Scared of going it alone but sick of waiting for your friends to commit? Worried about your safety when travelling another part of the world?
Don’t worry, I hear you.
I was like you once, so I totally get it, but if you’ve read my “Tale of a Solo Travel Virgin” post, you’ll see how taking a Contiki tour genuinely changed my life, and without doing it, I wouldn’t have had certain experiences, and I wouldn’t have developed the confidence to travel solo. I also wouldn’t have learned so much about people from other parts of the world, or built those friendships I’m still in contact with today via Facebook.
So what exactly does a group tour entail?
You should obviously do your research depending on what kind of a trip you want, as different trips and companies will offer different experiences, but chances are something will interest you. Usually you can read a rough itinerary beforehand that outlines the types of activities included and how much free time there will be so you have some idea about what to expect. If you simply don’t want to do it, by all means leave it, but don’t disregard group tours just because you wanted to do your own thing, or because you’re scared of meeting other people. There are plenty of benefits too, including the fact that you don’t have to worry about where you’re going to sleep that night, or how you’re going to get from A-B – the perfect factor if you’re concerned about safety and logistics.
While I know it’s not for everyone, remember that a group tour isn’t a prison – you can venture out on your own in your location for the day if you wish – though sometimes doing activities your tour manager arranges can be beneficial too. For example, in Thailand my tour manager took us to a temple where we learned a lot about religious history and Buddhist practice from a local guide they’d hired. That was interesting. However, when it came to a cooking class, I could think of nothing worse for me, and so I decided not to go. Instead, I hit up the night markets and bought myself a cocktail in a tiny little bar down a side street, before meeting back up with everyone later. I had the freedom to do my own thing, but I also had that comfort blanket of knowing I had a safe space to go back to later.
That, in short, is the beauty of group travel. You can make it whatever you want it to be. You can get as involved (or not) with other people as you want.
And on the topic of other people, there’s no reason they should intimidate you either. You don’t have to make friends with anyone (you could just take advantage of the pre-planned itinerary), but you might be glad you did later on.
My tips for meeting new people if you have anxiety:
- In my experience, the majority of travellers are genuinely open-minded and friendly people, and remember – on a group tour, they are in exactly the same boat as you are. It’s a whole different ball game than tagging on with an existing friend group in their own neighbourhood. Trust that they will just want to help and be your friend, because they’ll be hoping for a bit of that in return.
- The great thing about travelling to new places with strangers is that you’ll always have some foolproof, go-to conversation starters. There’s no need to come up with anything witty or clever to open with, because you can simply ask where they’re from, if they’ve travelled much, what they do for work etc. These prompts will break down that initial barrier, and should open up the opportunity for continued conversation.
- When introducing yourself to someone new, you have the freedom to become anyone you want to be. These people know nothing about you and your past mistakes, and considering this fact can take off the pressure slightly. And remember, if you do say or do something you might regret, chances are that without making a conscious effort, you’ll never see them again.
“So, is group travel something I’d be interested in exploring?” Some final thoughts to take away with you
Group travel does have its limits, I’m not going to lie. If the tour’s due to stop in a city for just one day, you’ll only get that one day with no option to extend your time there if you particularly like it. Equally, if there’s a city you particularly don’t want to go to, you might have to at some point.
It could be the perfect opportunity to make connections with people of other cultures and religions in a way that’s safe and accessible, and you’ll soon also learn that there are nice, genuine people out there, and you’ll have some company for lunch rather than having to dine alone. If you’re lucky, you might even make a lasting friendship and in turn accrue somewhere to stay if you’re ever visiting their hometown.
You might get to see and do things you wouldn’t have even thought of, or logistically been able to arrange. For example, on your tour you might visit somewhere only accessible by car without public transport options, so unless you hire a driver for the day or a car for yourself, you could miss out. Though equally, as already mentioned, in most cases you can opt to do something the others aren’t.
You have a knowledgeable source of information on hand at all times in the form of your tour guide – perfect for those burning questions you have about a particular monument or whatever it is you’re seeing. They can also advise when something is unsafe, so you’re likely to stay out of trouble.
Wondering where to start? While there are so many different travel agents out there, some catering for the world and others specialising in specific regions, you might be wondering who’s most reputable. Some good options for starting out include Contiki (age 18-35), Intrepid and G-Adventures.