The good and bad of travelling in a tour group with anxiety
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The desire to travel is nothing out of the ordinary. Yet, while many people share a dream of exploring the world, travelling is not the same for everyone. People’s experiences can differ for a wide range of reasons including their age, gender, confidence, mental health, nationality, religion, and economic situation.
As a young woman with anxiety who has recently travelled solo, I admit that for all my dreams of travelling the world, I was initially apprehensive about straying too far out of my comfort zone. At the same time, I yearned for the challenge, feeling angry at myself for letting other people’s opinions of certain countries colour my own. Pulled between the need to be safe and sensible and my desire to travel to places neither I nor my family had been to before, I decided travelling with a tour group would be the best option.
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There will be people out there who scoff at this decision, pointing out the restrictions travelling with a tour involves or criticising my choice to go with a safe option rather than really get out and explore on my own. However, as a solo traveller who has never travelled outside of Europe without my family, I am a relatively inexperienced traveller. As such, I needed to take things at my own pace and push myself within reason.
Some people are able to jump in the deep end by travelling to countries vastly different to their own without any hesitation. Personally, although I am open to new experiences, my confidence before the trip was not at a place where I would feel comfortable travelling completely on my own. Travelling with a tour group seemed to me as the best of both worlds: a way to meet other travellers while still having the option to spend time exploring places on my own.
After some research, I chose to travel with G Adventures on two tours that would take me from Mexico to Costa Rica over a period of 32 days. It is always difficult to judge something from how it looks online, especially when you have no experience with the company. However, I liked most of what they advertised, especially the amount of free time it seemed travellers would be given.
One benefit of travelling with a tour group is the social aspect. It was pleasant to have other people around me, especially since I was travelling in the off-season meaning there were fewer young people backpacking.
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It was also a relief to be able to sit back and relax while our guides took care of the nitty-gritty details such as transport arrangements and hotel bookings. The guides were experienced and informed about each destination so they let us know about opportunities and activities which we might have otherwise missed. Unsurprisingly, being accompanied by guides who spoke the local language was also a huge aid, although it is always nice to try to learn some of the languages before departure.
While I largely enjoyed my trip, travelling with a tour group comes with its own set of problems. As an introvert, I am prone to tiring after a prolonged period surrounded by other people. Being mindful of your personality and triggers for anxiety should be a big factor in deciding which tour to choose. While tours are a great way to see many sights in a short period of time, longer tours like mine can be exhausting.
Researching your tour extensively before booking is also essential to finding a compatible tour where you can manage your anxiety. Naturally, organised trips take away your complete freedom to rest and recuperate, making it more difficult to check-in with your mental health. Travellers who prefer to tick activities off a bucket list or have more control over the pace, accommodations, and knowledge about the transport plans may struggle with organised travel.
Navigating new places with a tour group is like having a safety net, and this sense of security was particularly important to me. It gave me the confidence to go out on my own and explore without fear because I knew there was someone who could help me if something went wrong or who would notice if I did not arrive home safely. Had I travelled on my own, there would have been the temptation to stay indoors and I suspect I would not have felt comfortable enough to wander around some of the places we visited on my own.
Of course, the anxieties and difficulties are different for every person with an anxiety disorder. However, in my experience, travelling with a tour group was a great way to dip my toes in the water while I built up my confidence.
After nearly five weeks travelling through Central America, I returned to the UK energised by my experiences and keen to travel more. While there are still some countries I will visit (at least partly) as part of a tour, I am also keen to do some travel in the near future completely on my own, and I look forward to learning from these experiences as well.