It doesn’t sound like group tours are something an introvert would enjoy, does it? Why would I want to put myself into a situation where I’m forced to spend day and night with a group of strangers? Sit on the same bus, sleep in the same room, do all daily activities together? I’m a person who needs time alone to recharge, who is shy and often uncomfortable around strangers, especially if there’s a lot of them – why do I think it’s a great idea to put myself into a place where I’m exposed to all of that?
The answer is, because it forces me to stand up to my social awkwardness, overcome my fears, and meet new people. Isn’t that an important reason why we travel in the first place? We challenge ourselves and test our limits, so we will be rewarded with new experiences once we overcome them. The social aspect is an important part of travelling, just as it is an important part of life. I want to meet others when I travel. I like meeting them. Only I’m way too shy to approach them on my own.
When I travel solo, I can spend very long stretches of time without really making contact with anyone. I’m not avoiding people exactly, but I’m not approaching them either. Unless someone else makes the first step, I might stay by myself the whole trip. And I’m fine with that, usually. After all, I’m comfortable on my own. Travelling solo can be liberating, and I enjoy the freedom it brings. But there comes a point when I feel that having some interaction with others may be overdue.
That’s when I turn to group tours. You’re thrown in with a bunch of strangers, and you have to live with them for a few days. Sounds like a nightmare scenario for an introvert? It’s not as bad as you might think. Of course there will be some awkward situations at first, when everyone is still trying to get to know everyone else. But you’ll soon get past that. I don’t think I never needed more than a day, at most, before I felt at home with my travel group.
You can start small. If you only get to know one fellow group member, that’s often enough to feel a lot more comfortable. And getting into a conversation with someone doesn’t usually take long on these tours. After all, every one else is also a traveller. First conversations often follow a similar pattern: Where are you from? How long are you travelling? Where have you been before? Where are you going next? Why this particular country/tour/region? Any of these questions will do just fine as a conversation opener. So not knowing what to say is at least one thing you don’t need to worry about. Once you know one person, others will follow automatically. Soon you’ll know where everyone on the bus is from (I mostly know people’s nationalities long before I remember their names), and they will start to feel less like strangers, and more like friends.
If you still hesitate, just remember that those other people are probably feeling just as awkward as you are the first day of the tour. After all, they are surrounded by strangers too.
In the worst case, wait till someone else approaches you. Sooner or later that is going to happen anyway. The person sitting next to you on the bus. Or at lunch. Or the person who freaks out with you in excitement at the first sightseeing stop you do. Possibilities are endless.
By the first evening I always feel I’m among friends, even if I may not have spoken to everyone yet. Maybe I never will, depending on the group size. But that’s ok, as long as there are some people I get along with. Those are the people I stay in contact with long after the tour ends. Sometimes I kept travelling with friends from the tour for some time after, if we happened to head the same direction, or I caught up with them the next time our paths crossed.
It’s a great feeling to share your adventures with like-minded people, and very different from doing things alone. So far I have done two group tours in Britain with Haggis Adventures, and quite a lot in Australia with Adventure Tours. All of them gave me unforgettable memories and a group of friends from all over the world. Even if you can’t stay in contact with everyone, you will still have those memories to hold on to.
The point is, I do love meeting fellow travellers and make friends from all over the world. I just sometimes have to force myself to take the first step, by putting myself into a situation where it is unavoidable. So I go on group tours. I go on guided walking tours. I go on many different activities that are done in groups, because they force me to come out of my shell and meet new people.
And if at any time my capacity for social interaction is exhausted, I can always decide to do the next leg of the trip alone. Until I’m ready again to expose myself to the world.
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