free diets for example), but because of the amount of orchestration that is involved in creating a meal plan for bus load of folks, the availability of certain items, the cooking facilities that we carry, etc, we cannot guarantee that your needs/preferences will be met.

As our tastes may be different from yours, if you have food allergies or preferences you may find it more comforting to bring along your preferred food items (like non-wheat breads, specialty pastas or cereals, dairy-free cheese, vegan "meats") just in case our taste doesn't jive with yours.

During our meal preparation we will be busily coordinating a delicious, healthy meal for up to 38 people and while we strive to please everybody, it may be difficult for us to recall specific and cater to individualized menus. At each meal you get to pick and choose what ingredients to include when you prepare it - to ensure this and to avoid cross contamination of foods that you do not want to eat, you must be present and participate at every meal during preparation.

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What is your policy on children?

Traveling by Tortoise is really fun and social, and young people usually have a great time on our buses! However, Tortoise-style travel is not for everyone, and this may particularly be true for minors since our trips are participatory. If traveling with your young one will inhibit you from helping out, these may not be the trips for you. That being said, the atmosphere is generally very relaxed, and while you are expected to pitch in, you are not required to help out at every meal. Since your driver will be engaged in organizing a great trip, he or she cannot be expected to look after your child/teen.

Our Yosemite or Death Valley trips are a great way for families and young adventurers to get a feel for the Tortoise environment and consider whether or not it would be appropriate to take a longer trip. We discourage children under eight years of age from going on longer trips unless both parent and child have camping/travel experience.

Since our tours are not guided, when we arrive at our destinations, you are free to explore at a pace that is appropriate for your family.

No unaccompanied minors (under 18 years) are allowed on adventure trips without first consulting our office manager.

All decisions about young travelers are made on a case-by-case basis.

Please contact us if you're planning to travel with a child or send your child.

Traveling on Green Tortoise with a Young Child

By the mother of a young Tortoise lover

This is an unsolicited essay we received from one of our passengers, who took our Death Valley trip with her four-year-old daughter. Because it answers many of the questions we get about children on the trips, we decided to post it here in its entirety.

Anna on the Tortoise

Our adventure started when I was reading the latest Tortoise catalogue, drooling over the itineraries as I had for years, and saw one of the trips I had wanted to take when I was pregnant, but never did. "Look at this," I said to Anna, "They even go to Death Valley." The name certainly caught Anna's imagination. Four months later, we were on a Tortoise bus headed for one of the best experiences of our relationship since Anna was born four and a half years earlier.

The trip was not all easy. We experienced unseasonably cold weather with snowstorms and night winds that bent the poles of our cozy tent. As with any day in a child's life, there were trying moments. But as soon as we got home, we started thinking about where we would like to go on our next Tortoise adventure.

Not a lot of young children ride the Tortoise for longer excursions. I offer these observations about our experience for the benefit of parents who are considering bringing their kids on a trip and for the information of those who travel with them.

Although I had plenty of trepidation about taking a three-day bus tour with such a little person, I had reasons to think we would probably have a good time. First of all, Anna's personality is outgoing, and she thrives on adult attention and companionship. Second, we were somewhat seasoned Tortoise travelers. Our shorter Tortoise trips had begun when Anna was an infant and continued at the rate of about one a year, running from San Francisco up to her great-grandmother's in Corvallis, Oregon. We always had fun, and Anna much preferred the Tortoise option to flying (which cost three or four times as much). Also, Anna was interested in the desert because of books we had read about it. When she learned that I had wanted to see Death Valley since I was nine, she wanted to go too.

One of the reasons the Tortoise works for us is the nature of the people it attracts. Although we have been on Tortoise trips where one or two individuals had a negative effect on the rest of the bus, we have generally found our fellow travelers to be considerate, engaging, and open to Anna in a way that our society at large, perhaps San Francisco society in particular, is not. This is remarkable in that the majority of Tortoise travellers are not parents. Anna was all over the bus, playing cards here, talking a receptive ear off there, sharing observations on the view out the window, or sitting in the buddy seat next to the driver. As a result, I got to have some grown-up conversations. I liked that. When Anna clambered back to where I was, she was usually in a good mood, her extrovert self charged by contact with so many other souls. And I know that many of our crew were happy to have her along, too, because they thanked me after the trip for "providing the entertainment!" I want to thank everyone who became her friend in the course of those long rolling miles.

We prepared for our adventure by taking as many long walks and hikes as we could beforehand. Anna is a pretty intrepid hiker for about two miles, which is about the length of the walks on this trip, but she gets tired. When we went on hikes in the remarkable Death Valley terrain, Anna was lucky enough to have a sizeable sag team. When she got weary, one of her friends was always willing to heave her up on their shoulders for a ways, even when I was exhorting her to just keep walking. I wouldn't recommend Tortoise trips for a child who isn't excited about nature or getting out to see it on foot, and I wouldn't say that every group of passengers can be predicted to be as child-friendly as the ones we were on, but it does seem to be the norm.

Another note about bus communities. Tortoise groups have a reputation for partying, and in our experience, they lived up to that reputation. However, we were not exposed to any crazy drunks or otherwise out-of-control people on our trip. We did observe that another Tortoise crowd we teamed up with for one night had gotten pretty wild in their eight days together. Our bus had three mother-daughter duos and several over-thirty people, and these, plus the shorter length of our trip, probably contributed to the tamer quality of our gang. I was grateful. I have since thought that it would be great, for my own assurance of mutual parenting support, to coordinate travel with another family.

The most difficult aspect of our trip was dinner. Tortoise trips are about cramming as much sightseeing into your day as possible, so we got back to camp at dusk and STARTED cooking then, at about the time Anna usually goes to bed. On two of those late nights, as I tried to help with dinner, Anna confessed in a bone-weary murmur, "Mama, I'm not having much fun." The good news was that Anna is anything but a picky eater and loved such gourmet dishes (Bill, one of our drivers, is a famously good cook) as Thai curried vegetables with quinoa. A note to all who travel in the company of children: I believe that a four-year-old child who is hungry has a RIGHT to cut in line for food. If you have not had a child, this might not have occurred to you. Children's bellies are little, so they get hungry sooner than you do. Let them go first.

In summary, I would recommend that parents:

- Look at the child's temperament, eating habits, and attitude towards the outdoors in deciding whether to take a trip with the child. It is especially helpful if you have been camping together and know how your child sleeps in a tent;

- be sure you expect the child to be able either to help with Tortoise tasks e.g. food preparation or to give you space to do them;

- plan a longer Tortoise trip after a successful shorter one;

- prepare physically by hikes, and be prepared to try a few of these to gauge the child's readiness for this kind of adventure;

- prepare the child mentally by discussing, reading, and involving the child in preparations;

- pack some snacks for those late nights and long drives.

Good traveling!

Jennifer, Anna's mom

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