Loving group travel does not make you a crappy traveller

When I was trying to get from Greece to Croatia, finding a route wasn’t easy. Flying was expensive as heck, and plotting an overland trip was basically like getting a PhD in neuroscience.

So then I randomly entered a Facebook contest for a trip around Bosnia & Herzegovina, and freaking won it. Like, it happens. Weird, right? I hadn’t heard of the group before (Med Experience) but they seemed legit, and the age range was 18-35.

I’ve done several group travel trips with the likes of Contiki and Moose Network, which I LOVED and hope to do again in the future. But it hadn’t occurred to me until then that I hadn’t done a group tour before – at least not with non-media people. We’ll call them normies.

Moose Network in Alberta

My Moose Network group in Alberta, Canada. Believe it or not, Hannah (far left) actually ended up meeting one of my best friends, Julia, in Glasgow…purely by chance. I discovered this while browsing through Facebook one day. The world is SMALL.
And then when I contacted Med Experience to collect my winnings, I asked them advice about how to get from Athens to Dubrovnik, where the Bosnia and Herzegovina tour would start. ‘Lo and behold, they had a tour from Athens through Albania and Montenegro, wrapping right up in Dubrovnik. FATE! It works mysteriously.

My Albania trip was lovely, although I never REALLY connected with the people on it. They were all travelling with partners or friends, and I was the odd one out. But somehow in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I ended up with the most perfect array of characters one can hope to find on a tour group: three lovely Australians, and one German. All of us travelling solo.

Pizza in Sarajevo

Pizza is so cheap in Sarajevo, it doesn’t make sense.
I was waiting for the bus to pick me up outside a supermarket in Dubrovnik, when I noticed a girl standing behind me with a suitcase. She asked, “Are you waiting for the Med Experience tour?” And then we instantly bonded. Just based on that connecting thread alone. It was pretty much the easiest thing ever. When we were introduced to the others, it took all of five minutes before we slipped into easy conversation.

Better yet, our guide Mustafa was a Sarajevo local (much like my Albanian guide, Dennis), and he was practically bursting at the seams with information. He lived through the siege of Sarajevo. He was one of those rare citizens who walked through the Tunnel of Hope. I remember the day he led us around Sarajevo, pointing out the roses painted on the sidewalks where bombs had gone off, and the marketplace where the biggest massacre had happened. He told his personal stories all candid-like, while I stood underneath a shop’s awning seeking shelter from the rain, crying about the reality he had lived through while at the same time on the other side of the planet I was a seven year old who spent her life drawing with Crayons and writing stories on an old Smithsonian.

Bosnia and Herzegovina with Med Experience

To be sure, our group was small. I like it that way.
Our group had a lot of fun together, particularly in Mostar when our hotel was overtaken by an insane opera singer who tried to break into our room because we were being too loud. (We were chatting quietly.) Remember that, guys?

And our ice-cream crawl along the river. And that night out in Sarajevo when we ended up at a disco with some high school prom kids who didn’t know where Canada was (but fully accepted the Aussies).

So there are a few good reasons to love group travel.

1. The ease of travel when you have a limited amount of time
2. Awesome local guides who know their shit
3. It’s a fine icebreaker for introverted losers like me

I always thought of myself as an extrovert, or an ambivert. But it’s become increasingly obvious to me that I’m indeed an introvert, or at least I err more to that side. I’m not the type of person to walk up to a table of travellers and strike up a conversation, but when you’re in close quarters with other travellers on the same bus for a week, well, magic happens. People are awesome like that.

There’s a lot of snobbery around tour groups and “how to travel.” There’s no right way to travel. As long as you’re respectful of your surroundings and the people in it, and as long as you love it and it changes you and your eyes are opened to the world…who cares how you do it? It’s a great idea to question these things. This post itself is inspired by the lovely Amanda Williams’ and her blog post titled “Am I a Lame Traveler?”

It’s not for everyone, but I’m here to tell you: You don’t need to feel like a crappy traveller just because you opt to hop on a guided tour. Your style is your business. And I, Candice Walsh, love group travel just as much as solo travel.

  • November 05 2014

    Me too. I met my husband on a group tour. They’re great for those of us with limited time ( because we work) and more money( because we work). Now I’m one of those groovy nomadic family travellers and professional travel bloggers, I still wouldn’t turn my nose up at them, they’re fun. The haters need to get over themselves ;)

    • November 07 2014

      I read your love story and I LOVE it, haha. There always seems to be a higher proportion of women on those trips as well. Men should get on that.

  • November 05 2014

    I’ve never actually gone on a group trip – except for the time my Spanish class went to Spain/France in grade 10, with like 70 people, which I’m not counting because OH MY GOD – but it seems like I would really enjoy it. I remember reading about your Bosnia/Herzegovina trip and then looking up Med Experience almost right after that cause I was like DAMN, that looked like it was fun. :)

    • November 07 2014

      Hahaha yessss! Then I am doing my job. ;) I also did a few high school trips like that. Our poor teachers.

  • November 05 2014
    Sky Fisher

    I haven’t officially joined a group tour yet but I’m sure I will at some point or another, especially one aimed at younger travelers. It just seems like it would take a bunch of stress off all the planning, especially during a short trip.

    • November 07 2014

      Totally! When you’ve got little amount of time to enjoy yourself, a group trip is a good way to go.

  • November 05 2014

    Amen. I have learned a lot more actual information and history about a place when I’ve been on tours versus travelling independently. Plus, local guides are usually amazing and group tours take the stress out of planning every detail (especially getting from place to place), AND I’ve been to places that would have been tough to go to on my own!

    Don’t get me wrong, I love planning trips. But it’s nice to not worry about it sometimes. It’s like an all-inclusive, but way more up my alley.

    • November 07 2014

      That’s very true! I remember being on a Contiki bus going through Hungary and being SO riveted by our talented and knowledgeable guide who was giving us a fully mesmerizing historical account of the country. Way better than a guidebook.

  • November 05 2014

    True, true. I have done a couple of group tours – in Egypt and Turkey – as well as shorter ones like the Salt Flats in Bolivia and hiking in Peru. Sometimes it can be quite hard to get to a place independantly (Australian Outback) and in some cases, maybe it isn’t that safe for a female to travel alone (Egypt). I agree that group tours can be fantastic, I think it is great to mix up your travel style to keep it interesting.

    • November 07 2014

      That’s VERY true as well. I’d feel much more comfortable on a group tour in a place like Egypt, at least initially to get used to the place.

  • November 05 2014

    Amen, sista! Some of my fondest travel memories have come from group tours. I, too, can be quite introverted, and when I’m flying completely solo, I’d much rather hole up in my room with my computer in the evenings rather than venture out to meet people. It’s just too much work. But when the people are with you everyday and you’re doing the same things and have the same interests… well then it’s SO much easier for me to come out of my shell.

    I like a good solo trip every now and then, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes you just need to be around other people, and I’ve found group tours to be a happy medium for me. I’ll be going on more in the future, for sure!

    • November 07 2014

      Totally! And yeah as introverts we need a healthy balance of both, I think. I tend to request private rooms on such tours.

  • November 06 2014

    I think it really depends on the tour. When I studied abroad my classmates and I went on a trip to Yunnan and another to Xinjiang. It was so fun! We were with our knowledgable resident director, and it was a great bonding experience for the group of us. The tours were lead by locals and we got to do things I might not have done on my own. I just hate huge group tours on big busses, but that doesn’t look like your experience at all. I’m glad you had a great time!

    • November 07 2014

      TOTALLY agree, I could never handle a massive coach bus filled with people! I’ve done a few day trips that way, and it was…meh. I remember being in Montenegro and watching those buses come to unload hundreds of people and it was exhausting. They took up SO much space.

  • November 06 2014
    Sasha @ The Curious Zephyr

    I love traveling solo and I love traveling with friends, but my first (and only, thus far, but NOT last) adventure where I was thrown in with a group was the Ice Marathon in 2013 … and it was AMAZING. If you end up in a group of like-minded crazy people, you meet some really wonderful new friends! I did find that those of us in the group who were traveling alone bonded a lot more than the little subgroups of friends and couples. Maybe we put more effort into it, who knows. But yes, group travel can be fantastic!!

    • November 07 2014

      Omg, that’s so great! And yeah I agree, it’s a great option for solo travellers. On that first Albania trip I was SO out of my element because I was the only solo person there. So different from my other trips.

  • November 06 2014

    I so love this post – I personally like small group travel too for those exact reasons. But whether one likes it or not, it’s about not being a snobby traveler as you describe so nicely. To each there own, but why would any version make for a ‘better’ or more ‘real’ experience?!

    • November 07 2014

      Totally! I’m so happy this post resounded with so many people. It’s almost like a taboo phrase for people sometime — “group travel.” Agree with the small group sentiment, though.