I took part in a social experiment to discover what it’s like to join a tour group on my own. The destination didn’t really matter; it was the social aspect I was interested in.
Join me as I head to windy NZ to join a G Adventures tour.
Small-group travel is the perfect fit.
But what’s it like travelling in a small group, on your own? I went along to find out.
With very little research, I quickly found somewhere that suited my timeframe and budget – North Island, NZ.
However, just days before leaving I realised in my haste to book something, it appeared I was heading off on an adventure tour which would be full of 18 to 30-year-olds. Unfortunately, I am old enough to have kids that age!
I arrived and checked into a seedy-looking hotel in Auckland, which was the meeting place for the tour. The room, to my relief, only had two beds and an ensuite. Not exactly luxury, but not exactly back-packer dorm style.
My roommate had already checked in and had left to go exploring before the group meeting.
I could see her suitcase in the corner with the LAX (Los Angeles Airport) bag tag. She’d left a small denim jacket on the bed, along with a hairbrush and large make-up bag. It didn’t take me long to deduce she was a petite, well-groomed, American teenager.
This poor girl was going to be stuck sharing a room with the ‘old woman’ of the group. I could see it now; all the other teens/early 20s would be looking at her with a sympathetic pout.
It was time to go for a wander in the city.
To say I was distracted is an understatement, it’s obvious to me now, when I look back at my photos and realised this was the only one I took.
I remember thinking, I’m a tourist I should take photos.
To this day I still have no idea who this statute is of or why he is significant in Auckland. But this is my first photo as a solo traveller.
The wait was over; it was time to meet the group.
On my return to the hotel, the receptionist pointed me in the direction of the meeting room.
Outside the door, I hesitated, held my breath, closed my eyes, and opened the door. The next few moments seemed to go in slow motion, it felt like I was having one of those out-of-body experiences.
On opening my eyes, the first person I saw was a young bloke in his early 20s, I gave a silent groan as I released my breath. Planting a false smile on my face I walked towards him, trying desperately to give an air of self-confidence.
It may have fooled him.
I introduced myself and asked what I was meant to be doing; my self-confidence was blown.
He told me he was the guide and the group was the other side of the room, behind me, and I was to go over and introduce myself to them.
Just as I started to turn to face the group, again in slow motion, he leaned towards me and sort of whispered,
‘By the way, I’m the youngest person here.’
Which completely threw me, my body was still slowly turning towards the group, but my eyes were still fixed on this young lad, trying to make sense of what he had just said, searching his face for clues; reassurance.
How could he be the youngest? In my mind, they were all going to be 18-year-olds.
The slow-motion stopped and we went back to normal speed. The noise of the group’s chatter hit me, I quickly scanned the group, my eyes darted from person to person.
Then, before taking a step towards them, I leaned back to the young guy and whispered,
‘I think I might be the second youngest!’
He giggled. He was as nervous as I was.
There are no words to describe how relieved I was, these people were my age, some were older, some were younger. I felt like my nightmare had just become a dream; I was going to be okay.
There were 16 in the group, two Americans, six Canadians, two Indians, two Swiss, an Englishman, Irishwoman and Scot (sounds like the start of a joke) and myself.
In the group six of us were travelling alone, I wasn’t quite the big, brave solo traveller I thought I was!
Well, I was, but so were they.
My room-mate was not an American teenager, but rather a 40 something, attractive, stylish, Canadian high school teacher.
She told me she’d been travelling on her own for years, and had only just discovered the small-group style of travelling and admitting she regretted not finding this mode of travel years earlier.
For her as a single female, it was fantastic as she has got to meet some great people and made lifelong friends. She also got to discover places she would struggle to find herself without weeks researching the destinations. Most importantly, it was safe.
She leads a very busy life, running a successful fashion business in addition to her teaching, so she was more than happy to let someone else take the reigns and tell her each day where she needed to be and what she’d be doing.
The chance to switch off and really connect with the people and places suited her perfectly.
I spoke with a 60-year-old Englishman, this type of holiday was not something his wife would enjoy, so he travels alone. He can travel and still keep in close contact with his family back home. He’s happy, his wife is happy too.
It was early days, but so far so good. At this stage, I believed, it was going to be okay.