Does traveling in a group sound safe or intimidating? It could be both, but you’ll never know until you give it a try. Join us in discussion with travel expert Shila Desai who shares her tips about group travel. Enjoy the show!
My guest today is Shila Desai. Shila is a writer and a world traveler. She is also the founder of a travel company called Eat Your Heart Out Tours. She takes people all around the world to explore amazing cultures and meet new people. It’s really great to have you here, Shila. Welcome.
Thank you so much, Margaret. I am really excited to be here, and a little nervous as well.
You don’t need to be nervous at all. We have a wonderful community of women who are very much into travel. I think, when we retire, travel is the first thing we put on our bucket list. I’m happy that you’re here so you can help us a bit to understand the different kinds of travel.
A lot of our women have travelled by themselves for years – or maybe with their husband or partner – and now they want to do something either with a group or as a solo participant in a group. Tell us what your opinion is about solo versus group travel.
I like both styles. To me they are like day and night – you need both, because each sustains you differently. The advantage of being in a group is that you’re meeting eight or ten new people who have the potential of becoming your friends.
When you travel to a place you’ve never been before, you are taken out of your comfort zone. You get to do different things that don’t follow your everyday routine. So, with group travel you get the opportunity to connect with people on a deeper level.
You meet people from all walks of life that you normally don’t have the chance to do. It’s also great that the whole trip is planned and organized. You just show up with your suitcase and leave the experience in the hands of the experts.
You always have knowledgeable guides who can lead you into the best parts of the country, and you share their fees with the rest of the group. So, you see, there is a host of advantages to group travel.
I’ve always travelled alone. This has been my style all my life. But recently, I’ve come to the realization that you feel a little bit more vulnerable as you get older. When you travel with a group, you’ve got the resources of a leader, as well as other people to support you and maybe do things together.
When you’re on your own, you can’t very well go dancing at night. With a group, that’s quite possible. You can go out to a restaurant and be a bit more relaxed when you’re surrounded by friendly faces.
What do you think are the benefits of traveling solo?
When you travel solo, you can’t get stuck in the middle of group dynamics. Sometimes, you don’t fit with the personalities of the other people in the group, so traveling on your own saves you from having to endure a trip that would’ve otherwise been fun.
Traveling solo gives you the advantage of doing what you want, where you want and when you want. You can wander off in a random direction, you can stop for a break when you see a cute coffee house. The possibilities are endless.
However, solo travel requires a great deal of courage. You are it. You are your own tour guide making all the decisions. Of course, it requires you to step a little bit more out of your comfort zone. And actually, some people find this experience exhilarating.
Many travelers find it a great accomplishment to say, “Hey I did it! Wow! I didn’t think I could do it!” In a way, group travel could be challenging as well, for people who have a hard time being around others. But if you have a really good group leader and guides, it’s their job to make sure things mesh between people.
I think the beauty with group travel is that you know your destination and you can research the place in advance. You know the theme of the tour, and that is your common interest with the other travelers in your group. You can share your passions and have fun learning new things together.
Where would you think is a great place to go to find a good group experience?
One of my favorites is Journey Woman, run by Evelin. She does solo and group travel for women. She also runs an online news magazine where she publishes lists of classifieds for group and solo travel each month.
Another great resource is Grown Up Travel. It’s run by Jane Canapini who provides a lot of advice about all the travels she is doing. What I like about her style is that she doesn’t actually promote a lot of individual companies. She visits a lot of places all over the world, so it’s a good idea to check her out.
Then, of course, there’s my company, Eat Your Heart Out Tours. I founded it because I felt there was a need for older travelers who are looking for a deeper experience in foreign culture. We don’t just want to go to India (check), Taj Mahal (check) and ride elephants (check). We usually want to dig deep.
We want to understand the culture of the country we’re visiting, and how it relates to our own. If we could act as a cultural bridge, that would bring understanding of the western world as well. That’s how Eat Your Heart Out Tours started, and I’ve been at it for almost ten years.
In truth, your site and blog are very inspiring. You have tons of information about your tours and special places worth visiting. What is the average size of your groups and where do you take them? Give us a taste of the kind of experiences that you create and organize.
The average group size can be as small as 6 or 8 and all the way up to 16. I really don’t like taking more than 16 people. I feel the ideal group size is about 12 though, because people get to find somebody more like minded and the group dynamics works very well.
The majority of my trips, if not all of them, go beyond Europe and North America because that is where my clients reside. Because of my ancestry – I was born and raised in Kenya and I have Indian genes – I’m more of a cultural bridge to east Africa and Asia.
That is a region that could be intimidating. India alone is a vast country, and most people don’t know where to start. Myanmar and Sri Lanka are also on people’s bucket list as they age, but they are exotic places far away from the west.
I sense a lot of people don’t feel confident enough to go there on their own. They feel much safer with a seasoned guide who understands the western culture as well as the culture in the east and can bring that understanding to deepen their experience. Those are the places that I specialize in.
What I really love about your site and the tours that you organize is the experience one walks away with. They seem to transform you from within, and that’s really great.
I think you accomplish that because you get your clients very close to the native population and they get to exchange knowledge and cultural specificities.
For example, I know you do a textile tour in India and a cooking tour in Sri Lanka. You put the focus on the experience, and then everything else just falls into place.
I figured out that each country has what I call ‘a main event.’ For example, I feel that in India the main event is textiles, because you have such a deep historical connection with how textiles came into being.
The first textiles, along with the spinning wheel, came from the Indus Valley about 4,000 years ago. That’s where cotton was first domesticated and spinning was invented. So there is a deep historical connection there.
When you go to India, you always notice the beautiful fabrics. You want to buy them and know how they’re made. I will definitely advise a tour in certain parts of India, using the lens of fabrics to start carving deeper into the culture.
This would be, in large, a thinking tour as well. Of course, there would be activities and sightseeing, but then there will be digging to understand why textiles are the main event and why the country has evolved the way it has.
In India, textiles are the main event, closely followed by cuisine. These are the things that connect us as people on a universal scale. We all need clothes and food. We need houses to live in. My tours take that universality of the human species and transport it to less known countries.
That is a great summary. You’ve provided us with some great resources for group tours, like Journey Woman – which I also love. Your site is also wonderful, as you are full of passion to explore the East.
Thanks, Shila. It’s been wonderful chatting with you about group tours. I hope everyone has been inspired by your passion and your enthusiasm.
Have you been on a group travel tour before? What was your experience? Did you learn/see something you would have never learned/seen on your own? Please join the conversation below.
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