Big Group Travel vs Small Group Travel

Group travel is a difficult topic. Some of us travel better solo while others need the comfort of companions on the road. Some prefer to travel with family while other still prefer to travel only with friends. But what do we do when the question is how many people to travel with? Big group travel vs small group travel? 

It’s a toss up for me, as it depends on countless other factors. Where we’re going; how we are getting there; what we want to see, etc. several factors go into the decision making of traveling with a larger group or a smaller one. 

Let’s talk about some different situations I have personally been in and go from there. 

Small Group Travel

1. Interlaken, Switzerland

Summer 2012, I studied abroad in Scotland, and my classmates and I created a large group of underage kids who only wanted to go out and get hammered (We’ll talk more about this group throughout this post). Three of us decided to take a weekend trip to Switzerland. Brian, Manda, and I took an EasyJet flight to Geneva and set off into the Swiss Alps. 

We got horribly lost in Interlaken. I remember we got off the train at the correct stop but took a wrong turn into the city. All we had to rely on was my rough German language

Manda, Brian, and I canyoning in the Swiss Alps.

 and a giant road-side city map of the town. Eventually, we asked for directions with broken English-German and were pointed in the right direction. The three of us banded together over the course of the next few days to eat off of pizza for every meal and survive the Swiss Alps. 

Brian wanted to do different activities than Manda and I wanted to. I think he felt that because he was the only male, he had to protect us. She and I convinced him that we would in fact be okay by ourselves and that he didn’t have to do all of the same stuff as us. Brian left Manda and I the next morning to do his own thing. Manda and I left to do ours. It was glorious. We convinced him that we would be fine to take part in our own adventure and that we in fact did not need him to be part of it. 

2. Brussels, Belgium

Marian, Sarah, and I traveled to Belgium Christmas 2013. The three of us knew very little about Belgium. I visited Brussels once before when I was thirteen, but that was ten years earlier! I remembered very little. We knew we were going to join a day tour of Bruges and Ghent the second day, but our first and last days in Belgium were ours to explore Brussels. 

Sarah, Me, and Marian in LaGrand Place.
Sarah, Me, and Marian in LaGrand Place.

To say the least, we bumped heads. I love Sarah. She is brilliant and very kind. But is she also a bit of a know-it-all. Marian is extremely laid back, and then there’s me. I’m the rebel-rouser, the bull in the cage, the one who charges forward. It was with my guidance that most of our traveling took place. Because the three of us each have such

 different personalities, we each contributed something different in our travel experience. Our explorations around Brussels were led by our inability to fully make a decision and gut feeling. We walked around a four block radius looking at different restaurants trying to decide on which one to eat at. We finally settled on the only restaurant in all of Brussels that didn’t have a single English speaking waitress. #OurLuck

It worked out though. Although the three of us are very different personality wise, we were able to put it aside (mostly) to enjoy Brussels. 

3. Orlando, Florida

Matilda and I went to Orlando, Florida by ourselves earlier this Fall. It was a great road trip, just the two of us singing and goofing off in the car. She slept; I drove. The first evening we spent in Universal Studios taking in the Harry Potter stuff. Now, she and I are both Harry Potter fans, but I’m like, a “super fan” or something. Whatever that means. I made her take pictures of me in various places in front of this store or that sign. The two of us rode the rides and explored all else the parks had to offer.

The trouble didn’t really begin until Disney World. florida - usa - disney - friends

Bless Matilda (I know she will chuckle when she reads this) but she loves her alcohol. She’s Swedish remember? In Sweden, it’s cold 97% of the year and rather dark from lack of sunlight due to high latitude and rain. They don’t have much to do aside from keep warm and entertained from drink. (That’s not entirely true. Haha I’m exaggerating. Sweden is lovely and a great place to visit filled with wonderfully funny people.) But!! The point is that sometimes we (she) just wants a pint. Well, Disney World has recently stopped accepting drivers licenses as proof of ID for non-Americans. Meaning, all people who are international MUST bring their PASSPORT into the parks to prove that they are in fact over the age of 21 just to have a drink. Stupid right? Whatever. Well, this completely thwarted our efforts of drinking our way around the world in Epcot. By the time we reached the UK, which was so closely kin to the Ireland that resides in our hearts, she broke. We went into a pub and more or less begged the English girl behind the bar if she could have a pint. Regretfully, she said no even though she knew Matilda’s license to be a legit one. The two of us walked out of the pub and down the walkway. 

Matilda pouted. I mean, lip curling, brow furling, hand clenching pouted. She was so frustrated and angry that she was of age to drink in the USA, but she couldn’t have a pint because she didn’t have her passport. Because I’m the best friend that I am, I offered to go back in the pub, buy a single pint, and share it with her on the outside of the pub. Initially, she said no because she didn’t want to get caught. I understand that because we could have been kicked out of the park. BUT! I could tell that if she didn’t get her pint, our entire afternoon would be ruined. So I marched us back to the pub, told her to hold us a table just outside of the pub, walked in, bought the pint, and I brought it back out to her. She and I sipped slowly on the single pint we could share and kept a weather eye for anyone who could get us in trouble. After the pint, Matilda looked at me and smiled saying, “You really are the best friend. You get me so well.” I couldn’t help but smile in return to my slightly alcoholic friend. 

Small group travel has its advantages. With a group of three or four maximum, you rely heavily on the different abilities of the people in your group to navigate you from point A to point B. These personalities can certainly butt heads, but it’s worth it in the end. If Matilda and I had been with a large group in Disney World, the other people may not have been as sensitive to the fact that couldn’t drink. They may have paraded around drinking in front of Tilda making her all the more angry. It worked out perfectly that it was just the two of us. 

Small group travel also has its disadvantages. In the case of us in Interlaken, because Manda and I were there with one guy, he felt he needed to constantly be around to “protect” us. We had to convince him to leave and do his own thing. Sarah, Marian, and I couldn’t make a decision to save our lives, and Matilda and I were just stuck with each other for three days in Florida. We didn’t have any alone time or time spent with other people. 

Large Group Travel

1. Belfast, Northern Ireland

Back to studying abroad. Like I said, there was like ten of us (mostly chicks) who hung out together and partied. I mean, partied HARD. Most of the kids (myself included) was underage; we took full advantage of the fact that we were legal in Scotland. One of the first trips we decided to go on was to Belfast, Northern Ireland. I tried to explain to the group that we were not going to the Republic and that the North was completely different with a striking history. They “listened” but not really. I remember we spent an hour at Belfast International because we couldn’t agree on how to get to the hostel. Eventually, and I mean EVENTUALLY, they decided to trust the cabby and get a lift to the hostel. 

The group of us outside the Crown Bar in Belfast
The group of us outside the Crown Bar in Belfast

The group of us stayed in a dorm room with three people spilling over into another room in the hostel. Because it was just us in the room, we were very lax with our stuff. My shoes were on the far side of the room while their stuff was in my corner. We spread out all over the room and quickly made ourselves at home. Upon our arrival, the group of us quickly decided to go out. We spent Friday and Saturday night out on the town getting properly drunk, as you do. 

We had agreed back in Stirling (where we were in school at) that we wanted to go on a Paddy Wagon tour of the North and to go on a Black Taxi Cab tour AND to go to the Titanic museum. Magically, we did it all. I do remember being a brat on the Paddy Wagon tour when some of my friends didn’t want to walk across the Carrick-a-Reed bridge. This is one of those moments when the group should have (myself included) split up. I was a brat. There’s no way around that one. It’s one of those travel moments I look back on and cringe. 

On our last day in Belfast, we did split up to shop. Some of us ended up in the mall to watch me get my ears pierced. Yes, I got my ears pierced for the first time ever in Belfast, Northern Ireland at age 20. And yes, I cried. The group of us spent the majority of the trip together but needed some serious away time. 

2. Edinburgh, Scotland

Same group, more or less the same story but in a different city. scotland - friends

At the end of first block of schooling, we got out of Stirling for the weekend and went to Edinburgh. We went on a free walking tour where half of the group complained that they couldn’t hear the guide. All of us went out that night but some of us wanted to listen to live music while others wanted the club experience. This particular night we did split up. Adrienne and I left the group to listen to a live band. Everyone else went to some club that was a multistory rave. 

In Edinburgh, the group of us ended up splitting into smaller groups because the large number of us did not want to do all the same stuff as everyone else. 

3. Jerusalem, Israel

The trip to Israel was a unique one. Not only was I on a large group trip, but I was also on a scheduled tour. I traveled to Jerusalem and met up with people from the museum I work at. Aside from the fifteen year old girl traveling with her parents, I was the younger person on the trip. By about thirty years. To say the least, that 15 year old and I hung tight. 

Dr Fleming teaching on the steps of the Temple. There's about 30 of us listening to him speak.
Dr Fleming teaching on the steps of the Temple. There’s about 30 of us listening to him speak.

Israel is a lot of walking up and down rocky steps that are 1000s of years old. They are not the same size with each step.  With that, several of the older members of the group struggled to keep up. On countless occasions, we had to stop and wait for them to gather back together. We would pile into the charter bus and ride to this place or that marker listening to our guide talk about history and the Bible. We’d get off the bus and be told to be back together in twenty minutes. Of course there’s always the people who seem tonever leave the comfort of the bus and there are those that never make it back in time. We would wait and wait and take bets as to how long it will take them to come back. Eventually once the whole group was together again, we would set off into the sunset in search of more awesome things!

The evenings were ours. Our daily schedule ended between 3.00 and 4.00pm each day allowing us to take naps, explore, or relax by the pool for the evening. I took advantage of all of these options. I also greatly appreciated the chance to be alone for a while. Living in Ireland for nine months had gotten me used to a life of fair solitude and large crowds annoyed me. Not to mention the fact that I was on a tour with people who were born two or three generations before. 

Large groups can be a blast! There’s always someone around to talk to and travel with. If you get tired of this person, you go hang out with that other person. It’s a nice change of pace and scenery. But, it is a large group. Usually there are people in the group who have no intentions to do the things you want to do. There’s also usually a small group who wants to do one thing while the major of the group wants to do another. At that point, it’s best to split up. Also with large groups, you have to wait for everyone. There’s always those two people who are the last to the bus. They make your entire group late for everything. It’s difficult not to kill them, but murder is frowned upon. So you just sit there grinding your teeth wishing it wasn’t one of the ten commandments. 

I can honestly say that I’m a fan of both ways to travel. Big and small groups each have pluses and minuses. It all depends on what you are doing and where you are. 

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