Not sure about the idea of group travel? Neither was I.
I've always been a DIY kind of traveller, I like to research, figure out what I want to see and then plan how I will get around, be that driving, flying, overnight buses or trains. I want a trip be be my own, to wake up each morning and choose what to do. To me that's a huge part of the adventure so when I was recommended to try a tour you can imagine I was quite apprehensive.
I was planning on going to East Africa alone and wanted to cover a lot of ground so i agreed to look into the idea. After a bit of research I found a tour that covered what I wanted to see and more and it wasn't too pricey. But still, I wasn't totally convinced. I kept wondering would I end up in overly touristy parts? Would there be 100 other people everywhere we stopped? Would I be the oldest person on this bus?!
But despite all those nagging thoughts I figured the "try anything once" motto should go for the safe options as well as the more risky choices I usually make off the back of this mantra so I booked to leave Christmas Day (a great excuse for leaving before the washing up!)
I left my friends after Christmas dinner to head to the airport, still nervous to do my first ever trip with a bunch of strangers. I arrived in Nairobi and had just a half day to spare before meeting the crew. A bit jet lagged I checked into the hotel where I bumped into a few others doing my tour. We started chatting and I was relieved. They seemed normal - not sure what I was expecting really! I spent the day exploring Nairobi with them before our evening meeting where I'd meet the remaining 17 people that I was going to be spending the next month with.
It was a real mix; different ages, nationalities, there were couples, groups, friends and then a few of us that came it alone. This was my first surprise, I'd expected most people would be solo but we were the minority on this trip. I wondered whether those that had come with others would integrate or just keep to themselves - there I was questioning my decision again! It didn't take long for that question to be answered, after the meeting an Aussie-German duo invited me and another solo to join them for dinner and this was just the start of the new friendships that were built over the next month. My room/tent mate arrived later, a Swiss girl that had done a few of these trips before and had the same sense of adventure and dirty sense of humour as me, things were looking good!
Spending a month together, with long bus journeys and a few nights on the beers, we all got to know each other pretty well! It seemed I had been worrying over nothing on the people front. Despite being from all different backgrounds we all loved travel and adventure and I'm pleased to say that these like minded people have become good friends. Some of us caught up again just a month after our trip, coming from various cities across Australia. Travel truly does bring out the best in people and was lucky enough to meet some of the best!
In terms of the trip itself I managed to see and do more than I probably would have alone. We stayed in some incredible locations with wildlife roaming all around us plus we had enough free time to do what we wanted. In that month we camped in the middle of the Serengeti, went on countless safaris, dove in Zanzibar archipelago, went parasailing, shopping, rafting even flew in a microlite over Victoria Falls. And the kicker was we got to do all this without the hassle or organising transport which given the border crossings in Africa and the long distances covered was a godsend.
When my tour ended and I was alone in Botswana I looked back at my journey with no regrets. I'd experienced some incredible things and made beautiful friends along the way.
So for anyone unsure about group travel I'd say give it a go, especially in countries where it's more difficult to get around on your own. You simply need to do the research to find a tour that includes the places you want to go and the things you want to see and do. Plus you can always combine a tour with a bit of solo travel either end if there's something missing or you just want to spend a bit more time somewhere.