In March, I embarked on my first group tour experience. I decided to see what the hype was all about and booked a spot on Nomadness Travel Tribe’s Awe in India trip. Visiting India had long been on my travel list, so I knew I had to join in when they re-opened their signature Holi trip.
Unfortunately, my experience was not quite as amazing as I had envisioned. Traveling in India was more difficult than I expected, a fact that was amplified by the increasing panic around COVID-19. Along the way, I learned some valuable lessons about group travel. Read these Dos and Don’ts before booking a group tour.
Do read the entire itinerary
Before booking your tour, make sure you read the complete itinerary. It should list out the activities scheduled for each day of the trip. It’s your first indicator of the trip’s pace and focus. Will it be jam-packed, filled with visits to museums and monuments, or will there be ample free time for exploring on your own? Based on the itinerary, pace, and focus, you can decide if it’s a good fit for your interests and how you like travel.
Don’t hesitate to communicate
Chances are you’ll have some questions about your trip, even if the company has provided the most detailed of itineraries. If something is unclear, don’t hesitate to ask them to clarify. If you need special accommodations, be sure to let them know in advance.
One of the great parts of the trip I went on was the ease of communicating with the organizers. They set up a Facebook and Whatsapp group prior to departure. It was a cool way to meet my fellow travelers, ask questions about the visa process, and get insight into our destination.
Do your own research
One of the biggest perks of group tours is the amount of time you save on researching and planning your own itinerary. This doesn’t mean, however, you shouldn’t do some reading up on the destination on your own.
I was glad I had done research prior to my arrival in India. It prepared me for some of the challenges of navigating this diverse country, from the crowds to the staring. I was also able to pick out attractions I wanted to see in my free time, in advance, which saved me time on the ground.
I’d also highly recommend doing some research on Indian food; each region has its own specialties. Many menus do not have English translations, so this will help you know the contents of the dish you’re ordering.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Find out in advance what’s included in your tour package to avoid surprises on your trip. I learned this hard way. I made the assumption that tours would be included and restaurant recommendations compiled, only to find out upon arrival this was not the case.
Don’t be afraid to ask the tour company to confirm what exactly is included in the price, from meals to museum entrance fees.
Do be willing to go outside your comfort zone
Experiencing a new culture is a core reason why people travel. This may involve getting uncomfortable as you learn and participate in practices that differ from your own, but they will no doubt make your travel experience richer and more memorable.
Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, had long interested me thanks to the beautiful colors. This joyous celebration marks the beginning of spring and involves putting colored powder on other participants’ faces. As an introvert and strong believer in personal space, I knew this festival, and really India as a whole, would would require me to step way outside my comfort zone.
I initially cringed inwardly as strangers approached me and wiped colors on my face. Seeing their smiles as they greeted me with “Happy Holi!” soon helped me lower my walls and enjoy the celebration.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries
On the flip side, setting boundaries is essential in all facets of life, including while traveling. We all know our limits and how far we’re willing to push past them. Some experiences are too far beyond your comfort zone and that’s okay.
I’m not a fan of folks staring at me and I still don’t understand the impulse to take photos of black travelers. As such, I declined a number of requests from locals to take photos with them. Many of my fellow travelers were comfortable taking photos with local residents and that’s fine to. That’s the beauty of boundaries; they vary from person to person. No one is right or wrong as long as their boundaries work for them.
Don’t feel bad for taking a break
India is a lot. It’s sensory overload, from the breath-taking architecture and spicy foods to the throngs of people and toots of car horns. As a black traveler, I had the added layer of curiosity about my skin and hair from the Indians I interacted with.
It’s okay to take a break from all the culture you’re soaking up and rest. This trip taught me it’s alright to eat a meal that you can buy at home or watch your favorite show on Netflix. This doesn’t make you a bad traveler. You’re simply recharging so you can take on the next adventure.
Planning your own trip to India? Check out my post for the top things to do in Jaipur and Agra, plus 1 spot you can skip.