Travelling with strangers

The last time I went travelling with a group of people – not family or close friends – was during my post graduation days when a bunch of classmates went to Goa. I remember being superbly confused with the proceedings – there was a lot of fun, food and alcohol with a healthy dash of drama and some major ‘clique’-ing. ‘So very high school’ was my sister’s comment when I regaled her with all things Goa.

Travelling with a group of strangers can be a challenge for everyone involved and a learning experience too. Depending on the kind of people you’ve been thrown in with, you might forge friendships for life or have your patience tested by a self-centred travelling duo.

Fortune smiled upon me when I booked my trip to the Scottish Highlands with a group that was pretty easy going, most keeping to themselves and only a few hiccups here and there. Time to share what I learned from the three day trip that could help the next time you plan a group travel.

Deodorant please!
First things first, you are with a group of strangers and will be cooped up in a closed vehicle for a few hours. So please make sure you smell good. No one enjoys being closed in a stench-filled vehicle. Case in point, that breath taking moment in an airplane when someone seated near you passes gas. Also, no stinky socks and shoes please. Do sniff tests if needed before you reuse your socks. Basically, be hygienic.

Don’t hog seats
Be it a bus, car or van, there will be limited number of window seats. So be a sweetheart and don’t stake a claim on any seat. The tour company I chose for my trip to the Scottish Highlands uses a 16-seater van. Being a solo traveller, I found myself in one of the single seats. While I was willing to give up my seat, those sitting in the two seaters refused to move around. And that created a dissent on the first day itself with those on the single seats grumbling over the ‘lack of cooperation’ and ‘how do we click photos’.

Photography manners
Be it a lone passenger, a couple or a group, everyone would like a photograph of themselves in the perfect surrounding. Volunteer! And don’t be shy requesting people to click a photograph of you. You can also ask for a group photograph for keepsake but don’t put it up on social media without seeking permission.

Considerate and patient
Unless it’s a group of friends and/or family, the tour group will comprise people from different walks of life, diverse cultures and distinct personalities. Don’t expect to like everyone or be liked. Have zero expectations when you meet these travel mates; you must mingle but be sensitive while you do so – leave alone those who don’t seem keen. And for those who welcome you be considerate about the time you spend with them. Don’t intrude their personal space. Be patient with others – some may be battling language barriers, others might be facing physical challenges and some others may be introverts. They will test your patience but do not lose your temper and blurt out words that could create disharmony. Some things are best left unsaid.

Lend a helping hand
The others in your group are not your concern. True. But if you look out for each other and lend an occasional helping hand, there will be fewer chances of mishaps. It’s always nice to know that someone is watching out for you. Take for instance the couple from Philadelphia, United States, who decided to be my guardians during the Scottish trip. Non intrusive yet watchful, they made sure I was not alone and would always look back to see whether I was safe in my seat before the driver took off. And it’s because of them that I have a few photographers of myself too. Go ahead and make someone else’s trip special.

Respect time
On the way back to the Lowlands, our tour driver made a scheduled stop at the Eilean Donan Castle with strict instructions to be back by a fixed time. This was to ensure that we could attend the whisky and chocolate tasting at Dalwhinnie distillery and still reach Edinburgh before peak traffic time. However, two ladies made the lot of us wait for nearly 30 minutes – seems they ‘forgot’ what time they were to return to the bus and were busy clicking photographs and browsing through the souvenir shop. This delay led to high tempers and some harsh but truthful words. Moral of the story: be mindful of sticking to time. You don’t want to be the one that keeps everybody waiting or the one at the receiving end of the glares.

Stay alert, be prepared
Most tour companies will send a list of instructions before you embark on the trip. This will likely include your itinerary, a list of documents you may need to carry, health and safety notes, along with some rules set by the company to ensure a safe and comfortable trip. Do read them carefully and take time to pack, especially your medicines and documents. There may even be clothing suggestions that you should adhere to.

Some ‘me’ time
Ingrained courtesy will often see your travel partners invite you for a meal or some drinks with them. It’s absolutely fine to decline and just enjoy some time alone. I was travelling solo but with a group. At the end of the day, I did feel the need to step away from the group dynamics which I did. This allowed me some time to refresh and be in my element when I met the group the next day.

Voice modulator on, please
Be it the aeroplane or a bus, voice carries. Talk softly when on the phone or if you’ve struck up a conversation with a travel mate. Not everyone is interested in hearing about your exploits or vice versa. If a third person is being too loud, then grab a minute alone with them and request they lower their voice. Chances are, they have been clueless and will appreciate you giving them a warning about the voice volume. Good if they listen and just plug in your earphones if they don’t!

Have fun, be safe, travel wise and go on book your summer holiday already!

Travel with strangers, from the corner table, #fromthecornertable

 

Photos: Rapti Bhaumick

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