I’ve attended the funeral of a water buffalo in northeastern Thailand. Taught English to a bunch of novice monks in a Tibetan monastery in Nepal. Ridden a mangy camel across the sun-drenched desert in Jordan. And run from rockets at a rainmaking festival in Laos.
You could say that I’ve led a life of travel and adventure, and yet my wanderlust didn’t begin in the bravest of ways. In fact, the very first time I went to a foreign country (without the security blanket of my ma and pa), I ended up suffering a mild panic attack and spending a few hours crying my eyes out.
The year was 2000 and my friend and I had booked an Intrepid group trip in northern Thailand. We arrived in Bangkok the day before the tour was due to begin… and both totally freaked out.
It was all so different. The sizzling roadside woks. The whizzing tuk tuks. The chaos of Khao San Road. The sweatiness of it all. It was like an assault on the senses from the minute we landed in BKK and I had no idea if I was going to survive.
The security of group travel
The next day there was a knock on our hotel door. It was Kris, a funky Melbournite who had fallen in love with Thailand and moved to Bangkok to become an Intrepid guide.
I have never been so happy to meet someone in all of my life. She listened to our freaking-out-thoughts, promised us that everything was going to be okay and that we’d end up loving Thailand. (She was right. I loved the place so much that I moved there to take up a job as a foreign correspondent six months later).
If you’re someone who is concerned about heading overseas on your own, here are some reasons why I would highly recommend a small group trip as your first experience of a foreign land:
1. The logistics are sorted for you
One of the most stressful parts of being in a new place is figuring out how to get from A to B. What’s the best mode of transport? How much are tickets? Do you have to reserve seats? All of these things are taken care of when you’re travelling in an organised group.
2. You have instant buddies
Most of the time, the people on Intrepid trips are in the same boat as you; they want to see the world, but want the security of being in a small group of like-minded travellers. It’s a wonderful way to make friends and share travel experiences.
3. Local knowledge
Not only are Intrepid guides well-educated about the region in which they work, the company is all about connecting travellers with local guides along the way. This guarantees a more authentic experience for you as a traveller, and also creates income for remote communities in places like northern Thailand, where hill tribe community members are employed as trekking guides.
4. Security as well as freedom
Leaving the comfort zone of ‘home’ can be a daunting decision, particularly if you’re a young woman. Being part of a small tour allows you to feel safe when you’re far from family and friends. And once you gain some confidence, there’s also the chance to venture out and explore on your own, thanks to allocated free time during the tour.
Thailand for first-time travellers
If you’re contemplating venturing overseas for the first time and you’re looking for a destination that’s beautiful, fun, fascinating and safe – I’d highly recommend booking a small group trip in Thailand.
People often think of beaches when they think of Thailand (and rightly so, because they’re amazing) but the country has just as much to offer up north. Go trekking through the jungle, experience a homestay in a remote hill tribe village, shop at the famous Chiang Mai night market and soak up the serenity of the lush mountains of the Golden Triangle.
Surreal limestone karsts that rise up out of the aqua ocean, the natural landscape of Krabi and Phi Phi is utterly breathtaking. Feast on mouthwatering seafood, kayak through mangrove-lined waterways, explore caves and soak up some rays. If you’re looking for paradise, you’ll find it in southern Thailand.
This city has SO much to offer for travellers – from delicious street food in Silom, to cheap vintage dresses at Chatuchak Market, from the quaint (and incredibly instagrammable) streets of old Chinatown, to the designer label stores inside the glamorous Siam Paragon shopping mall.
A year ago I met up with Kris, my guide who took me under her wing on my first trip overseas. We’d stayed in touch and both happened to be in Melbourne at the same time. Seeing her again reminded me of the young, frightened traveller that I used to be. And made me grateful that I took the leap of faith and flew to Thailand all those years ago.
Ready to experience the hustle, bustle and beauty of Thailand? Start exploring our range of small group adventures now.
Feature image by James Tang.