This is the final episode in Pete's series about his travel adventures in Africa. I hope everyone has enjoyed them as much as I have. The book is even better!
I’ve precariously canoed past watchful crocodiles and anxious hippo pods on Africa’s Zambezi River.
Mere feet separated me from a skittish Black Mamba, a snake so deadly its venom is 100% fatal to a bitten man within an hour.
Unpredictable elephants, always-opportunistic lions, and stealthy leopards demanded your full awareness when spotted in the African bush.
But as stress-filled as those truly memorable moments of my African journey were, nothing compared to the trials 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 like Africa, 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. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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).
4. 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.
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.