I often feel as though I need to defend my decision to travel as a part of, and now lead, group tours. As someone in my late 20’s (almost 30, yikes!) I sometimes feel judged for choosing the ‘luxury’ route over the rougher, independent travel route. In a previous post, I talked about why I have decided to become an International Tour Director. Now I want to write about why I have been, and want to continue to be, involved with group tours.
I have been lucky to have experienced both independent travel and group travel over the last 10+ years. My individual travel experiences have certainly challenged me, and I have enjoyed them, but I also found real value in group travel. That value mostly derives from the relationships I forged while on tour, both with my fellow tourists, and the tour directors and guides.
I have always enjoyed surrounding myself with people who are smarter than me; it is one of the qualities I find most attractive in others. I enjoy a good debate and listening to my friends speak about their work and passions. Sometimes it’s difficult to get people talking about that aspect of their life, but the geek in me enjoys learning about a variety of fields. I want to learn from my friends on a daily basis, and when I travel I also want to learn from and with the people I meet.
What I have found is that most of the people I have been on tour with are all there for the same reason, to explore, learn and share information. Yes, those who take luxury group tours often want to stay at the 5-star hotel, eat at the best restaurants, and generally be taken care of; but they have also chosen a group tour because they want to have an educated experience. Sure, one of the goals is to have their picture taken in front of the Eiffel Tower, on the Great Wall, or pointing at Big Ben; but I have observed that it is also just as important for them to walk away with a better understanding about why that particular building, monument or place matters. And that is the most powerful thing about group travel for me, being with other like-minded people who want to learn about, and experience, a place alongside you. Most education is fed to us by asking the student to observe and listen to an ‘expert’, but I learn best by doing and by talking about something openly with others. Within a group tour I have been exposed to all three of these learning methods; I am physically learning by being in a place, I have a group of people to bounce ideas off of, and I have a tour director and guide to feed me facts.
Travel is about learning and exploring, and for most of us that includes visiting popular and often crowded tourist sights. I believe popular destinations and sights are popular for a reason, because they’re fantastic. I get so tired of the ‘well traveled’ set of people who wrinkle their noses at groups of tourists, insisting that they are better because they give themselves the label of ‘traveler’ and not tourist. Unless you have taken up permanent residence somewhere, you are a visitor, a tourist, and that’s ok. And rather than scoff at people who may love an all-inclusive vacation, or seek a certain level of comfort while they take in those sights, they should be embraced. Because, while it may seem like they are yet another sheep going with the herd, they absolutely are not, they are traveling to better themselves, experience the world, and that should be celebrated.
No two travel experiences can be described by the same by definition. Our experiences define our own special relationship with travel and make these seemingly ‘common’ group tours decidedly unique and uncommon. For me, travel is completely about the experiences, about seeing as much of this huge world as I can, and learning from as many people as I can along the way. So I will continue to travel as a part of group, and individually, and be proud of the experiences I have and will have as a tourist.