My family slowly disappeared as the barriers closed behind me. They’d waved me off, and now they were gone. It was just me. Well, me and the cheerful gentleman patting me down at security. It was actually happening and there was no going back. For the next two weeks, I would be on a different continent without any familiar faces…
As I settled into my flight to Marrakech, all of those scenarios that travellers dread flooded into my mind like a rampant tsunami of paranoia. What if I lose my passport? What on earth will I do if I get seriously ill? What if, what if. I realised how much I take it for granted when I travel with friends and family; how I have a safety net without even realising it. But now, that safety net was gone. If there was a problem, I would have only me, myself and I to deal with it. Never in my life have I felt excitement like it.
I had been toying with the prospect of my first solo trip for a long time. But it was one of those things that I would always do one day. The moment of slapping a date on the calendar and booking a flight never came. I suppose the ‘what ifs’ were always there stopping me from going all the way and making the frightening commitment.
I entered a competition. The prize was a week-long tour in Morocco, starting in Marrakech and doing a broad sweep through the Atlas Mountains, into the desert, across to Agadir, up to Essaouira and back into Marrakech again. If you are like me, you will enter scores upon scores of travel competitions. If you are like me, you never expect to win. When I got the email congratulating me for winning, my initial response was to strike the air with a fist of excitement. Then it dawned on me: this was a tour for one.
The tour would last for a week and I would be travelling with people I’d never even met before. However, while I knew that I would essentially be travelling solo, I would not be alone. The tour began on a sizzling Moroccan evening in a hotel just outside Marrakech’s medina. A group of thirty like-minded travellers of a similar age huddled in the lobby for the welcome meeting. I’d never met any of these people before, but for the next week, they’d be my companions as we travelled around Morocco. Our guide, Abdoul, assured us “you don’t know each other now, but by the end of the tour, you’ll all be best friends. Trust me, I’ve seen this so many times.”
I don’t know how many of us truly believed him then, but how right he was. I’ve read the stories of other travellers who have been on tours who use the term ‘tour family’ to describe their peers. I didn’t appreciate how accurate a term that is until my Morocco trip.
You spend every moment with the people in your group and you have the privilege of seeing and experiencing so many incredible things, sharing it with them every step of the way. This naturally makes you a close group. What’s more, the chances are you’ll all have something in common from the word go: a love of travel. If you are stuck for a conversation starter at the beginning of the tour (you won’t need them past the first day as you’ll quickly meet everyone), just ask someone where they have been or where they are going. It works every time.
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The end of the tour was naturally the worst part. Not only had the amazing adventure come to an all-too hasty conclusion, but we had to say goodbye to our newly-made friends. We’d all become connected on social media, but that didn’t take away from the disappointment of having to say goodbye.
You learn where fellow travel-lovers have been and where they are going, picking up tips and ideas along the way. Tours offer the perfect chance to interact with people who you’d never meet in your everyday life, but who you share so much in common with. Not only do you experience all kinds of adventures which give you riveting stories to tell, but these stories and memories are made even richer by the people you shared them with.
As the barrier closed at the airport, I never thought that I’d be sad to leave a group of then-strangers a week later. That’s the beauty of a tour. It allows you to travel solo without being alone. I know for a fact that had I travelled with a friend or family member, I never would have involved myself in the group like I did. The solo aspect allowed me to open up to the group and the experiences; able to get the most out of it.
If you are looking to take your first solo trip but can never find a way to take that plunge, consider booking yourself onto a tour. You will get the thrills of travelling out of your comfort zone without the safety-net of anyone or anything you know, yet you have the security and company of the group. My first solo trip showed me that I can do it, and I can travel alone. All of those initial questions and ‘what if’s’ have since faded into non-existence. The only question I find myself asking now, is ‘where next?’
Have you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone by travelling solo? Have you ended your trip with a new travel family? Share you stories with us here and you could see your work published on six-two…