Is Group Travel For YOU?

Before my husband died of cancer, we loved to travel. Half the fun of it was the planning and anticipation since we booked everything ourselves. We loved sitting on our couch with a laptop reviewing the hotels and destinations I’d researched.  We‘d discuss, make our choices, and commit. Just before he was diagnosed, we’d planned a trip to the South of France, the Loire Valley, and Paris and made reservations, but when he got sick, we had to cancel. All was refunded except for our reservation for the cute boutique hotel in Montmartre. After many emails, they agreed to let me change the date to a later time. This is how I came to take my first solo trip to France only two months after he died. Being in Paris again without my husband was bittersweet and I sat at the rooftop bar with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance and cried, broken-hearted.

I always envy women who look comfortable while alone in a restaurant, but I am not sure that I can ever get there.  The idea of exposing my solo life to everyone around me gives me so much anxiety that I’ll stay home and make myself an omelet. The few times I’d done it on business travel, I sat feeling self-conscious and lonely, even when armed with a book. The weird thing is that I really do enjoy my own company. If I have my camera in hand, I am generally happy anywhere, except for eating alone. I can’t exactly run around taking photos of everyone in a restaurant, although admittedly, I take stealth images with my phone.

It was this discomfort that led me to explore group travel. I found a company with glossy catalog who had a tour of the South of France similar to the trip my husband and I had planned, but since I decided to go late in the game, there were no solo rooms left.  One of the other solo women was looking for a roommate to keep her costs down. In an extensive phone conversation, we found that we had some common interests and political leanings, which bode well.

She arrived at the hotel in the morning, three hours before me.  She donned her pink and white striped pajamas, pulled the shades, and sprawled on her bed for a nap. The problem was that when the bellboy unlocked the door to our room that afternoon, I found a tiny, dark space with clothing thrown everywhere. The twin beds were pushed flush together, and a sleeping woman lay comatose across her bed, looking as if she’d escaped from Barbie prison wearing a pink and white uniform. The bellboy inched my suitcase into the room, while my new roommate removed her eye mask, and sat up with wild hair, looking like a crazy person.

“I can’t do this,” I told the bellhop and promptly went back to the front desk where I learned that there were no other rooms. I pleaded my case, even offering to sleep in a maid’s closet, but the answer was no. They managed to move the beds six inches apart, not nearly far enough, especially considering the wall-shaking snoring that emanated from the next bed. My roommate was a good sleeper. Unfortunately, I am not.

Perhaps it was sleep deprivation or my newly-widowed status and I was already miserable, but everything my roommate did made me nuts. But, I hoped to at least befriend someone in the rest of the group, but most were couples and only the husbands were congenial while their wives eyed me with suspicion, intercepting conversations as if I were a great white shark circling their man.

Other than my roommate and me, there were only four other single women. One was a mother and daughter from South Carolina and after our initial uncomfortable conversation at dinner the first night, I learned that they were Trump supporters and so there were no further discussions. The other two women turned out to be a couple with one of them hovering, suspicious, and anxious. This was unfortunate, since her partner was the only other artist on the trip, and we had a nice rapport. All I wanted was someone to talk to for the next ten days.

So, even on a group trip where I was seated at long tables for endless tedious meals or herded on or off a bus with 23 others, I felt completely alone. I decided that the next trip I would take would be a much smaller group that catered to my interests where I would be sure to find people I enjoyed.

More on those trips later, but if you are thinking of joining a tour, here are five suggestions.

  1. Try to go with a friend. If you go hoping to find your new BFF or relationship, chances are you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Have no expectations, and if you are pleasantly surprised, all the better.
  2. Large tours attract a variety of people from all over, all ages, and of different world views. This can be interesting with any luck, but if you know yourself and know what kind of people you enjoy spending time with, seek out groups that would attract them.
  3. Look for tours that cater to your interests. You can find art, writing, photography, and spirituality workshops online, plus much more. Google “photo travel” or whatever it is you want, and a new world will open for you.
  4. If you do decide to take a larger tour, call the tour’s office, and have a list of very specific questions ready, from the types of rooms and sleeping arrangements to the kinds of meals you will have. This is your money and your trip. Don’t be shy.
  5. Book your own hotel and flight to a city and sign up for smaller local tours to take you to the places you want to see. I found that Viator.com offers an extensive menu of interesting and sometimes unusual offerings.

BUT if you are still interested in a larger tour that might offer solo travel opportunities, here is what I can tell you. If you are a baby boomer, you might be interested in some of these companies. Here are some popular options. I have some issues with #1 which I will post about next time, but some people enjoy their trips.

  1. Road Scholar: Road Scholar offers educational travel experiences for adults, including baby boomers. They provide a wide range of trips with various themes and destinations, ensuring there is something for every interest. Their itineraries are designed to foster learning, cultural understanding, and personal growth.
  2. ElderTreks: ElderTreks specializes in small-group adventure travel for those aged 50 and above. They offer unique trips to off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world. Their itineraries focus on cultural immersion and outdoor activities, such as hiking and wildlife encounters.
  3. Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT): OAT offers small group adventures specifically designed for travelers over 50. They strive to create authentic and immersive experiences, emphasizing local connections and cultural interactions. OAT also provides solo traveler-friendly policies, including low or no single supplement fees.
  4. Solo Traveler: While not a specific company, Solo Traveler is a popular online resource that provides information, inspiration, and tips for solo travelers of all ages. They feature a variety of travel companies that cater to solo travelers, including baby boomers, and offer advice on planning, safety, and connecting with other travelers.
  5. G Adventures: G Adventures offers small-group tours for travelers of all ages. They have a wide range of itineraries, including options specifically designed for older travelers. G Adventures’ “National Geographic Journeys” line incorporates educational and cultural elements into their trips, providing enriching experiences for baby boomers.

Before booking a trip with any company, it’s important to research and read reviews to ensure they align with your preferences, interests, and travel style. Additionally, consider consulting with a travel agent specializing in solo travel to help you find the best company and trip that suits your needs.
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