Thinking about joining a group travel adventure? An expert guide can help you lose the crowds without losing your mind.
Like many men, I’ve always considered myself to be an intrepid traveler, but, with retrospect, there are many times my confidence was, in fact, overconfidence.
From an early age I was always more interested in adventurous and remote places. While others fantasized about beaches in Spain, I was more interested in how I could get to Tristan da Cunha or the Pitcairn Islands. My idol was Michael Palin and I believed I’d one day I’d be able to imitate his effortless ability to acclimate to whatever travel threw at him.
While I have managed to travel to some pretty exotic destinations from tiny Pacific Islands to the frozen wilds of Greenland, I have belatedly come to realize that when I travel I’m more reminiscent of Palin’s Monty Python days than his travel documentaries.
There are many times when my confidence was, in fact, overconfidence
In the same way that men can be famously reluctant to consult locals when they need directions, for some the idea of group travel seems to be an affront to our ego. Why would we need help from someone who knows the area and its customs like the back of their hand when we can navigate entirely based on our own gut instinct?
Similarly, why have someone with language skills and cultural sensitivity navigate your relationships with locals when you can fall back on the ever-popular mixture of your GCSE Spanish (that has lain dormant for two decades) and speaking very loudly while gesturing like a bee has become trapped in your t-shirt?
Here are five times I could have saved an enormous amount of embarrassment by traveling in a group led by someone who actually knows what they are doing…
Embracing the local culture a little too hard
In Micronesia, the local tipple is sakau – a thick, brown substance made from hibiscus root which has a sedative effect, a lot like Fijian kava. As a visitor I was invited to a traditional ceremony where we took it in turns to drink sakau and, in my case, to mask the fact it tasted like antifreeze mixed with mud. The problem was that my acting was so good that my hosts felt they should keep plying me with the drink, even as my tongue stopped working. Eventually, one of the locals took pity on me and invited me to leave but it was only upon attempting to stand that I realized my legs no longer worked. Luckily my hotel was only a five-minute crawl away, with the unmistakable sound of distant laughter as my soundtrack.
Money for nothing
Doing math has never been my strong suit, but calculations while suffering from extreme jetlag is a recipe for disaster. After traveling around South-East Asia on a shoestring budget, I was unexpectedly stranded in Dubai by a canceled flight and the airline put me up in a hotel I could in no way afford otherwise. Exhausted and with no grasp of the local currency, I presented the porter who had lugged my bag through the lobby with what I believed to be a reasonable tip of 50 dirhams. It turned out that in my bleary-eyed state I’d handed over a 500 dirham note, which converts to roughly £100. By the time I realized the mistake he was long gone and so was the last of my travel budget. At least I did get very attentive service for the rest of my stay.
A mountain to climb
In retrospect, the clue was in the name, but when my friend and I set out for a gentle hike in Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand, we probably shouldn’t have chosen Avalanche Peak. We were hopelessly unprepared for a trek that we’d later learn was advised for “experienced and well-equipped walkers”. I was wearing slip-on trainers and neither of us had thought to bring a waterproof coat, which became an issue when the sky suddenly changed from blue skies to apocalyptic storm clouds.
Like all great explorers, we wouldn’t let that deter us and we pushed on, slipping and cursing every few steps, until the light began to fail, and we had the dawning realization we had to find our way back downhill and in the driving rain. After three hours of agonizingly inching downwards in almost complete darkness, soaked to the skin, we finally made it to our hostel in time to bump into the rescue party that had assembled to go and save us.
Pulled over in Moldova
In many countries, there’s an unspoken rule that an encounter with a police officer will end with the payment of a small bribe. I learned this rule the hard way. Just hours into my first spell in Moldova, I was pulled over by traffic police who tried to gently convey what was expected of me. Sadly, my language skills were so deficient I missed their not-so-subtle cues for payment and instead attempted to drive off, very nearly resulting in an arrest that could have been avoided for the princely sum of 100 Lei (£4).
One-way ticket to chaos
When I’m driving, I put 100% of my trust in Google Maps. I have the kind of faith in Google Maps that some people have in their religion. Or should I say *had* that kind of faith before an ill-fated trip to Sicily. As I proceeded down an incredibly narrow one-way street in Palermo, centimeters wider than the car itself, I started to wonder whether this was in fact the way to my hotel but there was certainly no going back.
My relief at reaching the end of the road turned to horror as I realized that I had driven directly into a street market, with covered stalls in every direction and angry Italians diving for cover. Sadly, Google Maps goes very quiet when it comes to taking responsibility for felling stands of olives. On the bright side, I did get a great crash course in colloquial Italian.
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