I’ve written already about my first impressions of South Africa and the contrasts I found in the country, not just internally but compared with the rest of Africa (or at least the parts I know). Interestingly, a friend just recommended me the book Drawn in Colour by Noni Jabavus, in which a South African woman goes to live in Uganda and finds it surprisingly primitive, so perhaps I’m not alone in my impressions. In this post, I’m going to talk about expectations, a theme I’ve touched on many times in the past (see for example It’s a fine balance, I didn’t go on this trip to make friends and The beauty of going on holiday with strangers). Looking back, it seems I talk about the same topics quite a lot. But the thing about going on a group holiday with a bunch of strangers is that, while you may not be going on the trip to make new friends, and while you’re probably not going to get on with everybody, especially the “Christmas oddballs” (see my previous posts), enjoyment of the trip is nevertheless inextricably linked with the ability to take things in your stride and not be too grumpy.
Every group trip I go on, I learn something new about travelling on group trips, even though I consider myself a fairly seasoned expert now. You can travel to the most fantastic places, have the best guides in the world, but if you don’t get on with the rest of the group, it’s going to be not only a pretty lonely place for you but can spoil everyone else’s enjoyment too. And even if you’re the grumpiest person in the world, I still think that’s a pretty selfish attitude to take. If you’re not happy with something, by all means make your point to the relevant person, whether it’s someone else in the group or the leader, but there are ways of doing it politely and with least aggravation. The worst possible thing is to say nothing, be grumpy and then complain bitterly afterwards.
So, back from my recent trip to South Africa with Exodus, a company I’ve travelled with many times, and organised locally by the South African company Mask Expeditions, with whom I had not, I can honestly say I had one of the best holidays of my life. I know because I was not in the slightest bit glad to be back home in rainy England despite the lure of getting back to my own house, friends, the wonderful Peak District where I live, an actual bath, a proper cup of tea, social media and email (having been off the grid for the entire 2 weeks), showing off my suntan to jealous friends, and work (yes, I’m one of those lucky people who love their work!). The trip was brilliantly organised, and despite a number of minor problems, the Exodus and Mask Expeditions teams did a wonderful job of resolving them. Peter, our guide, often had to think fast on his feet when things didn’t quite go to plan, but remained calm, efficient and cheerful, and none of the changes were in any way detrimental to the trip. However, there was one thing that could have made the trip better, and that is the attitude of a couple of people who did not see it the same way.
You can divide the world into two types of people in a million and one ways. But there are two types of people who go on group holidays in terms of expectations: those who get on with it and go with the flow, and those who religiously read the trip notes and immediately get their knickers in a twist if things don’t go according to plan, even if it’s no one’s fault. Even when some things get changed for the better (such as an upgrade in accommodation) or in order to prevent things getting worse (shortening a day due to adverse weather conditions or timing issues), they cannot seem to balance this out when anything detrimental happens (slightly worse accommodation, or the fact that their day has been curtailed even though for good reasons), and start allocating blame. And this is nothing to do with their love of rigid plans (I love rigid plans, and get a bit antsy if we start the day even 5 minutes late, but I understand also that it’s not always possible). It’s to do with their critical nature and ability to focus on the negatives without ever considering the positives. It must be sad and lonely to be such a person, as their lives must be constantly full of disappointment. Unfortunate things are always going to happen on a trip: delays, bad meals, changes to the itinerary, bad weather; but there are two ways to look at it. You can complain and be miserable, or you can see the funny side. I’m still giggling about the “Fawlty Towers” guest house we stayed in, running through Johannesburg airport not once but twice to catch flights, and my own utter stupidity when in a total absence of rationality I picked up what I thought was a beetle to save my roommate from her insect fear, only to find out it was a giant bee which stung me viciously. OK, I’m still embarrassed about that last one, but at least I can laugh at myself. What upsets me most, however, is when such people blame those in charge of a trip for things beyond their control, or for incidents where they have nevertheless tried to do the best thing in a difficult situation. These people may think it is their own business and nobody else’s, but it affects everyone on the trip, and it certainly doesn’t do them any favours in the popularity stakes.
Of course, the people who should be reading this won’t be, but my advice to everyone going on a group trip is not to forget to pack your sense of humour. Voice your concerns politely by all means, but be prepared to accept a bit of flexibility and the fact that everything might not go exactly as planned. It will all work out, and if everything went to plan, there wouldn’t be much in the way of funny stories to tell later. I leave you with the words of Monty Python.