To say that my husband and I are independent, active travelers is an understatement. We’ve cycled from Vienna to Budapest, driven across the Namib Desert - you get the idea. But when a killer deal for an organized tour came up online, we grabbed it on a whim. But once we paid for the tour, I began to doubt our decision – What if we want to do our own thing? Will we be trapped? So, since there’s no instruction manual for adapting to life in a group when you’re used to going it alone, I’ve written down a few tips for surviving, and even thriving on an organized tour. So, go ahead! Take the group tour plunge!
1. Traveler, know thyself.
Traveling with a group may not be your thing and perhaps may even be something you're uncomfortable with. To help eliminate some of that discomfort, write down your worries or expectations for trip and why you’ve decided to deviate from your norm. Some fears may seem ridiculous once you see them in writing – I won’t be in control! (for control freaks like me) For real concerns though, try to find the answers in advance to any questions you may have – Can my dietary restriction be accommodated? Where is the nearest embassy? Is communication reliable? Will safety be an issue? It’ll be easier to adjust your expectations and alleviate your concerns once you know what they are.
2. I had no idea!
One of my anxieties (see #1) about a group tour was that I would be tethered to my tour, with no possible means of escape and would only be jettisoned once we landed at our home airport. True, you’re schedule is not entirely your own. On our recent group tour (to Peru), it actually wasn't what I feared. There was plenty of free time built in to our tour. In reality, except for the days when we traveled on a bus or a plane from Point A to Point B, we had the ability to just opt out of everything on the tour. Sure, you can forego optional tours, that’s obvious, but you can even bypass the tours that are included! Except why would you? Most of the stuff that’s included is the stuff you want to see or do anyway, and the legwork - getting tickets, making reservations, etc. - is already done! Side note: If you do opt out of the scheduled tours, let your tour guide know so you don’t hold up fellow travelers while he/she looks for you (see #3).
3. Reality bites.
The reality is that 25 people do not move at the same pace as two people. Age, fitness levels, interests and the sheer logistics of moving in a large group, all play factors. Understand that while a tour is about you, it’s not all about you.
4. Stuff happens.
While you may stay healthy on your trip, others may not. On our tour, there were fellow travelers who became ill, even bed-ridden. My husband and I struggled with altitude sickness. You may be delayed due to someone oversleeping. The weather may not be ideal. Accept that things may happen that will be entirely beyond your control.
5. Chow hound.
If you have special dietary needs, i.e., vegetarian, gluten free, diabetic, etc., foreign cuisine can be a mine field. Even if you're just a picky eater, meals can be awkward when travelling, especially on an organized tour. Nowadays, special diets are more common, but there are a couple ways to address this dilemma. First, if your tour registration form has a place to indicate a special diet, do so. Second, if you are having a group meal at a restaurant, tell your tour manager of restrictions in advance. The manager is likely acquainted with the restaurant staff who may be able to accommodate. Third, get a cookbook. Before our trip to Peru, I borrowed a Peruvian cookbook from the library and thumbed through it, compiling a food vocabulary list in Spanish and English of “stuff we’ll eat” and “stuff we definitely won’t eat” (really). I carried the list with us and it proved immeasurably useful.
Come back next week for tips 6 through 10….! In the meantime - Enjoy your adventures!