My reflections on what it’s like to travel in a group of people…
Have you ever travelled in a group of strangers? I hadn’t until recently, when I took part in an 11-day group tour around India with travel company Intrepid. I went with my twin sister, and the rest of the 11-strong group was a mix of couples and independent travellers from Australia, Ireland and the UK. 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, from booking transfers, sorting out hotels, and making sure we were safe at all times. So what was my verdict on travelling as a small group? Well, it wasn’t something that I’d ever done before but, in short, I loved it. I loved every single bit of it, and here’s why…
Firstly, I loved the social aspect. 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’m not the 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.
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.
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 with a group…
A 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.