When I head abroad, I don’t do my research, arrive at my destination, and hope for the best; I have no idea what lies ahead in my days of traveling, and that’s just the way I like it. I get to see what I see and discover a place on my own. For me, group tours were never an option I even considered.
Unfortunately, traveling this way often means missing out on that one landmark you wanted to see or country you wanted to experience. That was the case last summer in Asia. My cousin, friends, and I made no plans, and when it came time to head to Cambodia, the tour company we went to warned us it was too dangerous to take a bus across the border, as many people at that time were getting robbed. By that time, it was also too late to book a flight there. We decided to skip Cambodia, my heart completely broken, and we headed up to Chiang Mai before heading to Vietnam.
Yes, my time in Chiang Mai and Vietnam was incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip or experience, but something deep inside me still cries when I hear anyone mention Cambodia, especially when I see pictures of Angkor Wat. Alas, it will have to happen another time.
But, I’m beginning to realize that a group tour probably would have solved my dilemma, and my three weeks in Asia could have been maximized by doing some research ahead of time. But, even after this trip, I still thought tours were just not for me. I had seen people on group tours while I traveled the world, and I just could not see myself meshing with the idea behind them or the people who would take them.
However, when I came home from Asia, I discovered Gecko’s Adventures through Twitter, and as I found myself on the pages for their group tours, I began to understand the beauty behind the idea of going on one. In three short weeks, I could travel throughout four countries in Africa, and I wouldn’t have to worry about figuring out transportation when I got there.
Interested, I reached out to some friends and family members and asked if they would like to join me. The itineraries were fantastic and the price couldn’t be beat. But, not everyone was ready to make the trip to Africa. Which was when I began to think about it. If I was going to go on a group tour, then that meant I could go alone. That’s how the plan to go to Africa by tour unfolded.
But, I still didn’t know what to expect with a group tour, even if Gecko’s seemed different. Would I feel lonely? Would there be interesting people on my trip? Would I get along with everyone or at least one person? Would my tent-mate be normal? Would there be people my age? And, since this was a guaranteed departure, how many people would even be on the trip?
In the weeks before my departure, my mind began to race with questions like these, and the more my friends and family members started asking questions, questions that I didn’t know how to answer, the more I freaked out.
But, that all changed the moment I stepped off the plane in Zimbabwe and met the van that would take me to the campground. It was there that I met fellow travelers Michelle, Gayle, and Tracey. Immediately, I took a liking to them, and knew that I wouldn’t mind spending the next three weeks with these three Australians.
After booking a few excursions and heading to Victoria Falls alone, I met back at the campsite and headed to dinner with a few of the group members. We then had our first meeting and everyone began to have the usual introductory conversations. There were nineteen tour members in all; one Canadian, two Swiss, one Kiwi, two Brits, eleven Aussies, and me, the one America, which was exactly the way I liked it. We had a few Zambezi beers and started to get comfortable with our new family.
Immediately, I could tell that for the most part, everyone seemed to be quite normal. The ages ranged from eighteen to sixty, but there were so many of us that everyone seemed to get along from the minute the tour started. Some people were traveling with spouses, others boyfriends or friends, and many were traveling solo. Those initial fears I had before the tour started washed away right after the first night.
In the craziness of the beginning of the tour, I wound up having no roommate for the first two nights. Part of me was relieved, but the other part was a bit terrified. I still have no idea how I slept alone those first two nights, but that all changed after we arrived in Botswana and our tour guide realized that me and another girl, Jade, had our own private tents. We got put together, and even though we were disappointed to give up our personal space, we both wound up sleeping better the rest of the tour.
Jade and I became very close right away, and together with Rae, who was from Canada, we formed a great bond. We relied on each other for advice, shared bottles of Amarula, made each other coffee mochas in the morning, saved each other seats, became bush-bush buddies, and overall, created a friendship that will last forever. We even were lucky enough to get a room with three beds, that we pushed together to form one, when we stopped in Swakopmund in Namibia, where we had a hotel for two nights; this bonded us even closer together.
On top of it all, our guide: Caesar, chef: Irvine, and driver: Welo Welo, took care of us as if we were their own family. If something went wrong, they took control. When I hit my head, Irvine got me ice and iced my head for me, and Welo Welo asked me about my head every morning, we even had a running joke about it. They danced with us and sang with us. They told us stories about their lives growing up in Zimbabwe, as we sat around the campfire. They helped Jade and I set up our tent, because no matter what we did, we just could never get it right. And, they did it all with a smile and the greatest outlook on life. Because we were with them, we got a real taste of what it was like to grow up and live in Africa.
All in all, the tour was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Not only did I make new friends, but the overland truck and tent accommodations were the perfect way to see Africa. I cannot imagine my experience being any different. Plus, each and every day was packed with activities for us to do and places for us to see. Not a moment was ever wasted. It truly was the best trip of my life, and now, I would consider taking another group tour, not only in Africa, but somewhere else in the world.
However, that isn’t to say that I’m done traveling my usual way. Once a wanderer, always a wanderer.
*Special thanks to Rae and Jade, some of the pictures featured are theirs.