The following is a guest post by Pete Mandra. If you’d like to guest post on Go Backpacking, please read our submission guidelines.
When I returned from my recent extended tour of southern Africa, friends and family pressed me to know what aspect of my trip brought on the most stress:
Was it tenting in the African bush, surrounded by wild animals? The risk of contracting a deadly, exotic disease? All that time away from home, separated from loved ones and all things familiar?
Nope, I told them. Not even close. Because I couldn’t think of a single, hungry African carnivore, a mysterious diseases whose symptoms still stumped brilliant scientists, or any amount of solitude that compared, at least to me, to the sometimes challenging dynamics of group travel.
Don’t get me wrong – signing on with a group travel tour, just as I had to visit southern Africa (and later Egypt and Jordan), is an effective way to navigate across a country while taking in its highlights. You not only eliminate the hassle of getting from Point A to Point B, but it’s generally much more cost effective than if you were to attempt it by yourself.
The challenge, though, arrives when your tour takes you through a less-developed country, where personal safety, and few diversions like museums and shopping, dictates the group spending time together for seemingly every waking moment. It is then that a strange, almost magical transformation occurs – you stop acting like a group and start acting more like a dysfunctional, slightly manic family, filled with just enough underlying tension to drive one another crazy. In Africa, we fought over food, relaxed every ambition imaginable a little too much for comfort, and almost purposefully got on each other’s nerves. Though I can’t share all of the sordid details here, suffice to say I did start to wonder, after that whole experience, how any of us could once again function in normal, everyday society.
OK – so I exaggerate a bit. Then why, you’re probably asking yourself, after my trying experience traveling with a group through Africa, did I participate in another such trip shortly afterwards through Egypt and Jordan?
Because Africa taught me what I refer to as essential ‘mental survival strategies’ for group travel, essential to enjoying your trip and dealing with the sometimes difficult group mentality.
The following, then, are my 5 tips for mentally ‘surviving’ a group travel tour:
1. Stay connected with family and friends back home.
Receiving an email, video chat, or just hearing the voice of a loved one has a way of bringing you back to reality, especially when you need a break from present company. And best of all, you can find an Internet café in even the most remote places in the world (though you may have to deal with a dial-up connection).
2. Grab alone time (when you can get it!).
There’s nothing wrong with retreating to your tent or room for a little bit if you need a break. Don’t think that just because others always hang out that you are required to, also.
3. Zone out.
Bring that music-loaded Ipod for those long road trips when you don’t want to spend another 4 hours (again) talking to your seat mate. Or be really devious and only pretend you’ve fallen asleep.
4. Protect that personal space!
In Africa, the seat you grabbed on the truck that first day was yours for the next six weeks. It sounds crazy, but on group tours, your instinct is to protect all space in that immediate vicinity as your own, so you don’t feel too crowded and have room for your gear. Only remove gear from the truck that you need for that particular moment, using the rest as a personal space holder.
5. Go with the flow.
Will the group annoy you at times? Absolutely! So expect that you may not get along with everyone, and accept that you’re personal freedom may seem compromised from the outset as you (often) follow rigid schedules and full days to take in all the sites. A mantra may help, too. Whenever I wanted to strangle someone, I took a deep breath and repeated to myself you’re on vacation…you’re on vacation. It usually did the trick.
Hopefully, after reading this you aren’t scared off if you were considering signing on with a group tour in a less-developed part of the world. Following my own advice on my Egypt and Jordan trip proved extremely helpful, so I’m confident, if you have any such concerns, these same strategies can work for you, too.
Group experience aside, I wouldn’t trade the enjoyable experience I had traveling through Africa for anything. We slept under star-filled skies in the middle of the desert, navigated through the hippos and crocodiles of the Zambezi River in canoes, and joined an armed military convoy in Zambia through a patch of land contested by rebel fighters– if that’s not living life, I don’t know what is!
About the Author: Pete Mandra is the author of Overland, a humorous travel narrative (‘Bill Bryson meets Generation X’) chronicling his budget, six-week ‘overland’ tour through Africa with his wife and a truckload of strangers.
Photos Credit: David Lee