This year, I did what I thought I’d never do: I went on a group tour. And I didn’t just go on one. I went on three. I spent a week sailing around Cuba with G Adventures, another week cruising down the Danube river with U By Uniworld and a final one touring the Balkans with Topdeck.[related_articles]64587,64976[/related_articles]
Each tour was as amazing as you’d imagine, and all three I’d recommend. My point however is that from zero to three group tours in just eight months, there was a lot that I learnt. Not just about how group tours work and why people do them, but also things about myself – about how and why I travel. And that, for me, was the most important lesson of all. Here’s how I got there.
#1 Not every group tour is created equal
Though it may sound counter-intuitive, I’ll kick things off with what I learnt last, and that was how different group tours can be. After my first tour, which saw me living on a catamaran in Cuba and spending nearly every waking minute with my group, I’d naively assumed all group tours were all-inclusive and that their structures and itineraries would be the same.[related_articles]54601[/related_articles]
It was only after booking and doing the others that I realised that wasn’t the case at all. Many are, of course. But others only include one or two meals a day, and a few excursions and walking tours.
#2 They let you travel efficiently
Another thing I learnt is that doing a group tour not only saves you time in the lead-up – time you’d normally spend reading blogs and guidebooks, and poring over maps – but also time while on the tour.
Pulling into each new city on the Topdeck bus, our tour guide would give us a brief introduction to it, telling us what foods to try, what sights to see and his personal thoughts on it. From the deck of the U By Uniworld cruise, passing one tiny Austrian town after the next, I’d listen to a headset that explained the area’s history and what I was seeing. Had I travelled alone, I wouldn’t have learnt or seen half of what I had, particularly in such a short space of time.
#3 They provide instant friends
The first tour I did, I was terrified I wouldn’t make friends. It was of course a normal fear for a solo traveller to have, but it was also one I now realise was unwarranted. The tour wound up being only six people – four of whom were alone like me, and one couple. After spending a week 24/7 together, we all got really close and still keep in touch to this day.[related_articles]64275[/related_articles]
Pretty much everyone I talked to on my subsequent group tours said they chose them not just for their convenience, but also for their chances to make friends.
#4 You’ll get the best travel tips
Chatting with people from all over the world on my trips, the conversations inevitably shifted towards travel. We’d talk about where we’d been and where we were going. And it was because of that that I discovered a whole lot of new places to go. I found out about hidden spots in South East Asia, under-the-radar gems in Europe and even spots I didn’t know about in my own Australian backyard.
And I didn’t only get destination tips. I also learnt some travel hacks – like rolling your clothes to make more room in your suitcase and downloading the app Pocket for offline travel blog reading. Sharing a room with new fellow travellers, I got to see the quirks of how they travel, and cherry-pick whether I wanted to take any of their habits on board too.
#5 You’ll meet all types of travellers
Looking back, the memories I have of the tours focus as much on the people I met and the conversations I had as on the destinations themselves. At Budapest’s fairytale-like Fisherman’s Bastion, I remember a beautiful conversation I had with a girl about how she’d just spent a week alone in Sardinia, Italy, grotto-swimming and gelato-eating. Walking the fortress walls of Dubrovnik, I remember talking to a couple about how they’d met and what they had planned for their wedding.
The most interesting conversations I had on my group tour were about what motivated people to travel. Some were on short breaks, jetting away to see something new. Others were on longer travel stints, with no plans for what to do next. Listening to their stories made me really begin to think about mine.
#6 You’ll discover why you travel
This brings me to my favourite learning from going on a group tour, and that was an understanding of what motivated me to travel. When I set off on my journey nine months prior, I hadn’t put much into why I was doing it – I just knew I wanted to. I’d wanted a change, a break in my full-time routine.[related_articles]59868,30966[/related_articles]
Now, I can say I travelled (and am still travelling, as I write this from the road) because I wanted to learn more about myself and how I interact with people and handle different situations. I also wanted to learn more about others – how they live their lives and how they view the world. Travel isn’t just about seeing new things – incredible as that may be – it’s about discovering more about who you are and how you fit into the rest of the puzzle.
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Sangeeta Kocharekar is a freelance travel writer. She grew up going on trips to India and Europe on school holidays, and hasn't stopped travelling since.