Yesterday we travelled with our tour group to Suzhou, a city outside Shanghai. With traffic, of which there is a lot, it took about 2 hours via our bus to get there and a little longer to get home. I thought recounting this experience would be a good way to share the pros and cons of group travel.
As background there are 39 people on this tour and we travel with a tour manager, a bus driver and a local guide on a fairly full 45 passenger seat touring bus. In some tours our tour manager acts as our local guide so I am not sure if the difference is that China is so vast different peopl are needed to convey all the knowlege or there is a law regarding roles for tour guides.(As an example of laws regulating tours we were required to have a tour security guard with us throughout our tour in Jordan a couple of years ago.)
Having a mix of people traveling with us can be quite fun. Russell and I like our alone time together, but on long trips it is also nice to have others with whom we can converse. We often travel with our friends, Bruce and Stephanie who are traveling with us in China, but it is a lot of fun to meet new people too. It helps all four of us from running out of things to say. We have found too it gives us an opportunity to have a break from each other. Russell is more outgoing than I am so even when Im tired of talking there is always someone available for him to chat up.
Traveling with a guide also makes getting around super easy. I do not have to plan anything. I show up on time, grab my seat on the bus and absorb that morning’s lecture about our tour for the day. Once the day has started I don’t have to find a clean bathroom or even think about what I will eat. Every detail is taken care of for us. Most days that is perfect!
The down side though is I also have limited time at places and some lack of flexibility. If I want to shop longer or skip one of our stops or even go back early it can be difficult depending on where we are. If the tour sites are in the city we are staying in it’s fine, but if it’s a day trip we are committed for the whole day.
The large group size is also a double edged sword. It’s amazing to meet so many people and if you don’t like someone it doesn’t matter because there are many more people to meet! The downsize though is you are touring every day with a group of 41 people. It is a large number of people and often in small venues, which can be annoying. We are those people that travel in a pack following someone with a flag! What!?!
Yesterday in Suzhou was a perfect example. We would never have gone on our own. The four and half hour round trip driving would have kept us from going, and we really wanted to go! We wanted to see the canals, walk the streets lined with cute shops, and food stalls. We wanted to taste some of the local fare, take our time, and then head back to Shanghai. That would have been my perfect itinerary, but there were 38 others we had to consider so instead after the canals we went to a so so chinese restaurant for lunch chosen because it could easily accommodate large groups. Then we headed to a very small, crowded garden and were politely required to stay with our large tour group and listen to our local guide. I could not see well because we were packed into several small spaces as we went from room to room. I was also having trouble hearing the guide. Don’t get me wrong the garden was lovely, as you can see from the photos, but it felt claustrophobic and I was ready to go back to Shanghai.
This description probably makes it sound like I hate group travel, but I really dont. We have developed a remedy to ensure we get all the benefits of group travel, but still get to enjoy exploring what we like. We just need to mix it up. That’s why we went on our food adventure Saturday night. And that’s why on our last day in Shanghai we are ditching the tour group again. Stephanie and Bruce are doing a Shanghai Jewish quarter tour while Russell and I plan to see the Shanghai Museum, the People’s Square, lunch in Xintiandi and if time permits Yuyuan Garden. We will even use the Metro to get around, which really helps us understand the culture better and figure out where we are.
The beauty of being on the tour is that we will leave our packed bags outside our door this morning. The tour will handle getting them to the airport and checked in while we are enjoy our last day in Shanghai. Later this afternoon we will meet our group right before we transfer to the airport. So see it isn’t so bad after all. And that ladies and gentleman is why we like group tours. #WinWin
If you enjoyed this blog please like it and follow me. There is a lot more China to come. Im hoping to post every day, but my Internet access may be severely limited on the river, but I will be blogging and photographing everything to share when I have it again!