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30 September 2019

what to expect on your first group tour


When I won a place on Unmapped Travel's first ever Sri Lanka's Got Soul tour, my first thought was: "I'll never get a minute to myself." My second thought: "what on earth happens on a group tour?!" Now that I've been and done my first ever, I thought I'd give you some insight of what to expect on your first group tour, so you're more prepared than I was...



You'll be sharing a room with strangers

My tour was maxed out at eight travelers, and one local tour guide - George. The group was primarily female, with the one token male there on the tour with his girlfriend, so it was very relaxed and not at all high maintenance! My biggest worry was sharing a room with someone I didn't know for 12 nights, but as Jen - owner of Unmapped Travel said to me via email: "they won't be strangers for very long", and how true that was.

At each hotel we checked into, we switched up our roommate assignments again so we could all get a chance to get to know each other outside of the hot, hot sun. As I'm pretty upfront about my special sleeping needs, I worked out early on who were the quiet sleepers and who were the snorers, then tried to stick with those who were easier to sleep with when possible. I also had no concerns pulling out my ear plugs and mask while unpacking and making a point of "just in case!" each time. No one cared. At all. Plus, we never really hung out in our rooms, we were always on the go, so it was never, ever an issue.


There will be so many different characters

As someone who's used to travelling with close friends and family, and having never been on a solo tour in my own country let alone a foreign one, I was super nervous about what - and who - to expect on the trip. Especially when I'd looked at the itinerary and seen the types of activities we'd be doing: hiking and cycling and climbing are just not activities I'd usually choose to do on a holiday, and I figured if others had chosen to take this tour themselves, then they must definitely be into adventure holidays. Reader, let me tell you that that could not have been further from the truth. On my tour, there was such a mixed bag of characters, ability and expertise that I was never alone in being nervous to try something - and even if I was, it was totally understood and I never felt any pressure to do anything I didn't want to do (other than from myself, obviously, because who wins a holiday and then takes advantage of it?!).



There's a lot of bus time

We had very little down time, so that we did have, we mainly kept quiet. In the bus between adventures or sat by the pool, there was lots of reading or writing, some meditation and a lot of napping. It was simply not the assault on the anxiety that I was expecting from no me-time in two weeks, because we were all having the same thoughts as each other, no doubt.

We did a lotttt of travelling over the 13 day adventure, so there was a lot of time spent on the bus. I suffer from car sickness, so while others were blissfully reading, writing or practicing self-care (sleeping), i did a lot of staring out of the window. Not exactly a bad thing, but also a very lonely existence when you want to share your observations with others, and the others are.. not interested.




And not a lot of hotel time

Because of the nature of the itinerary - where our days were go-go-go and we had lots planned in every day of the tour, we didn't get a lot of time to relax and enjoy the beautiful boutique hotels we were staying in. These hotels were all four and five star accommodation, but in some cases we were arriving at sunset and leaving just after sunrise, which was a shame as we didn't get to see the full range of the hotels' offerings. There were a couple of great places we stayed at where we were there two or more nights, which meant we could get comfy and take in the hotel facilities (spa, pools, spa..), and those nights felt really special after rushing between the other places.


Not everything is included

About 90% of the trip was covered by the tour price, with things such as drinks at the accommodation, tipping and bottles of water not included. There were a few days on the road where we stopped for lunch and these lunches weren't included, so it was sort of like an "eat now or forever hold your peace" situation, whereby we might not have had the chance to eat again until dinner time, so you tended to just eat when you were told to. I realistically ate far too much because of that, as intuitive eating went out the window the minute I was introduced to the strict itinerary that didn't really allow for "grabbing a bite" when the time came.




You won't love it all, and that's ok

Not everything on the itinerary was stuff I would usually do on holiday. Like, hiking. There were three scheduled in, and after the first one, I knew I wanted to sit the other two out. I felt great when it was over, but I hated the activity itself and I would rather just.. not, you know? So when the other two were planned, I chose to do alternate activities; one of the mornings, I slept in. It was a very early start and I was very jet lagged still. The other time, another of the tour gals wanted to sit out too so we wandered around the local town for a bit instead. It was an unscheduled alternative, but it was doable and preferable in my case!




You'll meet some great people

I was one of the youngest on the trip, which was awesome as I would have hated a super eager party group. Unmapped is a tour company for travelers in their 30s and 40s, and really, it was such a good mix of ages that we all just felt the same age - there was no one holding anyone back or anyone racing on, just a very excellent group of people all wanting a shared adventure in Sri Lanka.

While not everyone on the tour was someone I would usually choose to go on holiday with (I guess sometimes people go on these sorts of trips because they themselves have no-one else to go to these places with, right?), it was actually so beneficial to spend some time with people outside of my bubble. It made me see things differently, understand other perspectives from my own, and made me realise how unintentionally insular some of my opinions are (and sometimes, realise how unintentionally insular other people's opinions are!). Hanging out with new people is always a good way to open your eyes to new horizons, so it was genuinely a really fantastic experience!

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