ElderTreks 21-day Turkey land and coastal cruise tour is full of unique adventures for a maximum of 16 individuals 50 or better! Anna MacKay/ElderTreks
Supporting images that illustrate this article highlight a wonderfully-diverse range of small-group tours, each one sharing a personal-experience story from our own Travel Article Library. Whether a day tour or an itinerary of three weeks, on board a small-ship cruise, climbing a high volcano or going overland by bus, each story will offer insights into group travel.
Every traveler is different. Some of us crave company while others definitely do not. A work colleague once told me that when he had to stay overnight in a hotel on business, he always went down to the lobby so he could hear and see other people. He hated being alone. Others agree with Jean Paul Sartre’s dictum that, ‘Hell is other people.’ Hopefully they will not join a group tour! The main advantage of traveling in groups is convenience and coverage.
Recently, we joined a walking tour in Paris. Of course, my wife and I could have personally booked many of the attractions that we visited, but human nature being what it is, would I have really dined at the iconic Le Train Bleu restaurant or been whisked past the long queues waiting to enter the Louvre, to say nothing of being given access to some very rare and exclusive venues? In Rome, I dined in the dining room of a palace, my host being a Prince. I was there only because I was a member of a group tour and gained an intimate insight into the fascinating and generally closed world of Roman aristocracy.
Black Paris small-group tours highlight the huge 20th century influence of African Americans on Paris and France, in all the arts including thriving jazz clubs like the Duc des Lombards. Walking the Spirit Tours
Whether traveling by land, small-ship river or coastal cruise, or a combination of both, some vacationers will sneer at tours that take guests to sites that naysayers will undoubtedly categorize as tourist clichés, but the fact is that these places are invariably popular for a reason. Angkor Wat in Cambodia, for instance, is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage destination, irrespective of the thousands of tourists who trudge through the ruins each day. However, your tour leader may be able to arrange special entry for your group such as a dawn/sunrise visit to India’s Taj Mahal where independent visitors would have to wait until official opening time with the inevitable crowds filling your photos of this iconic masterpiece.
Incredible Indian Tours offers memorable experiences in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Incredible Indian Tours
And no matter how we might pride ourselves on being able to live like a native, your visit really isn’t and can never be an authentic experience. If you are a group traveler, you’ll always be a tourist, but each day you’ll also find yourself immersed in many experiences that will give you a deeper understanding of the culture of the country in which you are traveling. Your guide will help you appreciate a little of the country’s recent history. For instance, it can be a very moving experience when a young Cambodian tour leader talks about how many of his family members died in the killing fields of Pol Pot.
Another advantage of group travel is that it teaches patience and breaks down social barriers. You will find all sorts of personalities on a tour and none of us are at our best when we feel tired in a foreign country. As seniors, we often become set in our ways, but travel taken in the right spirit, helps loosen this mental straitjacket. Patience is also needed if you are standing in a bus waiting for another traveler to search through his or her backpack before taking their seat.
If you are reasonably mobile, you may sometimes find it mildly irritating to wait for others to slowly work their way to the steps off the bus, but really it’s inspiring that less mobile travelers find the courage to join a group and travel. You will certainly need patience if you are waiting in a long queue while all the tour members go to the only toilet in a petrol station!
While exploring the historic Croatian coast and islands, a ROW Adventures sailing cruise offers 10 cabins aboard a luxurious Adriatic gulet. ROW Adventures
My best advice is to take a mental chill pill every morning. Greet your fellow travelers with a smile, ask them how they slept or how they’re enjoying the trip. Above all, encourage them to talk, rather than speak yourself. It’s far less exhausting letting others rattle on, rather than talking yourself. Keep your opinions to yourself about controversial subjects such as politics and religion, but even then you can find that what you thought was an innocuous subject, such as your love for cats can turn into a heated and toxic debate on the killing of Australian wildlife. Letting others talk often raises red flags on subjects best avoided.
While on a trekking/camping tour up Tanzania’s Mt Kilimanjaro, participants need encouragement and teamwork to reach the ultimate goal. MaryAnn Gerst
On any group tour, you’re sure to find yourself at some stage seated next to a fellow traveler who you don’t like. Make the effort to be nice. At best, you may revise your opinion. At worst, you can usually dodge that person in future in a group of say 12 to 14 people. To be seated next to a gasbag can be wearying, but arguably worse is being seated next to someone who, perhaps from shyness or boredom, doesn’t say a word. There is something very sad about two adults sitting silently, shoulder to shoulder, for an extended period.
What happens when a group of women, mostly unknown to each other before their ferry-based Greek Islands tour, encounter some unexpected obstacles to a smooth-running itinerary? They laugh a lot! Alison Gardner
It is said that the US President, Calvin Coolidge (nicknamed ‘Silent Cal’) was once seated next to a young woman who told him brightly, ‘My mother bet that I couldn’t get three words out of you all evening.’ Coolidge regarded her frostily before snapping, ‘You lose!’
The Argentina/Chile region of Patagonia is remote, making it far more accessible and meaningful when delivered as a Geographic Expeditions group tour. Geographic Expeditions
Few of us are so unlucky as to be seated next to such a taciturn individual and most very quiet travelers are openly grateful when you talk to them. Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with some of the most unpromising dinner companions. You’ll observe small meanesses on group tours, such as the greedy guest who liberally helps himself to the choicest ingredients on a communal plate, the traveler who is rude to waiting staff or who hogs the only bottle of wine on the table. Ignore these incidents as best you can. They are not worth the effort to try bringing about behavioral change during the short time together.
I have stressed some negative aspects of group travel, but you may easily find wonderfully compatible companions on your tour … possibly even marrying one!
Pace yourself. At the beginning of a tour, be pleasant but reasonably private until you better know your fellow travelers.
Practice tolerance. We all make mistakes that can irritate or inconvenience others. Forgetting to hand in your room key until you are in the bus or believing your camera has been lost or stolen when it’s in your luggage can happen to anyone. As soon as you believe you would never make such a silly error, fate will hit you with a sucker punch!
Always be on time. Synchronize your watch with the tour leader’s watch, or if you don’t wear a watch, do consider getting an inexpensive one for group touring.
While on a volunteer Myths and Mountains READ tour in Bhutan, participants joined in a colorful traditional wedding experience between two of their own. L. Craig Smith
Arrive a day early and stay for one or two days after the group tour ends. No matter how pleasant the group, you will probably feel exhausted by such continuous company. I think of this as vital decompression time. It’s fairly easy to decide what sort of group tour appeals to you and the level of endurance with which you are comfortable.
What is impossible to know is how well you will get on with your fellow travelers for an extended period of time. Follow these suggestions, however, and you stand a very good chance of thoroughly enjoying your next group tour.
Stephen Collicoat is a former journalist and business executive, having held senior communication posts in a number of leading Australian professional associations. He is an ardent traveler and photographer, living in Australia’s state of Victoria. You will enjoy another of Stephen’s practical, insightful articles, “Handy Hints for Savvy Travellers“, a goldmine of simple tips from a skilled veteran traveler.