There is sometimes a lot of snobbery about group travel, mostly coming from those independent travellers who have backpacked round the world by themselves, whose idea of group travel is to join a crowd of people they probably won’t get on with, follow a strict daily itinerary and be herded around the destination with no freedom to explore on their own. How wrong can they be?!
Whilst it is true there are some organisations which do follow the above practice, group travel is in reality a brilliant way of exploring the world safely and in the company of other like-minded spirits. And there is nothing to stop you mixing the two types of travel, as I discovered on my first Round the World experience.
I had backpacked round Europe on an Interail pass but embarking on a Round the World extravaganza was a whole new ball game. My parents were also concerned – especially when I announced that I would be starting in South America, crossing from Rio (not known as the most crime-free city in the world) to Peru (home of the terrorist organisation the Shining Path at the time). So everyone at home was a great deal happier when I booked on a group trip
And I have to say that arriving in Rio after a lengthy flight to be met and escorted to my hotel where I would be sharing a room with a couple of other girls, certainly took any worry about the start from me. I learnt so much that first trip – walking around with my money belt on the outside of my clothing was not a great idea (oh, the naivety!), being cajoled into walking the Inca Trail was the best decision ever (after I had done it!), and a tour leader is invaluable when it comes to sorting out transport arrangements, extra activities, calming you down when your travellers’ cheques are stolen or just simple restaurant recommendations.
I know for a fact that I did more, saw more and enjoyed it all an awful lot more than I could possibly have done by myself and I am eternally grateful for that first introduction to world travel which I am convinced set me up for a superb life of travelling ever since. It was a large group but, even though you soon learnt who were more ‘your type of people’ it was good to mix ages and likes and there was certainly no ‘cliqueness’ or splitting of the group a la playground. Everyone was out to have a good time and most nights we opted to spend together drinking our way merrily across the continent comparing travel experiences, picking up top tips for other destinations and making lifelong friendships. When I eventually left the group in Lima to fly to New Zealand it felt very odd, like I had lost a part of me. I took a deep breath and went it alone…..
I enjoyed my time backpacking by myself but throughout the rest of the trip I did miss the camaraderie of the group. It takes quite a lot of nerve to summon the courage to head down to breakfast in a new guesthouse alone and start chatting to strangers. I repeated my life story too many times to remember! Yes I had the freedom to change my itinerary at will (and often did) but it was the times when I hooked up with other groups that I really had the best times. It was like we were in this big club, all sharing the experience of exploring the world – and loving it.
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