How to make friends on a group trip (from someone who’s done it before)

written by Sarah Baumann May 30, 2022
Intrepid Vietnam tour

In 2020, Sarah Baumann joined an Intrepid trip in Vietnam. It was an adventure that lead to a “motley crew” of friends: Lucy and Tom (a British couple), Lauren (from Australia) and Meg (a Canadian). The gang stayed in touch through the COVID lockdowns, and now they’re re-uniting in the UK for Lucy and Tom’s wedding. Here’s how an unlikely travel friendship got started.

In early 2020, I joined an Intrepid trip in Vietnam. I’d always wanted to head back to Asia, but none of my friends could travel, so this time I was going solo. I decided to find my way around with Intrepid, then backpack afterwards by myself. The tour started in Hanoi and ended in Ho Chi Minh City. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the start of a crazy international friendship.

The group embarks on a Vietnam adventure. Image: Sarah Baumann

The group got off to a good start. In fact, on our very first night, there was a wild ice-breaking moment. We were on Cat Ba Island, and everyone was sort of feeling eachother out, which tends to happen at the beginning of a tour. Nobody really knew eachother, except for the British couple, Tom and Lucy.

We decided to all go out for hot pot dinner, and somehow – nobody knows how ­– Tom managed to light his meal on fire. It was actually quite a big fire, and the staff had to come over and put it out. Tom just sat there staring at the blaze, eyes wide in horror, before slowly putting his head in his hands. We were all laughing and freaking out, like “Tom! Do something!” It became a running gag with the group. Oh, there’s street meat? Keep it away from Tom…

Pretty soon a tight little gang formed. There was me, from Texas, Tom and Lucy, the British couple, Lauren from Australia and Meg the Canadian. We were all similar ages, except for Tom, who was the oldest; we never let him forget it. There were 12 or 13 people on the tour, but our little group soon became close friends. We had a similar sense of humour, and nobody took themselves too seriously. There was another couple on the tour, and we’d joke that they were the Instagram duo, while Tom and Lucy were the reality. The first two would be taking perfectly staged photos, kayaking in unison, meanwhile Lucy was hitting Tom over the head with her paddle. 

British couple Lucy and Tom. Image: Sarah Baumann

We all came from different backgrounds. Lauren works in a bank in Melbourne, checking cheques for forgeries. Meg works in recruiting for a hospital, so she’s had a stressful few years with COVID. Tom and Lucy do office jobs, but he’s also an incredible nature photographer. We’d all be in the same place on the trip, pointing our cameras at the same stuff, but Tom’s images were like magazine-quality (we all agreed there was something wrong with our cameras).

When the trip ended, I was the only one not joining the connecting Cambodia tour. I was devastated. I remember leaving on the bus from Ho Chi Minh and feeling so sad; my new friends were going on without me. We’d only known eachother a week or so, but already I was going to miss them.

Luckily, we stayed in touch. COVID was just exploding when we got home, and the whole thing felt like a fever dream. A week ago, I’d been taking shots in Phuket, and now I was in quarantine back in Austin. Luckily Tom and Lucy suggested the group catch up for regular Zoom calls. So that’s what we did, every month for the next two years! It was a great way to keep up with the news, and lean on people during the pandemic. That shared fever dream bonded us even closer together.

The friends stayed in touch during the COVID lockdowns. Image: Sarah Baumann

Eventually I started dating a guy in Texas, and Meg met someone in Canada, and they became part of the group too. It’s like this little international community that sprung up from one random trip. Now we’ve all been invited to Lucy and Tom’s wedding in the UK, and Lucy even asked Meg and me to be bridesmaids! We talk about the trips we’ll take in the future – we’re thinking Bali next. We’re going to stay in hostel bunk rooms like the seven dwarves.

The group reunites in 2022 for Lucy and Tom’s wedding. Image: Sarah Baumann

I think when you’re on a group trip, you really need to relax and be yourself. That advice is overdone, obviously, but it’s true too. Being social sometimes seems so much harder than it actually is, and one of the best things about group travel is that interaction is kind of inescapable. It’s a small group, so you have to chat and make friends. You’re going to be sitting on a bus next to someone, and all you have to do is turn and introduce yourself. You never know where your next big friendship might come from, or how your life might change.

Because of one random trip in 2020, I’m about to jump on a plane to the UK and start a whole new adventure. And we have Intrepid to thank for bringing our motley crew together.

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