Wednesday, 10 August 2016


There has been a lot of hullabaloo about solo travel lately and though, I in no way debate here to negate the positivity that solo travelling might bring into your lives, would love to digress tangentially and indulge in some of the experiential learnings that Group Tours bring to the table.
   Those who know me, will tell you that I belong to the cruise lovers club, choosing to cruise whenever and wherever possible with a strong belief that a cruise is a perfect blend of customized vacation and group travel. And so planning a ' Land Only' Eastern Europe Tour, after 6 summers of cruising, didn't come easy to me. We wanted to cover so many things and yet were constrained by time, travel arrangements, food and language barriers. So after much pondering, deliberation and a heap load of anxiety, we finally gave in to the lure of Group Travel. People did scoff and we hesitated and yet somehow, we found ourselves at the doors of a Group Tour Operator.
 Here's why it all worked out in the end ( and why it still doesn't top the charts)....

1. Ease of Planning : You pick a destination and forget the rest. The entire itinerary, to do list, must-sees are worked out for you. You won't have to fret about missing something, all famous sites and popular experiences are offered on the platter. Somehow everything that is there to see or do is made to fit the plan. The programme is designed to be a tourist's dream.

2. Economical : Do I even need to elaborate on this one. No questions asked, group travels win hands down when it comes to cost efficiency. Bulk purchases on tickets, accomodation tie-ups , promotional deals and local insight helps in making such tours economically viable and way cheaper than customized or DIY holidays.

3. Transportation/Transit : Usually a coach accompanies you wherever it can , your luggage safely stowed while you get down for that photo stop between Vienna and Prague (just saying....). A tour guide gives you a low down on the history and culture of your next destination while you sink in the comforts of the plush Volvo seats, headphones come handy in case you are in mood for some music. Somebody could always wake you up before the next stop so don't be nervous about missing the station.

4. To New Friendships : That is only if you want to! Being together for a good 12-16 hours a day does that to people, Man is a social animal after all. Group travel is great for kids and elderly too.Your children will not pester you in relatively dull moments of the trip, by now they have made friends, a lot of friends and they would be sitting some four rows behind you in the coach. Someone else is keeping an eye on them for you of course. The senior citizens are taken care of, given importance and priority, kept entertained and informed. Someone is always ready to help them around if they so require. You are in for some luck because you no longer have to depend on selfies and finally, your friends get to see your entire family lock, stock and barrel in one single frame. There is always someone around who is willing to click you while also holding your bag and bottle and hat....

5. Safety : Venturing alone in unknown territories is sometimes as overwhelming and anxiety inducing as romantic it might  sound. Group travel ensures that you feel safe and confident in strange, foreign lands. It takes you places you might not have picked up the courage to go alone, to head out of the main town and visit a local village. You make friends and then you make plans, you go for a stroll way past midnight in Budapest, not worrying about getting mugged on the streets. That popular nightclub, that beer bike, that sub-urban extravaganza, somehow, become more fun as you throw caution to the wind. You have back!! You know what I mean ;)

6.Language and Food: An all inclusive plan ensures that hunting for food will not be on the list, food barriers will not bog you down, all your time is to relax and enjoy the vistas. So sit back and soak in the spectacles while your stomach is satiated with cajun delights that remind you of home,  yes, I am talking of paranthas and pickle at Lake Titsee while enjoying Bollywood beats that someone has plugged in ever so thoughtfully. You chatter away joyfully in your native language while exchanging notes on the quality of food and other mundane things. Ok, wake up!!, we are somewhere in Europe ( or maybe Japan) , hope you haven't forgotten that amidst the familiar ambience.

   But before you start falling in love with the idea, let me warn you...Ah!! nothing in this world is perfect and alas! group travels fall severely short of being perfect.....

1. Compromise : Well, this more or less is the nutshell. The biggest drawback of group travel- you pick what they give. The dates are defined, the flights are fixed, the itinerary is non-negotiable ( detours will cost you through the nose), the daily schedules are tight and any deviation from the programme is almost unimaginable.

2. Luxury : Pictures don't always paint a true story, nor do Reviews and research, plus the option overload in the accomodation section of the itinerary leaves your head spinning because it could be Hotel A or B or C or Similar. More often that not it is the Similar which in no way is near to what you had expected or imagined or wanted or opted for. You might go for Luxury Plans on the offer but remember, it is their (Operator's) choice versus your choice. Their criteria of luxury might not match your level of expectations ( You have to accept that not even your Husband's perspective comes close). So in most cases be ready to reconcile, resign and settle because seldom can someone meet the standards you have set for yourself. And remember, unless you have shelled out a bomb, you are crossing borders in a coach alongside 40 odd people and it is not your convertible speeding away into the dusk while you sip on the margaritas.

3. Romance : Goes for a toss!!! Group travels are not meant for honeymooners even if this honeymoon marks your 20th wedding anniversary. You will die looking for some alone time, and when maybe you find some, you would be too tired to even fuss about the better half snoring away blissfully. You might still care to hold hands, share a romantic glance, give a little peck on the cheek, amidst onlookers either cheering you or judging you for all that Drama!

4. Time is of Essence:  You realize it more when you are in a Group Tour than when you are at your work desk struggling with deadlines. Group tours should rather be called Expeditions. Your day starts before the restaurants open for breakfast and your day ends, well mostly you are way too tired to remember exactly how it ended. Covering multiple countries also means that most of the time you are packing, unpacking or lugging suitcases. The schedule is so full and the day packed with sundry activities and so, everything seems rushed. You don't usually live the moment, you simply click the moment to savour it later, much later...You don't get to explore, engage, soak in, taste the travel because you are spoonfed, you gulp down everything in the hopes of bringing it back up like the cud chewers.
 You are always on the clock, either waiting for somebody to complete the group attendance or rushing so that no one is kept waiting because of you. You relearn to vie and run for that coveted seat in the coach which has more leg space, that corner table at breakfast or the top deck on the dinner cruise. Group Travel teaches you to adjust and adapt, to be patient and be responsible, to fight for your rights and remember your duties. And what is Travel if not a new learning each time to get up and decide to go away from home.

        The dynamics of Group Travel is perfectly, summed up by Henry David Thoreau -

" The man who goes alone can start today; but who travels with another must wait till that other day...."

So wait another day before you make up that Plan, wait till you are ready to unlearn and learn, wait till you are ready to Wait.