When most of your travel experience has been a one-woman show, the thought of embarking on a month-long trip with 14 strangers can be more than a little intimidating. Prior to this, you always did your own thing and could count on yourself to make your own way. You were responsible for planning the details and getting yourself to where you needed to go. You have mastered the selfie game and are used to having your own bed to crawl into at the end of the day.
There is something to be said about solo travel. It is for self-discovery, where you have time to reflect and grow. You try things you may not have been able to if you were in a group. But, it also encourages you to interact more with the locals, to step outside of your comfort zone. It can be life-changing and challenge you as a person.
However, traveling with a group offers an entirely different experience; one that is just as valuable.
On a trip where you experience such a different culture together, the bonding is almost immediate. Study abroad programs give you the chance to connect with people you probably never would have before. Yet, you quickly find you have much more in common than you thought. Such as when you are lucky enough to share a row of seats with one of your classmates for a 16-hour flight. One where you soon after discover a mutual love of The Bachelor. It also helps when the middle seat between you is conveniently empty and she doesn’t mind if you use it as a bed. Although being crammed in a room with six other girls can sound rather unappealing, it led to hours of inappropriate jokes and laughter that couldn’t be deterred by the bugs that made their way into our room. Changing roommates every few days allowed for one-on-one time with each girl on trip, allowing for more quality time. It’s these experiences that you miss out on when you are your own. The type of connection you can only get by climbing the 268 steps to the Big Buddha statue together or having your cab driver take you in the complete opposite direction of where you needed to go.
Were you to do this trip by yourself, you would be entirely responsible for mapping out destinations and determining if you got on the right bus route that was only in Mandarin. A city walking tour forced us to work as a team. For most college students, group projects are the bane of our existence and never go that well. Yet when you are trying to navigate cities where the majority people speak little, to no English, it encourages you to be a team player. As you make your way through the streets of Taipei, you must collaborate to figure out maps, ask for directions, and ultimately get to your destination. All while trying to avoid getting lost, which isn’t always bad thing. After your phone gets stolen, it is even more important that you are able to be a working unit. Patience, compromise, and listening are skills that need a constant refresher and can be applied in real life. But, there is nothing like a raging typhoon to up stakes and put you to the test.
One of the best parts about traveling as a group is to share first time experiences with one another. Excluding the professors leading the team, none of the students had visited a country in Asia and some had never even stepped outside of the United States. For first time fliers, they jumped right into things by flying into the middle of a lighting storm. For others, they had never gone so long without seeing their family. Dim Sum was a foreign concept to most, though they were quickly acquainted with it. Some things were simple, such as braving the strange foods found at the night market. While others were much more complex, like being the guests of the Taoist funeral. We got to both see and participate in these things together. The truly monumental thing was that we shared these feelings together. We got to be excited, confused, frustrated, amazed, and so much more as one. The only people who will fully understand what you experience on this trip are those that traveled along beside you.
Was traveling with a group worth it?
When you get back from a trip like this, it can still feel surreal. As each day passes by, you question if you ever even left. But then you look at the incredible photos of Alishan’s mountainside and that group photo you took on your last day at a cooking class. You look at the day pass to Disneyland where you enjoyed It’s a Small World before having to evacuate the park due to weather and remember that joy you felt.The thing about travel is that it’s contagious, whether it be in a group or solo. The longer you are home, the more you want to be anywhere but. You can already feel the itch building underneath. Every day, you wish more and more to take the next flight to anywhere. You plan and you dream. You reminisce with the friends you made. You know that it won’t be long before you leave again.
Photos contributed by Olivia Viktora.