Jenny Mikkelson and her mother were on a group tour of the Galápagos Islands when they got to know another traveler, a single woman from Chicago. They hit it off and wound up staying in touch.
"She was just easygoing," Mikkelson said. "She was a lot like us. I'd travel with her again in a heartbeat."
It's not uncommon for connections made on group tours to blossom into long-term friendships, said Mikkelson, vice president of Travel Beyond, a travel agency in Wayzata. Single people may wind up hanging out together (sometimes romantically), as do couples and even whole families.
"I've talked to clients who meet together on tour and click, and now they're traveling together on other group tours," Mikkelson said. "For them, it was the best thing that ever happened."
Even if you don't meet your soul mate or lifelong traveling partner, group tours offer company while you're exploring the country or the world, travel agents say. Whether you're going by yourself or with a partner or friend, groups can enhance the enjoyment.
Sure, it's nice to meet locals in the places you visit but, with language and cultural barriers and often limited time, it's not always easy. A group tour provides a built-in set of English-speaking and possibly like-minded companions.
Tours are available for locations all over the world, at a range of price points. Some cater to specific interests, such as history, fall foliage, food and wine. Cruises offer many of the same advantages as land-based groups.
If you're thinking you might enjoy group travel, here are some considerations:
Tours can be especially nice for women travelers. The setting is "very safe for women or families traveling together," said Ruth Peterson, an agent at Minnetonka Travel and Cruises in Wayzata.
Some tour operators offer "specialized programs for single older ladies," said John Brawley, president of Plymouth-based Premier Travel. Some even employ older gentlemen, trained and "background checked to make sure they're not weirdos," as escorts and dancing partners.
Group tour operators take care of all the pesky details. "I think the older we get, the less people want to drive from point A to point B," Peterson said. A group tour "is relaxing. It's easy." Transportation, hotel reservations and meals are all arranged. Guides offer information about the area's history and attractions.
It might be smart to go through a travel agent. "There are so many different tour operators out there" and some are better than others, Peterson said. "Like anything, like insurance, it's really good to go to somebody that's a professional that really knows. We're very careful. We don't just use any tour operator."
A group increases your chances of meeting like-minded travelers. The nature of the trip, whether it's a safari, a bus trip to Branson, Mo., or a food-and-wine tour of Italy, self-selects people with whom you share at least some interests. Other trips specifically cater to particular age groups, to singles, or to multigenerational families.
Keep an open mind. "There's always going to be somebody in the group you don't see eye to eye with," Brawley said. If you have issues with a fellow traveler, he advised simply keeping a comfortable, but cordial, distance.
Don't be that person yourself. It helps to show up for things on time, Mikkelson said. Tour operators like to keep a tight schedule and "if there's somebody that's always late, it can make a little bit of conflict in the group."