I have a friend who is a seasoned solo traveller, and only recently embarked on her first group tour. While most people are anxious about the thought of travelling alone, she was more concerned about problems that might arise from being stuck in a group!
Group travel can be wonderful (Jorden/Syria/Turkey 2011… unforgettable), but it can also be challenging (Egypt 2011 shortly after the revolution). Whether you’re put in a group you feel you have nothing in common with, your roomie is particularly annoying, or when group dynamics just don’t work. Tours are the perfect solution for places that are a little more difficult to navigate, or if you just want guaranteed company. But they’re not always peachy. So here’s some tips on how to make the best of one.
Remember it’s only a short period out of your life
Sometimes you just have to suck it up. People can be annoying (I just want someone to talk to… every second of the day), argumentative (well, I don’t think that’s appropriate for woman), weird (German guy that basically made nothing but odd chuckling sounds) and downright stupid (the government is controlling our minds through the white spray from aeroplanes). Do your best not to act like a child when facing these types. I usually try and gauge group members early on and if there’s someone that I think might grate me the wrong way, I do my best to stay out of their way from the start. But in all honesty, it’s 10 days out of your life, so act like an adult and try and make peace when you can (I’m talking to you, bitchy old ladies!)
Remember it’s still your trip
Just because you’re with a group doesn’t mean you have to be social all the time. Feel free to wander off alone and explore at your own pace. Just say it like it is if someone asks you to go somewhere you don’t want to go. “Thanks, but I feel like exploring on my own today.” Easy. Likewise, if the restaurant your tour guide is trying to take you to feels too expensive or touristy, just politely decline and find somewhere more to your budget/taste.
Find out who’s on your trip
Here’s a gem of a secret. The big tour companies do much the same itineraries, so if you’re not sure which to go with, you can always simply ask them who’s already signed up for the tour. You can usually find out things like age range and whether there are lots of singles or couples. Of course this only works if it’s quite close to the date of the tour, and it doesn’t always guarantee you’re making the right choice. I’ve met a lot of 60 year old couples who are up for anything, while on the other side there are plenty of dull 20 year olds out there!
You can always sign off
Don’t be a pain about it, but on most tours you can opt out of almost everything and make your own way. Want to visit Chernobyl, or visit a friend, or just don’t want to do Dracula’s Castle? Sometimes you will get asked to ‘sign off’ if it’s a big deviation or if it’s risky, but it’s your life, your holiday.
Be nice to the tour guide
I can’t stress this enough. While you can usually get away from Little Miss Know-it-all or Mister Negative, the tour guide can’t. They are the ones who have to deal with the fallout, the stupid questions and the “idon’twanttosharearoomwithher” issues. So be nice to them, don’t make ridiculous demands, and don’t run off without saying where you’re going. And give them a good review – assuming they deserve it. And if they don’t, be honest but fair.
Tip what you want
I’ve seen plenty of issues in groups with tipping. My advice is to work out what you want to tip, and go with it. Don’t worry if other people tip more or less than you. Group peer pressure is not worth worrying about. Just be fair (depending on the country you’re in), and then add some if you’ve had a particularly good experience.
Enjoy the organisation
And if you are feeling especially herded around or rushed, sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. Except to remember to simply try and enjoy the fact that everything is organised for you, and if something goes wrong you won’t have to deal with it (hello stolen phone and visit to police station in Russia!).
Finally, I’d like to say a quick shout out to all my past group tour leaders – some were unbelievably awesome, some were not-so-good, but all gave me experiences I will never forget. And to my fellow group travellers, some life-long friends, others gladly-forgotten, thanks for the laughs, the frustrations, the rolled-eyes and the joy of shared travel.