Group travel

The glazed ceramic tiles of the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al Sakhra) in Jerusalem work together to form beautiful patterns of color and shape.

  Members of our 2013 study tour to Turkey play hide and seek among the restored columns of Laodikea. Photo by Bible Land Explorer Adam Chambers.

Members of our 2013 study tour to Turkey play hide and seek among the restored columns of Laodikea. Photo by Bible Land Explorer Adam Chambers.

Traveling abroad with a group has perks. Four stand out in my mind.

First, when you sign on with a quality company for a group excursion you can relax and enjoy the ride. The headaches of transport, ticketing, hotel check-in, meals, site-visits, and literally thousands of other details are efficiently handled by others. There is no need to worry about whether there will be a room in the hotel where you are going or if you can/can't communicate with the locals or if there is a connecting bus or taxi to get you to that remote site you plan to visit. These arrangements are handled not just by others, but by entire teams of others. Lose your passport? Become ill? Have a special need? Miss your flight? If you are solo and out of the country, these kinds of emergencies can quickly escalate to catastrophic levels. If you are with a group, however, travel specialists are only a phone call away (or maybe even staying in your hotel with you!). These folk solve problems for a living. And believe me, they've seen it all! Having this kind of support system gives peace of mind to you and your loved ones. Group travel is the closest thing to worry-free travel.

  Professionals like Maro with Kandoo Adventures provide a safety net if you need it.

Professionals like Maro with Kandoo Adventures provide a safety net if you need it.

A second advantage to group travel is the savings. This may seem counter-intuitive, given the support team I have just described, but it is true. Traveling abroad on your own can be much more expensive than traveling with a group. On your own, taking false trails, trying to decipher bus schedules, and fussing with poor directions whittles away precious time. Moving with a guided group means you reach your destination efficiently and with far less stress. What's more, the level of accommodations is higher with a group, sometimes significantly higher.

  You never quite know what you are getting into when you travel solo! Here I am adventuring near the Syrian-Jordanian border back in 1986.

You never quite know what you are getting into when you travel solo! Here I am adventuring near the Syrian-Jordanian border back in 1986.

A primary reason for this lies in the numbers. Airlines discount the ticket cost for groups of ten or more. A travel company may send hundreds (or even thousands) of passengers to one corner of the world in a single year. The quantity of travelers moving along a predetermined course generates leverage that reduces hotel and restaurant prices and access to other ticketed venues. As one who regularly wanders off the beaten path (and sometimes off the grid!), you can imagine the hotels/hostels I find myself in. When I go with a group, however, my two-star lodging leaps to a five. Needless to say, it is a welcome upgrade.

  The most dangerous aspect to group travel may be the buffet line!

The most dangerous aspect to group travel may be the buffet line!

A third perk of group travel concerns security. I have written elsewhere on issues of group security and personal security (see links here and here). Reducing these ideas to a seed produces this thought: traveling in a group minimizes risk exposure and distributes the security task among many "eyes and ears." This can be particularly useful when moving in and out of crowds, attending large venue experiences, or tackling the mystery of public transport systems. "You watch my back; I'll watch yours" may sound tribal, but the practice has proved its worth in the play of human society over and over again.

One other point regarding security has to do with the marketplace. Some unscrupulous vendors, taxi-drivers. and restaurateurs target solo travelers. In the fog of exhaustion, foreign language, and unfamiliar money systems, inexperienced pilgrims become easy pickins' for a rip-off. A guide with local experience cannot not remove every risk, but s/he can certainly help. 

  Our Fam Trip last month developed some good chemistry.

Our Fam Trip last month developed some good chemistry.

 A fourth and final perk to traveling with a group is captured by a single word: camaraderie. International travel binds people together and creates the fellowship of experience. Leading groups abroad several times a year gives me opportunity to marvel at how folks come together in a short time. In the process (and sometimes in the challenge) of group travel they discover much about each other and even something about themselves. What starts as a group of strangers can morph into a family. Not surprisingly, some of these relationships last a lifetime.

In this context, the oft-quoted words of Tim Cahill float to the surface, “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” 

  Our 2017 Johnson University group was stellar. The group was diverse, composed of graduate students, undergraduate students, and ministry residents. Despite these differences, they were a model of cooperative energy.

Our 2017 Johnson University group was stellar. The group was diverse, composed of graduate students, undergraduate students, and ministry residents. Despite these differences, they were a model of cooperative energy.

Convenience, cost, security, and camaraderie make group travel attractive. Other items could be added to this list. 

Naturally, there are advantages to solo travel as well. But that will be a topic for another day.