I’m setting off on a group tour to Morocco next week, and throughout my travel planning, I’ve been somewhat apologetic as I explain that yes, as a travel editor, I signed up for a tour. So I was heartened to read Daisann McLane’s column in our current issue espousing the benefits of group travel, which she noticed on a recent bus trip through Guangzhou, China:
As I sat on a bus wearing a silly cap, eating pork buns, and being serenaded by a karaoke-singing tour guide, I had to laugh at myself.
Not that many years ago I was so allergic to anything remotely “touristy” that I even refused to carry a camera when I traveled. I kept a list of “not for me” places–popular attractions, neighborhoods, even nations, that I refused to visit because I thought they’d be “too full of tourists.” I considered myself a class apart, a traveler, and that meant going places nobody else did, and going, mostly, alone. Tour groups? No way.
But it was a last-minute spot in a group tour to Slovenia that changed her mind. As the one American in a tour with one hundred Slovenes, Daisann was quickly adopted by the group:
In the cafés of Brac island, I learned the refrains to old folk songs (one of our fellow tourists, it turns out, was the “Slovenian Bob Dylan”) and how to sling back shots of slivovitz, the local firewater. During long afternoons on a pebbly Adriatic beach I got a crash course in the twists of turbulent post-Yugoslavia politics.
“It is not so bad to be tourist, is it?” asked Mila, laughing, at the end of one of those perfect afternoons. She had a point. This trip with the group was more enjoyable–and culturally enlightening–than my earlier, carefully researched solo forays to the area.
I’ve found that bonding with your tour-mates can be nearly as fascinating as exploring the destination itself. My first visit to Europe was on a bus, stopping in one country a day, and with all the driving, there was plenty of downtime to get to know my fellow passengers. We had an international crowd, from Brazil, India, England, China, and Australia, and as a teenager, I found their stories helped shape my wanderlust, and inspired me to get out in the world.
What’s your take on tours? Do you opt to go solo or do you look to make friends on the road?
Photo: Robert Churchill/iStockphoto.com