How I Fell in Love with Group Tours

Group in Etosha National Park.

How I Fell in Love with Group Tours

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. Me. Our humble home.

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.

Jade. Me. Rae.

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.

Jade. Caesar. Me. Irvin.

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.

Group in Etosha National Park.

However, that isn’t to say that I’m done traveling my usual way. Once a wanderer, always a wanderer.

Wandering in the bush.

*Special thanks to Rae and Jade, some of the pictures featured are theirs.

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Comments (20)

  1. Eileen

    I honestly think this is my favorite post ….

  2. Brendan

    So glad you chose to travel overland with us! We’ve been following your blog posts and love them! Hope to see you again some time soon 😀
    Cheers!

    1. The World Wanderer

      It was the best experience, and I would travel with you again in a heartbeat! I’m thinking another overland in Africa in a few summers. Most of us from this tour want to have a reunion! 🙂

  3. Christina

    This is funny because right after I read this, my husband randomly said that he wants to go to South Africa next. I was like, YEAH!! I like how you got to do a lot of stuff in one trip – I’m all about that. If I’m paying all that money for the flight, might as well! I’ll have to look into this tour!

    1. The World Wanderer

      So funny! I loved how much we were able to do in such a short time period. Actually, South Africa was my least favorite of the countries I visited. Look into the tour I did – Vic Falls to Cape Town. Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia are so beautiful and the people are amazing. I found South Africa beautiful, but after the other African countries, I found the people to be less friendly. Still an amazing place to see, but if you fly to Africa, it’s definitely great to see and do as much as you can! 🙂

  4. @mrsoaroundworld

    Safety comes first – and tour groups aren’t what they used to be, thank God! 🙂

  5. lola

    i also have often thought group tours weren’t for me but going on the Habitat build was in a way like a group tour. although i was traveling alone, i was with like-minded people in a group. it was fun! i think the key would be to find the right tour company. sounds like you did!

    and, you will definitely get to Angkor Wat at some point i’m sure. it’ll be worth the wait 🙂

    1. The World Wanderer

      I agree with you, it’s all about finding like-minded people. Gecko’s is all about fun and adventure – which is right up my alley.

      I cannot wait to go to Angkor Wat! Your pictures made me cry a little inside, haha, but I’m so glad you got to experience it!

  6. Andrea

    Great post! I myself kinda shy away from any type of tours but you do provide a perfect argument for why group tours can be great!

    1. The World Wanderer

      Thanks! I always did too, but I felt Africa was the right time to do it, especially since I’d be traveling alone. 🙂

  7. Leah Travels

    What a sad story about Cambodia. Looks like you’ll need to plan a group tour with your new-found friends soon!

    1. The World Wanderer

      I was very upset. I know, someone on my tour did one to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand for three weeks. Saw much more than I did and I felt like I wasted my time there. Oh well, there’s always more time later on. 🙂

  8. the lazy travelers

    oh man, erin… you’re really making us re-think our long term stance against group tours with ALL of these posts. this one is just sealing the deal.

  9. Pola (@jettingaround)

    I usually shy away from tours – I’ve been burned before by some really cheesy ones – but I’ve had better luck lately. It seems like more and more companies recognize that travelers look to connect with the local culture, not just check landmarks off their list, are are more demanding. I see more tours that are unique and truly educational and those I can get on board with. I’m glad you had a good experience in Africa, Erin!

  10. Raul (@ilivetotravel)

    I am sorry to go off-topic but I am laughing thinking how, if I went on a trip like yours, and I get to meet two guys with whom I get along, it is highly unlikely we will pull our beds together like you, Jade and Rae! LOL Back on topic, I think there is a time and place for any kind of trip: solo/group, walk/train/cruise, see the key sights/off the beaten path, etc. No absolutes in life!

  11. Emma

    Loved reading this!

    I am going to be traveling for 6 weeks through Nepal and India with Geckos and as a solo traveler I had the same worries as you! Would I make friends? Would anyone like me? Would there even be anyone else on my tours?! But reading this has helped ease my stress!! So thank you!

    Sounds like you had amazing time and had an amazing group to travel with, here’s hoping I am just as lucky!! Very much looking forward to traveling with Geckos 🙂

    Emma x

    1. The World Wanderer

      So glad this eased your stress!! Hope your trip was wonderful! 🙂

  12. Jared

    Very insightful post Erin! Really good for those who would have never considered group travel in the past. Shows that there are a number of tour operators out there who provide real, authentic experiences where you can get off the beaten path and interact with locals.

    Cheers,
    Jared

    1. The World Wanderer

      Thanks, Jared! Yes, I think these companies are so wonderful. My trip didn’t feel like a group tour, even though it was. I also got to make some friends that I’ll have for my whole life.

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