I’m taking part in a social experiment to discover what it’s like to travel alone and join a group of strangers on a tour. The destination didn’t really matter; it was the social aspect I was interested in.
I quickly found somewhere that suited my timeframe and budget.
However, just days before leaving I realised in my haste to book something, it appeared I was heading off on an adventure tour which would be full of 18 to 30-year-olds.
I am old enough to have kids that age!
I arrived and checked into a seedy-looking hotel in Auckland, which was the meeting place for the tour.
I was advised my room was on the third floor. I just needed to take the lift, which was around the corner, to the second floor. Then go through the double doors, along the corridor, through another set of doors, up a flight of stairs, down the hall way and I’d find my room on the left.
I just hoped there wouldn’t be a fire.
I found my room and to my relief it only had two beds and it had an ensuite. Not exactly luxury, but not exactly back-packer dorm style.
My roommate had obviously already checked in and had left to go exploring before the 6.30pm meeting time.
I could see her suitcase in the corner with the LAX (Los Angeles Airport) bag tag. She’d left a small denim jacket on the bed, along with a hairbrush and large make-up bag. It didn’t take me long to deduce she was a petit, well-groomed, American teenager.
This poor girl was going to be stuck sharing a room with the ‘old woman’ of the group. I could see it now; all the other teens/early 20s would be looking at her with a sympathetic pout.
What have I done!
I decided to go for a wander in the city.
To say I was distracted is an understatement. I only realise this now, when I look back at my photos and realised this was the only one I took.
I remember thinking, I’m a tourist I should take photos.
I have no idea who this statute is of or why he is significant in Auckland. But this is my first photo as a solo traveller.
Time to Face My Fears
The wait was over; it was time to meet the group. I returned to the hotel and the receptionist pointed me in the direction of the meeting room.
Outside the door, I hesitated, held my breath, closed my eyes and opened the door. The next few moments seemed to go in slow motion, it felt like I was having one of those outer body experiences.
When I opened my eyes, the first person I saw was a young bloke in his early 20s, I let out a groan as I released my breath. I put on a false smile and walked towards him. Trying desperately to give an air of self-confidence.
I may have fooled him.
I introduced myself and asked what I was meant to be doing; my self-confidence was blown.
He told me he was the guide and the group were the other side of the room, behind me, and I was to go over and introduce myself to them.
Just as I started to turn to face the group, and again, in slow motion, he leaned towards me and sort of whispered, ‘By the way, I’m the youngest person here.’ Which completely threw me, my body was still slowly turning towards the group, but my eyes were still fixed on this young lad, trying to make sense of what he had just said, searching his face for clues; reassurance.
How could he be the youngest? In my mind, they were all going to be 18-year-olds.
Then the slow motion stopped and we went back to normal speed. The noise of group’s chatter hit me, I quickly scanned the group, my eyes darted from person to person.
Then, before taking a step towards them, I leaned back to the young guy and whispered, ‘I think I might be the second youngest!’
He giggled. He was as nervous as I was.
You have no ideas how relieved I was, these people were my age, some were older, some were younger. But there were no 18 to 30-year-olds as far as I could tell.
I felt like my nightmare had just become a dream.
I was going to be okay.
There were 16 in the group, two Americans, six Canadians, two Indians, two Swiss, an Englishman, Irishwoman and Scot (sounds like a start of a joke) and myself.
I fell slap-bang in the middle, age-wise. I cannot put into words the relief I felt.
There were six of us, travelling alone. I wasn’t quite the big, brave solo traveller I thought I was! Well, I was, but so were they.
My room-mate turned out to not be a American teenager, but rather a 40 something, attractive, stylish, Canadian high school teacher.
She told me she’d been travelling on her own for years, and had only just discovered the small tour group style of travelling. She regretted not finding this mode of travel years earlier.
As a single female, she said, it was fantastic. She has got to meet some great people and made lifelong friends. She also got to discover places she would struggle to find herself without weeks researching the destinations. And most importantly, it was safe.
She leads a very busy life, running a successful business in addition to her teaching. She was more than happy to let someone else take the reigns and tell her each day, where she needed to be and what she’d be doing.
She could switch off and really connect with the people and places. It suited her perfectly.
I spoke with a happily-married 60-year-old Englishman. This type of holiday was not something his wife would enjoy, so he travels alone. He can travel and still keep in close contact with his family back home.
It was a win-win for him and for his wife, as she too got to go on the type of holiday which suits her.
I slept like a baby that night; I probably had a relieved smile on my face as I slept.
It was early days, but so far so good. At this stage, I believed, it was going to be okay.