I’m somewhere between Fes and the Sahara as my Topdeck tour of Morocco continues on; taking our group of 16 people from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert and back. The scenery passing by my window is of sun-scorched fields with an occasional cactus passing by; it’s incredible how fickle the landscape is in this country, how fields can give way to mountains, which can reveal lush cedar forests and then shift into the desert. Morocco is perhaps one of the most naturally diverse countries I’ve seen; where sea, sand and mountains are all found within its borders.
I’m with my temporary “Moroccan family”–a slapstick gang of Australians, Irish and Germans who are all brought together by nothing more than timing and a passion to explore the world. We are a couple days into our tour and the niceties that come with first impressions have already given way to real exchanges as we have now seen each other through the best and worst of times. Having all gotten sick–likely something we ate–we are way past the point of keeping up appearances. My roommate has now seen me rolling out of bed looking like the walking dead, pounding Imodium and sleeping with water bottles. It’s the gritty side of travel that not many address but there it is: sometimes traveling gets shitty (literally) and that’s just the way it goes.
For whatever reason I have never been one to go on group tours such as these; opting instead to solo travel or fly with loved ones yet here I am embracing group travel and all the pros and cons that come with it. For those caught between traveling on their own or with an organized tour; consider this post your guide to the pros and cons of each.
The Pros & Cons of Solo Travel
I have written about solo travel many times as the idea of seeing the world sans loved ones can sometimes be a scary concept to embrace. Last year when I flew down to Argentina alone, I had no idea what to expect and was seriously questioning my sanity as the plane engine revved up for take off. Would I be safe? What if I get lonely? Would I know how to get around? All the questions flooded my mind but with my life in utter disarray, solo traveling was a life boat in a stormy sea and the only way I knew how to find myself and figure out what I wanted in life.
Exploring Argentina alone was beautiful, inspiring and at times challenging but traveling solo opened me up to serendipitous encounters, making friends in hostels and allowing me the freedom to do what I want, when I want to. I grew to love solo traveling as I connected with myself, found strength and perspective in my life and enjoyed waking up each morning and asking myself what do I want to do today? I think freedom is the big pro of solo traveling as you have the freedom to dictate your own schedule and itinerary–no matter the circumstances. If you feel ill one day, you can spend the day in bed if you feel like it. If you feel inspired, you can sit at a cafe and write for hours if the mood strikes you. Without an agenda, you can simply live each day as you see fit.
The con of solo traveling is that everything about planning your trip lands on your lap as you have to figure out (often in the moment) how to get from point A to point B, how to navigate the local customs and how to stay safe. Being alone means no one is responsible for you but yourself so should you get lost, lose a bag, be robbed or face any other obstacle then you are your own savior and best friend. On one hand, this is incredibly empowering to be your own Prince Charming in the face of adversity while traveling, but at the same time it can be stressful and scary to face such things alone.
The Pros & Cons of Group Travel
Traveling with Topdeck was different in the sense that the trip was much more organized than the “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” approach I usually take. I didn’t concern myself with trip logistics like getting from point A to B, figuring out what the must-see spots are in each city or navigating cultural differences because I had a well-informed local guide and itinerary to lean on. My mind was free to simply enjoy the destination.
There is something beautiful about meeting a group of complete strangers and then watching as a trip together turns your group into a makeshift family. It is comforting to know that no matter where you are, no matter what city you’re exploring or landscape you’re perusing; you have this group of travelers by your side that have your back and will catch you should you fall. I was very lucky to have a wonderful group of trip mates on my Morocco adventure who helped make my experience an unforgettable one. A big pro of group travel is the comfort of having trip mates and of knowing that you’re on an organized adventure that leaves room for exploring but takes away any risks of getting lost, ripped off or being unsafe.
On the altar of an organized trip you end up sacrificing freedom to spend each day as you like. As much as I enjoyed my trip, this was something that took some getting used to as I am very independent while traveling. The best example I can give is that while in Fes our group fell sick–comically sick—as we were out walking around and then all of a sudden half of us were jonesing for a toilet while the other half were running with plastic bags in hand for someone to vomit into. It was a very hot day and a few of us (myself included) were green in the face and in need of our air conditioned hotel rooms and beds; those of us who could walk continued on the day tour to the tanneries and medina while the rest of us were driven back to the hotel to sleep off our sour stomachs. In solo travel, sacrificing a day to nurse myself back to health would be no problem but unfortunately I ended up missing the tanneries and–because we had a schedule to keep–could not see them the next day when I felt better. I think that this perhaps is a big con of group travel, that you are committed to an itinerary and should you want personal time you often will not get it or will end up missing out on something as a result.
When it comes to choosing between solo travel and group travel, I think it’s important to ask yourself what are you hoping to get out of your trip? When I went solo traveling I was looking for a spiritual sort of adventure where I could ask myself some hard questions about my life and what I want out of it; it was a trip I needed to take alone in order to make some real changes to my world back home. On the other hand, when joining a group trip I simply wanted to enjoy Morocco with new friends without the hassle of planning or concerns of safety. There are pros and cons to both solo travel and group travel; yet both offer up inspiring experiences that show you the world in different ways. At the end of the day, I think how one travels comes down to what they are setting out to find.
Are you considering solo travel or group travel? Share your thoughts, questions and comments below!