Group travel come in all shapes and sizes – geared towards students, luxury travelers, adventurous spirits, those over the age of 65, the list goes on. Usually led by one or more directors, tours are a great way to experience a new destination. Along with the guide (an invaluable resource – even for the most experienced travelers), group travel usually includes other perks like completely pre-planned itineraries, all-inclusive prices for flights, hotels, meals, and cultural experiences, and endless opportunities to socialize with your tour group. However, the perks that make group travel great are also some of its biggest drawbacks. As a member of a tour group, you usually won’t get to choose what you do, where you stay, or what you eat…not to mention you’re basically stuck with your group for the majority of your visit. Whether you’re new to group touring, or have done it more times than you can count, here are eight essential tips for making your trip run smoothly.
1. Pack Lightly
Almost any list of travel tips will tell you to pack lightly, but when embarking on a group tour, we find this advice especially pertinent. From the time you arrive at your destination until the time you depart, you’ll likely be responsible for handling your own luggage. Chances are, you’ll have to hoist your own bag onto a tour bus, fit it into an overhead train compartment, or find a spot for it in a tiny hotel room. Imagine having to lug a heavy suitcase up four flights of winding, narrow stairs at your historic, elevator-less hotel in Florence, or having to navigate the notoriously crowded Tokyo metro with a giant suitcase in tow. Trust us, when you’re the one doing all the heavy lifting, lighter is better.
2. Be Patient
Group travel is no easy feat (although, we’d argue, it’s often worth it). With a group in tow, it could take 20 minutes to walk to a destination you could have reached on your own in five. You’ll have to wait for someone who’s taking too long in the gift shop, or end your museum visit early because someone needs to use the bathroom. There’s bound to be that annoying group member who asks too many questions/thinks he knows everything/is impolite/chews with her mouth open/[insert annoying habit here]. No matter how large or small your group, there’s going to be someone or something that really tests your patience. In these situations, all you can do is learn to go with the flow. Know that traveling with a group will require a different mindset than traveling on your own. No matter how hard it might be, try not to let one person’s annoying behavior ruin your experience.
3. Be Open-Minded
Any time you travel, it’s always a good idea to keep an open mind. Sometimes experiencing a new culture may require you to step outside your comfort zone, and that’s okay. Be prepared to do things you’ve never done before, try new foods and styles of dining, and interact with people who may look or sound completely different than you do. Remember, you are a guest in a destination – whether it’s a U.S. city or a foreign locale, so it’s important to respect the area’s customs and ways of life. Luckily, when traveling with a group, your tour director will be able to provide you with tips on what to expect and how to act in wherever you may be visiting.
4. Be Flexible
Along with being patient and open-minded, it’s important to be flexible. No matter how hard your tour director will try, something on your itinerary will likely go awry. A city-wide strike might shut down public transportation. A protest might block a museum entrance. Or unexpectedly bad weather could cancel flights or cruise departures. Usually, these circumstances are out of your control; and while it may be frustrating to have plans turned upside down, learn to view your situation as a new opportunity rather than a detriment to your trip. Paris metro is closed? Walk instead, and discover the city’s gorgeous architecture. The entrance to The National Gallery is blocked by a protest in Trafalgar Square? Visit another one of London’s incredible museums. Your Mediterranean cruise is stuck in port due to bad weather? Now you have an extra day to explore Athens/Rome/Barcelona wherever you may be docked. Unexpected changes to your itinerary are only day ruiners if you let them be. In a positive light, they can add an unexpected element of adventure and excitement to your trip.