I loved summer camp when I was growing up. I left home and attended a week-long sports camp every summer for several years; each year, I’d arrive at camp knowing just the one friend I came with, spend nearly every waking moment of the week with a group of 12 or so girls, and leave with new friends who I felt like I’d known for years. I aged out of being able to have that very unique summer experience; but after I graduated college, I spent some time living abroadand discovered a sort of adult version of summer camp: group travel.
I went on pre-organized trips to various destinations, where I would essentially just register, pay my share, and show up to spend almost all of my waking hours for a set amount of time (for me, it was anywhere from a long weekend to 10 days) to share an experience (and almost all of my waking hours) with a whole bunch of people. Those trips were an amazing way to see the world, and hit up multiple bucket-list destinations in a relatively short timeframe, on a budget that worked for me. I had a blast every time, but it’s been a few years since my last trip like that. So, when Topdeck Travel, a group travel organizer specifically geared at 18 to 30-somethings, invited me to join them on a condensed version of their Ibiza Sailing trip in Spain, I was pumped. But, to be honest, when my plane actually landed in Ibiza and I waited at the airport for one of my fellow travelers to share a cab to the marina, I felt a bit anxious. Do I still love group travel? Will I like all the strangers I’m about to spend four days on a boat with? The answer to both questions, I’m pleased to report, was yes. I had an amazing time seeing a new part of the world with a new group of people, and my interest in group travel is officially renewed.
Interested in taking the group travel plunge, but not quite sure how to go about it or what to expect? Here are some key things to keep in mind.
1. It’s important to do research before you book.
As with any travel, it’s important to do your due diligence in making sure the company you’re traveling with is a reputable one. Start with the website: Is there a wealth of information, or does it seem pretty vague? Does it offer details on where exactly your itinerary will take you, what’s included, and how the transportation will work, and more? Look at the company’s social media pages and hashtags, too: Are there lots of positive posts from a variety of people (rather than the same few people) who have gone on the trips? Search the Internet for reviews on different platforms, too. And if you have questions about anything, call the company, talk to a real person, and see how easy it is to get answers. If anything seems fishy to you, or the company and employees seem reticent to be fully transparent with you, look for a new option. And of course, the best way to know if a travel company is legitimate and worthwhile is word of mouth, so ask around to see if any of your friends, friends of friends, or even friends of family members, have gone on trips with any companies they can recommend.
2. You’ll probably need to pack light.
My sailing trip was perhaps an extreme example — minimalist living is kind of a necessity on sailboats like the one we were on, but it’s part of the charm! — but on most group travel trips, there will likely be some spacial limitations you’ll have to contend with. Depending on how many people are riding on a coach bus with you, for example, you may not all be able to bring massive checked suitcases — and even if there’s enough cargo space for that, it wouldn’t exactly be fun to lug your huge bag on and off the bus at every overnight stop you make. Even if your trip involves staying in one place (like a hotel or vacation rental of some sort) the entire time, you may still be relying on shared transportation that can’t accommodate an excess of luggage. You don’t have to play a guessing game, though: Before you leave, request a suggested packing list from the travel company and ask if there are any space limitations you should be aware of.
3. And may need to plan to get a bit cozy with the other travelers.
Before you actually register for a trip, be sure to look into the accommodations. There’s a vast range of options that are available from the different group travel companies, from private rooms in high-end hotel rooms and villas, to shared cabins on boats or several-person bunk rooms in hostels. That’s not to say one is unequivocally better than the others; those shared cabins and rooms can give you a unique chance to bond with the people you’re traveling with and experience things (like a week-long group sailing trip) that wouldn’t be doable space — or price-wise if you weren’t sharing the rooms. But, it’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable with (and what you can afford; group trips are available for a huge range of budgets) and select the group trip that makes the most sense for you. Whatever you ultimately decide, you’re bound to have a blast.
4. There will be some rules to follow.
Yes, you are an adult and yes, you can take care of yourself. But when you sign up for a group trip like this, the company leading that trip has a responsibility to make sure everyone is safe and accounted for. That’s a difficult task with a large group of people, and it’s made even more difficult if the trip leader has to deal with a bunch of people who think they don’t need to follow the rules because they’re responsible. And following your trip leader’s guidelines isn’t just in the best interest of the tour company who certainly doesn’t want to be liable for anything that could go wrong; it’s also in your best interest, particularly if you’re in a foreign country or place you’re not familiar with. Those rules and tips can help keep you safe and ensure you have a fun and worry-free trip.
5. Make sure to bring some extra money, even if you paid up front.
One of the best things about group travel is you usually pay for the entire trip in one fell swoop, so you don’t have to worry about taking your wallet out too often along the way. But every trip is a bit different, so before you book, make sure you know what’s included — like meals and excursions — and what you’ll have to cover on your own. For example, for the Topdeck Ibiza sailing trip, breakfast and lunch are included every full day, but dinners are at the travelers’ discretion; and there are optional excursions, like a kayaking tour, that cost extra. Aside from that, it’s a good idea to bring money for things like taxis (on almost any group trip, you’ll likely have at least a bit of free time to explore on your own), souvenirs, and tips for your trip leader and bus driver (or boat skipper, in my case!). Of course, tips aren’t required, but if you enjoyed your trip and felt like those people played a part in that, it’s always nice to express your gratitude with a tip, if you can.
6. You’ll have to relinquish some control…
Group travel means, well, you’re traveling in a group. So, even if there may be some aspects of the itinerary that you’d ideally switch up (perhaps stops you’d like to add on a group walking tour, for example); it’s important to understand that the itinerary was planned in a certain way for a reason, and by signing up for a group trip, you agreed to that itinerary. In some cases, the schedule may be slightly flexible (like on the sailing trip I was on, when we could choose to spend a bit more or a bit less time in certain swimming stops) and you’ll likely have some free time to explore; but even in those cases, you’ll probably have to make decisions with at least a few other people. Remember: Everyone is trying to have the best trip possible, and if that requires a few compromises on how long you stay in one swimming spot, or what stores you stop in for souvenir shopping, it’ll still be worth it in the end.
7. …But you’ll have very little planning to do.
On the other hand, one of the big bonuses of going on a group trip is you don’t haveto plan much. You make your reservation, pay your share, and show up; and an entire itinerary is planned for you. Though, of course, there are usually some meals and chunks of time to deal with on your own; for the most part you don’t have to go through the often overwhelming process of booking transportation to and from stops, figuring out where to eat for every meal, planning what activities to do and when, navigating a new place safely, and making sure you properly budget for everything. Even if you are someone who typically likes to be in control, it can be unbelievably freeing — and relaxing! — to be free of all those decisions and tasks, and just enjoy your trip.
8. It’s totally fine to go alone.
In fact, in many cases, it’s encouraged and very common. Anjelica, our Topdeck trip leader, actually informed me that the majority of people who go on Topdeck trips do so alone, and make friends along the way. I’ve done it both ways: I went a few group trips around Europe with several friends, a group to Egypt with one good friend, a group trip to Israel not knowing anyone, and this most recent trip to Spain knowing one person only via email. And I have to say, while I had a blast with my friend on the Egypt trip, there’s something incredibly freeing about embarking on an adventure independently, and something incredibly special about a bunch of strangers coming together with the common goal of exploring a new culture and place and seizing each day’s opportunity to soak it all in. Honestly, it’s amazing the type of bond you can form with others in such a short time through an experience like that — kind of, some might say, like summer camp.