This is a review of a group tour of Pakistan with Ready for Road — a tour company specializing in trekking and cultural expeditions in the country. See the end of the article for helpful links if you'd like to learn more.
Standing outside security at the Lahore airport, a guard soon brought me a chair and chai tea and told me to sit while waiting for my ride. He said, 'Welcome to Pakistan.' I smiled and thanked him.
Soon, a guy in a black Ready for Road t-shirt approached the arrivals door carrying a piece of paper with my name. Before I saw my name, I knew this was my ride. Imran Khan, one of the owners of Ready for Road, arrived and welcomed me to Pakistan. We went upstairs for breakfast shortly after checking into the hotel. A few minutes later, the other owner, Will Meara, hugged and welcomed me.
Will and Imran immediately made me feel welcome and offered any help before the tour began. While it did not start for a few more days, Will took a few of us who had arrived early to Wazir Khan Mosque and the Shahi Hammam and showed us the Anarkali market. I knew he was busy getting ready for the tour, so I appreciated him taking the time for us when he could have been resting.
Three days later, I met the other 15 people who would join us, including another Ready for Road team member, Aziz Ali. Aziz welcomed us to his country and said he would be happy to help in any way.
Throughout the trip, the guys made sure we had a fantastic time. First, they made sure we had a variety of accommodations. Our group stayed at hotels, guesthouses, a campsite, and a homestay. They also changed our roommates for a chance to get to know everyone on the trip.
Most importantly, the three guys had the most patience while answering every few minutes questions, such as 'Are we stopping for the bathroom? How much longer is the drive? Can we stop for coffee? How long is the hike, and how much further do we have?'!
With group travel, the guides and people can make or break it. These guides and my group made this trip unique because we all clicked immediately, and the leaders were always enthusiastic. They always had a backup plan, such as changing driving routes when roads were closed. Will, Imran, and Aziz love their jobs and respect each other. It was evident by the rapport they had with each other and the group.
I asked the three founders (Imran, Will, and Aziz) of "Ready for Road" some questions about their company. First, Will came to Pakistan to do a talk and realized how hospitable everyone was and wondered why more people weren't visiting the country. Imran hosted a German traveler, and while he was taking him around Pakistan, he enjoyed seeing him happy and realized he would like to do this more often.
Will and Imran met when Imran hosted Will. Eventually, they formed Ready for Road and have been going strong for over six years. Aziz joined the company two years ago and met the guys while hosting one of their groups.
I asked them some more questions.
Q: What is the best thing about your job?
Imran: Meeting new people and showing them around Pakistan. I also like showing people the real Pakistan, not the mainstream media's version.
Will: Watching people come with no expectations and curiosity and watching them leave loving the country.
Aziz: Meeting people from around the world and showing them Pakistan
Q: What is the best thing about Pakistan?
Imran: The people.
Will: The people. They have a sense of curiosity.
Aziz: The beautiful landscapes and mountains. Nature is amazing.
Q: What are some future plans?
Imran: To be on level to be the biggest company in Pakistan.
Will: To hire more female staff and train more team members.
Q: Advice for group travel?
Imran: Be patient and open-minded because you meet people from different backgrounds.
Will: Be cognoscent, meaning you will be in confines with all shapes, sizes, and nationalities. Not everyone will be someone you want to travel with, so you need to enjoy the experience for yourself.
Aziz: Everyone should do it. You meet different people and will make friends for life.
Q: What's the most challenging part about your job?
Aziz: When locals try to take a lot of pictures of foreigners. And the city heat.
Will: Lack of sleep. Also, having positive vibes, and helping people get out of their comfort buffer.
Imran: Meeting people for two weeks, becoming friends, and then saying goodbye.
When I asked Will why he chose Pakistan for tours, he said that the lack of infrastructure makes it hard to get around - so a tour company could help. He also realized the country needed a chance because of so many hidden gems, fantastic landscapes, and hospitality.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
Will: Everyone gets paid more than market rates. We have helped a host family have a western toilet for guests. Ten percent goes back into the community.
One of the highlights from the trip was staying for three nights at a homestay in Ghulkin - a village of about 1,500 people. The Rehman family eagerly cooked fresh meals, such as yak meat, chicken, rice, and vegetable soup, for 20 of us and warmly welcomed us into their home. I asked the wife, Sitara Ali Rehman, how her family started offering homestays.
Sitara: My family met Will Meara and another backpacker, and both stayed with the family on separate occasions, which was rare at the time for the village to receive foreign travelers. Later, both backpackers started bringing more groups and eventually welcomed guests regularly.
The homestay provides organic food and fruits in a friendly community. It has allowed Sitara's family to build a hostel with five private rooms and a dorm for about twenty people. Sitara's family can learn about the world and learn from other guests. The guests help by playing games with Sitara's childrean and speaking with them.
Currently, the homestay has two rooms, which sleep sixteen to seventeen in both. There are also tents for six people to sleep on the roof. They are in the process of building four additional rooms. Everyone in the family helps, including their four children. Sitara is also a teacher for grades 3,4,6 and 8 for different subjects. Her husband and father-in-law are hiking guides. Her older son has also started guiding with Ready for Road.
The Rehman family will welcome everyone with open arms, and the area is a chance to relax, enjoy some spectacular hikes, and watch the locals play cricket or volleyball.
To book a tour with Ready for Road, check out readyforroad.com.
Instagram at instagram.com/@readyforroad and instagram.com/@readyforroadpk
For booking details with the Rehman family, check out Instagram instagram.com/@rehmanbackpackers