It's good to be back home.
I spent my most recent vacation in Morocco. Most of the time, I was part of a tour group and I also spent a decent amount of time on my own. There are advantages (and disadvantages) to each. Travelling alone can sometimes be daunting and intimidating, but you can also make your own schedule and decisions with absolute freedom. No group consensus needed!
Obviously, the biggest drawback to travelling as part of a tour (or even in a group) is a loss of freedom. However, tour groups do offer a few distinct advantages:
Firstly, the expertise of a local guide is usually invaluable. The guide takes care of any issues that come up - so you're free to be a bit mindless and completely relaxed.
Secondly, the logistics of the trip are already determined for you. No need to worry about where to stay of how to get there.
Thirdly, but perhaps most importantly (for the solo traveller) is that the group tour is... well... a group. A group of fellow travellers that you'll be spending a lot of time with. A group that will be sharing experiences together. And because of this, tour groups tend to gel well together with time.
Now, some caveats. I met some truly lovely people on my tour of Morocco. Most of whom I am happy to have met, hope to maintain a friendship with and would be happy to travel with again. I had a great time in Morocco and it was in no small part due to this group of new friends. However, this blog post is not about them.
For all the convenience, ease and camaraderie a tour group offers - there are a few things that the traveller needs to bring to the table too. This blog post is written to the few in the group who created some of the most challenging group dynamics I've ever had to be a part of. They inspired this blog entry. Not all were equally difficult - it ranged from cold/distant to downright monstrous. I would urge those of you who can't abide by the following guidelines to travel on your own or to book a private tour:
- A group tour is more than a way to book transport, accommodations and excursions. It's a chance to meet new people from potentially all over the world. A chance to make new friends. If you are only interested in the rides, rooms and recreation - book a private tour not a group tour.
- A group tour is not the way to book your honeymoon (or honeymoon-like holiday). Although you may think that you and your partner's love and affection are cute - trust me, your fellow travellers are nauseated by your hours-long-face-sucking. Get the fuck out of here with that. Barf.
- Be social and participate in group meals. Especially the first group dinner and farewell dinner. More meals with the group are good - but these two really are the bare minimum. I'm not saying that you can't have private time with your Significant Other or travel companion, but constantly ditching will leave the group feeling somewhat slighted and devalues their experience. After all, you're taking up space in a group that could have been otherwise filled by nice, engaged, interesting people instead of selfish, aloof and cloistered ones.
- Try your best at making conversation. I know that some people are shy, but you're an adult and an adult ought to know how to have a conversation. But...in case you're a little rusty and need to brush-up, here are a few basics.
- Ask people questions about themselves
- Respond to questions with more than one or two words
- THAT'S ABOUT IT!! So just do it
Otherwise you're forcing people to either sit with you in silence (awkward!) or to interview you. Neither of which is fun (and a 10-15 day long interview is actually a lot of work).
Now, the above guidelines - we can all occasionally slip on. We all have bad days - but try to stick to them when you can. The final guideline (let's go ahead and call it a rule/commandment) - really ought to go without saying - but given my experience in Morocco is bears repeating.
5. Make yourself generally likeable by sticking to the following:
- Don't be racist.
- Show respect for the culture/society of the country you are visiting.
- Don't brag about how much money you have and then complain about the need to tip for service, etc...
- Don't praise the most recent colonialist/imperialist occupier of the country for 'teaching' the locals how to 'properly' do things.
- Respect your fellow group members. This includes saying mean and/or weird things to them.
- Don't try to make up for your callousness by making vaguely complimentary, yet unwelcome, pseudo-sexual comments. Just apologise.
- Don't constantly talk over other people/your daughter (who is actually pretty cool and who I would like to be friends with on Facebook (but never will because I don't ever want to be reminded of you)).
- Don't repeatedly answer questions directed to other people. For example, I'd like to know the answer to my question regarding nomadic living directly from the human-being living as a nomad - not from a home-owner in Vancouver.
- Be classy and learn the difference between class and snobbery. So often, people mistake the latter for the former and they really couldn't be more different.
Now this may seem like a long list of restrictions, but at the end of the day, this is all really easy and makes the tour more enjoyable for all. A little politeness, empathy, consideration and good humour go a long way. Nobody's perfect, but it really all boils down to treating your fellow travellers in the manner you yourself expect to be treated.
Please share your tour group 'guidelines' or travelling horror stories in the comments!
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