Have you ever travelled as part of a tour group? If not, you should. Here are my reflections on what it was like to do a group travel tour on my recent trip to India…
Have you ever travelled as part of a group travel tour? Nope? I was the same until a couple of months ago. I hadn’t ever travelled as part of a tour group before, and if you’d pitched the idea of travelling with a bunch of strangers to me a few years ago I’m not sure how I would have felt about it.
However, having done a trip I would recommend it SO highly. It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life; I loved the laughs, I loved the conversations, and I loved having tall people around to take great group selfies! OK, so I’m joking (kind of) about the last one. I guess what I mean to say is that it’s just super cool to discover an exciting country with people who are just as passionate about travel as you. Group travel means instant friends and I loved connecting and hearing people’s stories on the trip. But let’s start at the beginning before I get caught up in all my memories…
Where to go on your group travel tour
There are so many amazing places you can go to on a group travel tour. For me and my twin sister, we’d been looking at travelling to India for a long time. And I mean a really LONG time! However, neither of us really fancied navigating India by ourselves – it is a pretty overwhelming place, right? – and so travelling in a group seemed like the perfect way to do it. You get see all the best bits of an incredible country… but with a little helping hand to get you from A to B. What could be better?
How to choose a group travel company
You might be wondering which company we booked our trip with. Well, there are so many group travel companies out there, and so I get that it’s super hard to choose. We ended up going with Intrepid Travel, which was based on a recommendation from a friend who’d done the same trip a couple of years earlier. Going from all the Intrepid Travel reviews I read online before we booked, Intrepid tours are pretty well regarded – plus they do group tours for pretty much anywhere you can think of.
We opted for the 11-day group tour around India, called the Indian Getaway tour. It started in Delhi, visited Varanasi, Agra, Tordi Gahr, and Jaipur before heading back to Delhi. It seemed like the perfect option – it covered quite a lot of ground in a short time but it also had quite intriguing parts to it, such as having to get the overnight train and the stop off in the tiny village of Tordi Gahr.
What were the people like on the tour?
The million dollar question – what were the people like in the travel group? As I mentioned, I travelled with my twin sister on the tour. The rest of the 11-strong group was a mix of couples and independent travellers from Australia, Ireland and the UK who were all of different ages. The youngest were in their late twenties and the oldest was late fifties, with the majority age group being in our age bracket – around their early to mid thirties. While everyone was happy to be out for a few drinks after dinner, I wouldn’t say this is a travel group for singles in their early twenties, as it wasn’t a let’s go out to the clubs until 3am kind of affair. Saying that, Intrepid Travel do other budget-friendly versions of the trip which attracts a younger crowd, so if you’re looking for more of a party vibe then I would look here.
We were also joined by our group leader, Sana, who we joked was our ‘minder’ for the trip because she basically took care of everything. And when I say everything I mean everything. If I was going to come up with a tour leader job description it would cover everything from booking transfers to different destinations, sorting out hotels, finding us nice restaurants to eat in, and making sure we were safe at all times. Oh yes, and sorting out tips, advising what street food was safe to eat and what wasn’t, telling us what to NOT to carry in our bag when visiting the Taj Mahal (honestly, that could be a whole post in itself) and so on. She was a font of information on everything and we all leaned on her so much!
If you’re interested in solo travel or looking for options for group travel for singles I would highly recommend this tour, particularly as a woman, because Sana made us feel safe and looked after 24/7. India is a pretty overwhelming place to be and some of the local people will stare or be quite persistent in trying to speak to you, or sell you something. Sana was great at having our backs and being really assertive when needed. She’d politely – or a little bit more firmly – ask them to back off.
As far as travel companies go, Intrepid Travel is one of the most reputable tour companies for young adults that there are, so you won’t have to worry about anything while you’re there. There were a lot of logistical things Sana had to keep on top of – timings and making sure we got to the next destination on time being just a couple – so the fact the we didn’t have to stress about any of that was such a bonus.
What are the benefits of a group travel tour?
As I mentioned right at the very start, I loved the social aspect of group travel more than anything. It was great fun to get to know everyone over the course of the trip and hear their different travel stories about other places they’d been, what they liked, what they hadn’t liked, and what they wanted to do when they got back. Everyone had a different story and a different reason for being there. Some people had been traveling for over a year, one person had never left Europe before, and others, like ourselves, just wanted to see India but without all the stress of having to navigate it ourselves.
Everyone was different, but we also all had similarities that we could bond over. You’re basically going around with people who love to travel as much as you do, right? It was fun comparing notes on the different ways we’d been scammed in Thailand (the Lucky Buddha tour, anyone?) as well as discussing our lives, our jobs, and our hopes for the future. I’ve never been travelling per se, and I think the biggest reasons for that have been financial concerns and worries about stepping out of the rat race and whether you can get back on the hamster wheel when you get back. I guess it was just nice to compare notes and find common ground and realise that I wasn’t alone in these concerns.
We all started to bond properly in day two of the trip when we all took the overnight train from Delhi to Varanasi. It was the first of two overnight trains during the trip where we were packed in together like sardines, and I loved the chats, the laughs, and the memory of us all watching the Netflix documentary I Am A Killer on someone’s iPad, all absolutely captivated. Sometimes when you travel with people you know really well you run out of things to say after a while or you just can’t be bothered chatting all night, but I loved hearing everyone’s different takes on stuff – as I said we were from all around the world so everyone had a different opinions and different experiences to share.
There were loads of opportunities to do your own thing throughout the 11 days, but I loved going out to dinner or wandering the streets of Delhi together to see what we could find. By the time it ended, we had in-jokes and funny memories that I will look back on fondly. Some of my favourites are one guy losing his flipflop getting on the metro, Sana photobombing like a pro, and me jumping out my skin thinking a bit of rubber on the ground was a snake en route to the supermarket.
It’s funny, because myself and my sister were originally due to leave a week earlier for our trip, but we had to push it back a week due to a family party. I found myself wondering how different it would have been with different people. Although we didn’t get to know everyone as well as others, I feel like everyone made the effort – and that showed with the lovely WhatsApp messages and the open invitations afterwards. One guy even lent me their Vicks vapour rub for the cold I’d managed to pick up along the way – along with a hilarious story with how he used to eat it as a child.
Here are some things to keep in mind when travelling on a group travel tour…
A tour guide takes out the stress of travelling
Our group leader Sana was incredible. She did everything. All we had to do was be in the right place at the right time and everything was set. She was able to advise on how much you should be paying for a tuk tuk ride when we did venture out alone or what was good to order in a restaurant as well as offer really fascinating insights into Indian culture, the caste system, and what it’s like to be a woman in India. I look back so fondly on those conversations, particularly those we had on the sleeper train when we all properly got to know her. Plus she was great fun and excellent company.
Not everyone will want to do the same as you
Our group was pretty harmonious for most of the time. Some people wanted to go out for dinner as a group, some wanted to do their own thing, but everyone got along and made the effort to get to know each other, which was lovely. The only hiccup was one day in Agra when half of the group disappeared in the Gardens of the Taj Mahal. We ended up sitting in waiting for over an hour, before it transpired that they thought we were supposed to be watching the sun set before moving on. That was a lesson in why you should create a WhatsApp group early on in the trip so you have everyone’s contact details. Paying for your restaurant bill at the end of the night will also take longer. Way longer.
You can share and learn from everyone
What I enjoyed about travelling with a group is learning and sharing with like-minded people. Even while you’re on the trip, you’ll find yourself picking up recommendations for good cafes for breakfast or which street food is safe to eat. One couple in the group had bought some street food in Delhi (an egg roll stuffed with onions and ketchup that was absolutely delicious) that my sister and I ended up getting too, and I don’t know if we would have done that if they hadn’t recommended it. I’m actually planning on writing a whole separate blog on the tips I picked up, so watch this space.