Planning on jumping aboard a group tour? They’re a fantastic way to see a lot of things with very little hassle or planning and you’re pretty much guaranteed to make some amazing friends and memories you’ll cherish forever. Whether this is your first group tour or your 10th, there are a few things you need to know before you go. Here are my top tips on things you absolutely must know before embarking on a group tour.
If you’ve done a group tour and have some to add, please share them in the comments below! All the photos in this post are from my recent 24-day tour with the amazing guys at Haka Tours. You can see more of my photos on Instagram here.
1. Have some cash at the ready
Before you leave home, get yourself a couple hundred dollars in the local currency. This will save your butt if you arrive overseas for the start of your tour and find that, for some unknown reason, you can’t get any money out!
2. Pack a laundry bag
I recommend packing a laundry and/or delicates bag. This will save your undies and socks going missing in the hostel/local laundry and help you keep a track of what’s clean and what is most definitely not.
3. Put a nice smelly thing in your luggage
Because you’ll be living out of your suitcase for a while, with dirty socks, undies and shoes stuffed inside it, I recommend getting an air-freshener or similar and keeping it in your suitcase. This will keep your clothes smelling fresh and help reduce odours.
4. Bring flip-flops!
I’ve seen the foul pits of some very questionable hostel showers in my time. Don’t be silly, be proactive. Pack some flip-flops and wear them to and from the shower, toilet and while you’re in the shower (if needed).
5. Your own pillow is a great idea
I usually travel with my own pillow anyway, but bringing one on a tour is very important for a few reasons. Firstly, hostel pillows can be awful and very thin and prevent you from getting a good sleep. Most importantly, though, a great pillow will help you get some much-needed sleep on long bus days (especially if you’re hungover).
6. Set a budget for activities and stick to it
Before you set off on your tour, check out what activities are going to be available for you at additional cost. Things like bungy jumping, skydiving etc. Work out a budget before you leave home and make sure you stick to it. Knowing you have the money available to enjoy these activities will make the whole trip more fun and staying within that budget will save you from feeling stressed out when you get home.
7. Set a daily budget for food and stick to it
Similarly, decided what you can afford to spend on food and break this down to a daily budget, then stick to it! For instance, it could be $30 a day. If you spend less on one day, you’ve got more to spend the following day.
8. Split costs with others
There are a lot of costs you can split with your tour-mates. For example, get everyone to chip in $1 and buy a bulk-size laundry liquid/powder for everyone to share. You can also chip in for laundry, with everyone throwing a few pieces and a few dollars in. Another good one is food, do a group meal by buying from the grocery store, cooking at the hostel and dividing costs between the group.
9. Learn how to deal with annoying people
It’s rare, in any social situation, that you meet a large group of people and like every single one of them. There will definitely be at least one person on your tour who annoys you. Be prepared for it mentally and don’t feel bad about simply avoiding them. After all, this is your holiday and you deserve to have a great time.
10. Backpack vs Suitcase
Decide whether you want to go with a backpack or a suitcase. You’ll find your tour group split, some with wheelie bags and others with massive backpacks. Both have pros and cons. I prefer to go with a suitcase, personally.
11. You’re going to get very, very drunk
There will be one night, at least, where you and your tour mates get steaming drunk. It’ll be an amazing time and you’ll have some memories that will last forever! Just make sure you stay safe. Don’t walk off on your own, don’t do anything silly and don’t drink more than you’re capable of handling.
12. Prepare to be patient
Tours are pre-organised and your tour leader is in charge of making sure things happen at certain times. A lot of it is out of your control, so you have to learn to be patient. Just because you want to get up and get going at 7am, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Also, there are a lot of different personalities to contend with, so you have to learn to hold your tongue and be accepting of other people’s differences.
13. Pack smart
Take your time when you’re packing. Make sure you pack clothes that can be used to create a number of different outfits and really go with each other. This isn’t the time to pack things ‘just in case’. Pack only your tried and true favourites.
14. Alone time is essential
Because you’re spending every waking moment, just about, with your tour mates, it can be really important to get some alone time to keep you sane. Pack an iPod and headphones, a great book or just slink away to curl up and write in a journal by yourself.
15. Get a good camera
I’m serious. I’ve done so many tours and not had a decent camera and I really, really regret it. Buy the best camera you can afford to buy and USE IT. You can never have too many photos from a trip away.
16. Don’t be afraid to speak up
If the group is doing something you really don’t want to do, don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself and share that opinion. Most of the time you’ll find there’s at least one other person who feels the same way. You and them can buddy up and go do something different instead. Remember, it’s your holiday too!
17. Make sure you get what you really want out of the trip
Before you go on the trip have a think about what you really want to get out of it and don’t compromise on that. If it’s doing loads of activities, then do that. If it’s catching up on sleep by napping on the bus, do that too! Whatever it is you want to get out of the trip, be it a mental break, heart-pumping fun or just fun memories with new people, make sure you get it. You deserve it.
18. Get some movies on your laptop or tablet
Another great way to get some alone time is to watch movies on your laptop or tablet. This is also a great way to pass time on long boat rides/ferry trips, time spent waiting at hostels and hotels or as a way to avoid watching something you really don’t want to on a communal tv.
19. Invest in a good-quality lock
You should have a suitcase that locks securely or a lock to use on a hostel locker, if needed. There will be times when you have to leave your bag somewhere and may not want to cart your valuables around with you. In these instances, you need to be able to keep your stuff safe!
20. Buy a quick-dry towel
These are a life-saver when you’re on a tour, because you don’t usually stay in one place long enough for your normal towel to dry out. By using a quick dry towel you’ll find it dried and ready to be packed much faster, making your life a lot easier.
21. You’re going to make some amazing new friends
There’s no doubt that tours are amazing ways of making friends you’d never have made otherwise. You meet these people, become great friends very quickly and share amazing, unforgettable experiences with them. So prepare to meet a new bestie! I met one of my all-time best friends on day 1 of a tour and we’ve been super close ever since.
22. Prepare for the post-holiday blues
The post-holiday blues are a real thing. It’s very hard when you’ve been on a tour with these great people, having so much fun and adventure packed into everyday, then suddenly you find it all over. Prepare for this! Have some activities lined up for when you get home or a one or two night getaway for the following weekend, to take the sting out of the adventure being ‘over’. Make sure you stay busy and see your friends often.
Watch: our ‘Road to Phnom Penh’ video
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.