After leading hundreds of gay group tours, I can tell you that a big part of the success and enjoyment of a trip depends on the individuals who take the trip. From the perspective of a group leader, I have a lot of opinions and ideas about this. Recently, I attended an invite-only trip to Dubai for travel providers, organized by the Dubai board of tourism, and I was able to experience this from a different perspective: that of a group member. There were 200 of us, and while one might assume that those in the travel industry would be perfectly behaved, this wasn’t always the case. The experience confirmed what I have long suspected: really good people can at times behave quite unconsciously, and on the flip-side, great travelers can prove to be truly wonderful ambassadors. The following is a list of FIFTEEN TIPS to help you to be an excellent group traveler.
1. Be on time for Group Events. This simple thing is perhaps one of the most important if you want to stay in good standing with your fellow group members. I have noticed that it is often the same individual(s) who keep(s) people waiting. We all know those people who are always late, and when it’s consistent, it means one thing: they believe their time is more important than that of others. On a trip, where every second is precious vacation time, if you continuously are the one making people wait, this will only start making you look like an entitled, selfish brat. Let’s put a face to entitled selfish brats: Nellie Oleson. Did anyone like her? No, she was the bad “guy”.
2. Go with the Flow. No matter how well a group trip is organized, there will always be unforeseeable obstacles or opportunities. The key is to go with the flow and be open to changes in plans. Oftentimes, the change can be better than the original. However, if you go against what is, all you do is frustrate yourself and everyone around you.
3. Make an Effort. Don't always be the one waiting for other people to approach you. Instead, reach out to others in the group. Learn about them, and be helpful where possible. For Instance, if you know that one of them collects cuff-links, and while touring the city you see a shop that has some great ones, let them know. It can be so easy to make others happy.
4. Engage. Ask questions of the tour guide. Interact with local people. However, ask questions about things you find interesting and that you want to know more about, not questions just aimed at making yourself look smart or questions aimed at filling the time. I heard a couple of questions like these asked while I was in Dubai, and it just made the person look phony.
5. Remember the Golden Rule. We learned this when we were in kindergarten. Simply treat others as you want to be treated. And, if you wake up a little grouchy, recognize it and be cognizant of this as you interact with others.
6. Don’t Take Yourself or Anyone else too Seriously. Travel can be a time for going beyond your comfort zone, experimenting with new things, and just having some zany fun. Leave judgments behind, and make this a time for celebrating “newness” and creativity in all its forms. This alone will transform your experience.
7. Be Prepared. If you’re the guy who always has the antibacterial gel, sunblock, and protein bar, you will be an instant hit.
8. Manage Expectations. If you go on a trip, expecting the moon and then waiting for it to be delivered on your doorstep, you are just going to be disappointed, which is easily apparent to others.
9. Look on the Bright Side. No one likes to be around a Debby Downer. If you are open for anything, and joyfully see possibility in a variety of situations, it will transform how others see you, and perhaps how you will see yourself.
10. Be a Class Act. We all have that friend who doesn’t have a filter (and if you don’t, it might be because it’s you). Especially as you travel to different countries and are immersed in different cultures, sensitivity and awareness becomes even more important. If you are culturally insensitive, it will certainly reflect on the entire group.
11. Live in the Now: Being “present” is all the buzz lately, and for a very good reason. Especially while traveling, things can happen that can throw you off. I remember one time when I was in Cuba, and our flight back home was delayed six hours, and I started getting really frustrated. Then I stopped myself, and I realized that in that very moment, in that second I had everything that I needed. I had a great book that I was really into, the chair I was sitting in was really comfortable, and I had friends around me who are also reading and talking and laughing. Suddenly realized that in that moment all was good.
12. Don’t Try to Control Everything. Speaking from my experience at Zoom Vacations, something that I have noticed and believe with every fiber of my being; the people who just relax and let us do what we do best are the ones who have the best experience.
13. Silence your Inner Critic. I have been on trips with friends (once and not ever again) who were so critical about everything that we were doing that it just sucked the life out of the trip. No hotel room could be clean enough, no meal fresh enough, and no tour guide spoke the Queen’s English. Juxtapose that with the fair traveler who marvels at the high thread count of the sheets, the unwavering kindness of the front office staff, the ability of our tour guide to so eloquently navigate between two languages, etc. When you travel with people like this, you will notice that good things will keep happening: you may get an unexpected room upgrade, space opens on a crowded bus, yes they CAN fit you in at that crowded restaurant. I have seen it happen too often to not believe in the power of positive energy.
14. Explore your Inner Foodie. Be the person who says, “I’ve never had that, I’ll try it” versus “that looks weird, get it away”. Picky eaters are such a challenge on a group tour. Along this note, if you have a dietary restriction, such as being gluten free, own it and discretely address it. If you make a big deal out of it at every meal, it will only make others feel guilty or worse, heavily annoyed. I was on a trip with other travel planners to Guatemala, and a woman was allergic to cilantro, and it was such an issue that the whole tour would come to a screeching halt at every meal, while we sorted out the issue. Literally, when I look back on that trip, I remember the beauty of the Ruins of Tikal, charming Antiqua, sailing on Lake Atitlan, and the fact that this woman was allergic to cilantro. Contrast this with the Zoom Vacations Peru tour I led, and my friend Kendra joined me as my roommate. It wasn’t until one of the last days of the trip that I learned she was gluten free. She hadn’t indicated it on any forms. I asked her why she hadn’t told me, and I scolded myself for not noticing. She told me it was her issue, and she really didn’t want to call attention to it in front of the group, because that would just be annoying. Instead, she just discretely double-checked with waiters to verify her meals were gluten-free.
15. Surprise Yourself. Eat that food you’ve always sworn off! Step up to the ledge, count to three, and jump! Do everything you wouldn’t at home. Let yourself be surprised by your innate sense of adventure. Traveling is the most opportune time to learn more about who you are, so explore that persona!