Back in October I blogged about how we were taking a group tour for the first time for our trip to Costa Rica, and our reasons for picking an organised package rather than going it alone. TL:DR?
But the biggest trepidation about taking this kind of tour was the “group” element. We were putting ourselves in the hands of TUI. And we were pretty sure they don’t handpick tour members according to their similarities. Although some sort of Match.com application form may have been handy. (Do people still even use Match.com? Or is it all about Tinder these days? Maybe someone more down with the kids can inform me).
A group tour means that we are in close proximity to other people. People we will encounter often. People we can’t run away from. And most importantly, can’t run away from us. But what if we want to run away? What if we have nothing in common with this bunch that TUI has seen fit to pair us with? What if the only thing we have in common is the fact that we all booked the same two weeks holiday? Will we be forced to eat and drink with our group? Will we have to – gulp – make “small talk”? It can be shitty being an introvert in this situation – particularly when the person you’re married to is also an introvert. Nothing makes a socially anxious person more anxious than having to be social.
Introverts need space, peace and quiet. Not all the time, just somewhere to retreat to when it all gets a bit stressy. So the thought of having to share my downtime with a bunch of strangers worried me.
But the truth? Being in a group was awesome.
On day one, we were a bunch of strangers. Now, three months later at the time of writing, we’re still regularly checking in with each other on our WhatsApp group and trying to work out a location for a reunion. TUI’s random group generator managed to match a diverse group, aged from early 20’s up to 70’s, with differing locations, backgrounds, careers and interests, and find a winning combination. Mostly.
(I say mostly as one couple had very little inclination to socialise at all, leaving us to wonder exactly why they chose to take a group tour. Where there would be – yes – other people).
On the first night we were offered the opportunity to dine as a group or alone; we took the bull by the horns and opted for the group meal. It was the first opportunity we had to meet our fellow tour members, although the jetlag had kicked in and I could barely remember if I’d held a coherent conversation the next morning. Mealtimes were mostly group affairs from that point on and as a group everyone made the effort to mingle and sit with different people. Mostly. By the end of the first week’s tour we were choosing to dine as a group, even when the opportunity arose in San Jose to dine alone.
Activities are a great way to get to know your fellow tour members. Particularly when it’s an adrenaline-fuelled activity like tubing. Some of us bonded whilst wedged into a rocky corner, requiring elaborate tube-rocking to extricate ourselves. I held hands with more strangers in that 90 minutes than ever before in my life, as we clutched and grabbed each other to try and tow stranded tubers. I yelled apologies as I kicked yet another (thankfully helmeted) person in the head as I spun aimlessly. And over the next couple of days, we compared cuts, bruises, aches and pains.
And later on in the week, as tummy troubles started to sweep through the group, we compared toilet habits, swapped medication and even became overly familiar with the Bristol Stool Chart as we all shared our “numbers” on WhatsApp. Within a week I knew more about this group of strangers than many friends who’d been in my life a lot longer.
And did I get my precious alone time? Of course I did! There was never any pressure to constantly socialise or to entertain anyone. When we had downtime we could choose to spend it relaxing in our room, or at the bar, or in the pool. And yet, the times spent as a group were my favourite parts of the tour. The post-springs patio party which lasted til all of 9:30pm. Discussing the quality of our rooms over dinner at La Quinta. The afternoon by the pool at Pachira Lodge when Joan gave us all more of an eyeful than we’d bargained for. The El Patio experience in San Jose. Somehow, this introvert was craving social interaction.
Anyway, surely we’d all go our separate ways once we got to the beach hotel?
There are over 530 rooms at the Riu Palace Costa Rica. 4 swimming pools. A large buffet restaurant. 4 a la carte restaurants. Numerous bars. Surely the twenty of us will never find each other here? And yet we do.
It starts with an couple of sunbeds pulled up and a tentative suggestion to meet for after-dinner drinks. Two become four become six. All of a sudden we’re rearranging tables in the theatre of an evening so we can all (mostly) meet up. Drinks waiters roll their eyes when they see our group of fourteen seated in their area. Water volleyball and basketball games are hastily arranged whenever the pools are free. Smaller groups of us decamp to the nearby Monkey Bar for Margaronas. Joan and Brian demonstrate their salsa skills to us. There’s a foam party, which wouldn’t be nearly as much fun with just two people. And on our final evening we all have a last supper at the buffet, reminiscing about the wonderful two weeks we’ve spent together. Our Pura Vida Family.
Absolutely yay. Of course, we were extremely lucky with our group, many of whom we will definitely be keeping touch with through the medium of social media and WhatsApp. And maybe if we had had a different group for our first group tour experience then it may have altered our opinion on holidaying this way. Our tour guide Andres left us on the final day of the tour to meet a new group of just four people at the airport. Four! Imagine if they hated each other! Imagine the pressure of having to eat and drink with just one other couple – complete strangers at that – for an entire week! But we would absolutely book a similar tour in future – we just need to persuade the other members of our Pura Vida family to come along for the ride 🙂 Mostly.
Have you ever taken or considered taking a group tour? And do you have any other tips for taking a group tour when you’re an introvert? My main tips are to take time out when you need it, form relationships in small groups and say yes to new opportunities. After all, what’s the worse that can happen? (Yes Dr Pepper, I’ve stolen your tagline!)
I’m Emmalene, a 40 something with a passion for travel, theatre, food, drink and the occasional accidental hike! I’m a born-and-bred Birmingham native so expect lots of Brum content on here too…