Travel blogger Torre DeRoche, also known as the Fearful Adventurer, gives group travel a try for the first time.
I’m not going to lie to you: I was nervous about going on a group tour. As a seasoned adventurer who has travelled independently for ten years, I’ve always regarded group-tours to be somewhat…tame.
What could I possibly get out of group tours that I can’t get out of touring on my own? What could be gained by being sardine-packed into an air-conditioned bus with strangers, and being taxied from site to site? And what if the group didn’t click? What if someone among us turned out to be a Highly Irritating Person and we’d all have to resist strong urges to poke that stranger in the eyeball with a sharp stick?
What if that person was me?
However, because I subscribe to the philosophy of Don’t Knock it Until You Try It, I decided to experiment by going on a twelve-day tour to Sabah Borneo with Intrepid Travel Here’s what happened:
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As our air-conditioned minibus drove out of Kota Kinabalu, I briefly considered running off into the jungle at the next pit stop. Perhaps, I thought, I could go all Bear Grylls on the group tour and turn it into a real adventure.
At least the scenery was beautiful:
There’s something about sweating profusely and gasping for air that really sheds inhibitions; it was on the sheer climb up Mount Kinabalu that everyone on the tour began to relax and connect, and stories began to flow.
A British woman who once lived and taught English in Burma was daring to venture away from home for the first time after the trauma of losing her mother. A couple in their 50’s—all silvery hair and cheery optimism and muscles bigger than the lot of us—told us they take every chance they get to see the world now that their kids are grown up.
A 40-something woman confessed she’s was on the tour to take the first step outside her comfort zone after a messy divorce, to begin the act of “destroying” her passport with stamps. I could tell by the glow of her skin that she’d just discovered her own kickass lady power.
I started to realise that these people all had one thing in common: courage.
At the summit of Mount Kinabalu, my fear of heights was put to the test when I caught sight of a steep drop off and became convinced that my body would inexplicably thrust itself off the crag. I hadn’t expected to come face to face with my greatest fears on a tame group tour. My teammates cheered me on. The guide took my hand and talked me through it.
We reached the exquisitely beautiful summit of Mount Kinabalu at 6am, in time for sunrise.
Just as the sun had risen to turn everyone’s faces gold, a member of our group—a vivacious Irish woman in her early 40s—turned to me and said, “I wasn’t sure I was going to make the summit today because I didn’t know if I’d have the strength or not. I’ve spent the last few years fighting stage three cancer, but I’m all clear now. And here I am.”
Her story moved me to tears. I felt truly honored to be in the presence of so much daring.
From that point on in the trip, we were bonded. All ten of us. We’d share beers and stories, food and fears, or stories from the day and the wildlife we’d spotted.
There were moments when, instead of sitting in our rooms during free time, we’d all sit together in comfortable silence in the lobby of our hotel, as though waiting for a bus to arrive. It was odd. We couldn’t get enough of each other.
In the company of several unlikely new friendships, I saw Sabah Borneo. Not only did I get to see a new country, my eyes were opened by the bird-loving guy who taught me to look up, the brokenhearted woman who taught me to look inwards, the cancer-survivor who taught me to look down and thank my healthy body, and the 50-something couple who taught me to look forward.
Our goodbyes were bitter sweet. We exchanged emails and hugged quickly. It was ending too soon.
Friendships that are fleeting tend to bond quickly; that’s what makes them so rich and unique. You know that it’s only for now, for the moment, for this one adventure before everyone slots back into normality. It’s a shooting star: a bright and brilliant flash that comes and goes.
I’m not going to lie to you: I was nervous about going on a group tour. But I’m so glad I went.