Erin C. Green

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Your ducks have been aligned for you by the travel company. You’re amped and ready for a trip going places you’ve never been before with a group of seemingly like-minded adventure enthusiasts. Bring it on!

Just wait a quick minute. As a tour leader of four years, I’ve learned a trick or two on how to maximize a group travel experience. If you want to alleviate any potential kinks and reap all the possible benefits of your holiday, please read the following before you go!

Prepare: “Which hemisphere are we in?” asked a Scottish passenger, who had met me in Beijing for a three week tour in China.

Do a bit of research on the places you are going to visit before you arrive. Ask the company you are travelling with for info on what to bring and what to expect, and then consider and act on their reply! Find out what is included in your package. If you’re hell bent on doing something which
isn’t on your itinerary, inquire if you may have some free time to fit it in. A solution can likely be realized.

Familiarize yourself with the ways of life, i.e. religious and social customs. If you’re going to a Muslim country, wear loose and flowing clothes and dress modestly. If you’re going
to Japan, be prepared to bow. A lot.

Find out the practicalities and available amenities. You don’t want to be stuck penniless, so find out if it is difficult to exchange certain currencies, and note the frequency of ATMs. Bring a wad of easily exchanged cash, or obtain some local currency before you leave your home country.

Be aware of your health. Bring medications with you, as the comforts you have at home (i.e. Tylenol or Immodium) will not be available in all countries. Keep in mind that your trip may bypass the big cities which would have medical facilities. Expect a headache and a touch of diarrhea every once and a while, and bring what you need to counter the symptoms.

Be Honest: “I’m a vegetarian,” says the cautious carnivore. She subsequently nudges her way to the meat eating table once she sees the other passengers living disease free after eating local carnage. If you claim you’re a veggie eater, but then you flip sides and if special meals have been arranged in advance for you, then you’d better be prepared to hunt your own game.

Tell your leader upfront about dietary ambitions or lack thereof, allergies, medical conditions, special interests, and inconsolable pet peeves. Don’t be embarrassed. Your leader has undoubtedly seen it all before. Plus, strange irritations make good stories in the future, and special requests bolster the leader’s options portfolio. This information has proved to be life- saving at times, in addition to generally making your trip and that of the others around you flow as smoothly as possible.

Remain Flexible: Often people take group trips into countries where they would find it difficult to travel alone. Often these places are in third world countries, in sparse terrain, or where the infrastructure hasn’t been updated since 1918. *Keep in mind that itineraries will change, that weather happens, and that things most likely won’t be how you expect them to be. * Your bus could
break down or you could face road closures, but those could make for a refreshing impromptu dip in the Nepalese river you’d been sweating along for 4 hours. You could awake to a day graced with monsoon, but that could mean a day in the local cafĂ© learning Cambodian card games and teaching others your prized magic trick. Just because your best friend did the exact same trip last year where she met her current boyfriend doesn’t mean your Romeo is going to appear on yours. Every trip is a little different, and unexpected obstacles come at you every day. Keep an open mind, and remember that these fluctuations in your trip are the flavorful nuances you will remember for years.
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Respect: Show thoughtful respect for all the people and places you encounter on your
holiday. Respect your leader and trust that he/she will do anything to make your trip the best it can be. The ideal scenario is one where everyone… the passenger, the locals you visit, and the leader… are saturated with satisfaction. Remember that you are travelling as a group and to
respect the needs of the others on board. Be on time to meetings, take note of others’ needs, and know your own personal limits. Sometimes it is essential to take a personal Time Out. Also respect the place where you are. Adopt local customs and dress codes. Consume local food and
drink. Graciously thank hosts and merchants. If you can’t speak the language, remember that
smiles are universal.

Emanate Enthusiasm You are on holiday! Don’t forget that! This is fun! Risk tasting new foods. Embrace the squat toilets of China and Southeast Asia. Experiment with the bidet spray in Japanese toilets. Ask passersby on the street for directions or where the best bia hoi is. Stay up past your bedtime and embrace local nightlife. Spin long arduous journeys as time to be able to
reflect on your adventure thus far. Dress up in native garb and rim your eyes with local kohl. Get in there!

Do go at your own pace: take baby steps or leap on in, but whatever you do, keep moving forward and remain illuminated and enthused.

If you follow this advice, you are in the direct path to reaping the benefits one of the most sound and memorable trips of your life. Enjoy!