Four tips for successful group travel

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Group travel sounds like a great idea in theory – who doesn’t want to see the world (or at least some of it) with their friends and family? In practice, travelling with your nearest and dearest isn’t always a walk in the park – something I can attest to. I recently returned from a fortnight backpacking around Mexico with three friends. What should have been a dream trip turned out to be a disaster as we fell out over food, finance and almost everything under the sun. After seven patience testing days, I decided to salvage the trip by splitting from my ‘friends’ and going solo.

 

Far from being a lonely experience, I found solo travel to be a lovely one. Or in the words of the great travel writer, Freya Stark: “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” I was able to experience my new surroundings without being subjected to the prejudices and preferences of my long time friends.

And I was only alone when I chose to be ( ironically travelling solo can also be a social experience) for, as a single traveller, you’re far more approachable. I met plenty of people who were on the same page as me: namely they wanted to nosh on nachos and get up early to see the magnificent Tulum ruins rather than have breakfast in the Ramada before splashing about in a cold, hotel swimming pool.

 

In my experience solo travel is well, just easier – and infinitely more rewarding. Of course going it alone isn’t for everyone and there are plenty of reasons (it’s often cheaper and safer etc) to go in a group. But before you hit the road en masse, here are a few things you need to know…

 

Choose your travelling companions carefully
I made my way to Mexico with a former flatmate from my Dubai days, a long time London friend and a new Mexican mate. Big mistake. Personality traits that had always irritated me – control freak tendencies, laziness, rudeness, a reluctance to try new food – at home, manifested themselves even more in Mexico. I am sure my gung ho approach drove my travel buddies barmy too: I’m the person who loves to see it all, has to eat and drink like a local every single night and will chat to pretty much everyone I meet – and you can be sure that I’ll sprinkle into the conversation a smattering of Spanish words that I have absorbed from my Lonely Planet travel guide. (Oh yes, I’ll also tout a well thumbed travel guide around with me and spout tidbits of travel information 24/7.)

Make sure you all know the purpose of your trip
As far as I was concerned, our Mexico trip was supposed to be an adventure. We were flying into Mexico City (the capital of the Maya world) and travelling around for two weeks before ending up in Cancun to catch our flight home. I briefed the girls that I was taking my backpack and while I wouldn’t be forcing them to stay in a dorm room (as I am want to do when on my own), this was by no means a ‘fly and flop’ holiday. I thought I had been clear and set expectations (Mexico was my trip and I had booked and paid for flights well in advance of my friends) but apparently not. On arrival it transpired that all they wanted to do was sleep in sumptuous hotels, eat continental food and toast themselves on a sun lounger (unfortunately the weather refused to play ball). How did I get it so wrong? That’s a question I’m still asking myself but if you’re planning a trip with friends I’d suggest that you discuss the kind of break you all want in great detail. Then discuss it some more. And don’t think you’ll be able to ‘convert’ your companions to your way of thinking once abroad. My companions looked as miserable as sin as I dragged them off to see Mexico City’s sights. For my part, I had no desire to waste every morning in Mexico waiting for them to finish their daily yoga class/spa session at the hotel…

 

Money matters
Ah the thorny issue of money. Make sure that your group has decided on budgets beforehand – and then stick to them. We had agreed in advance what we would spend on accommodation, but this was abandoned once we arrived in Mexico. My travelling companions desired digs that had hotel swimming pools – all well beyond my budget. I put two nights on my credit card before coming to my senses and realising that I didn’t want to spend the next six months paying for accommodation I wasn’t even keen on (why swim in a pool when there was a beautiful beach just steps from the front door?) I found two mid range options in the town ofTulum that were, I believed, a bridge between the budget digs I favoured and the boutique bolt-holes they preferred. However when my companions refused to compromise (in essence they chose having a hotel swimming pool over lodging with me), I finally woke up to the fact that it was time to do my own thing.

Don’t be scared to go solo
Which brings to my final point: don’t be scared to split from your group if all is not going to plan (and it’s worth remembering that no matter how much planning and preparation work you do, things won’t go entirely to schedule). Group holidays promise fun and friendship but as I discovered they don’t always deliver. If you aren’t happy, speak up – and then, if necessary, split up. Don’t be daunted by the prospect of solo travel. After I left my companions in Cancun, I was alone but without any loneliness whereas being holed up in a hotel room watching the rain fall with two estranged friends while waiting for our lost luggage (now that’s a story I’ll save for another time!) to arrive, proved to be one of the loneliest experiences of my life.

 

For more on travelling solo, please click here

 

 

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