Whether you’re looking to make new friends, learn a different outdoor activity, or want to remove the hassle of planning a trip, you’re going to find yourself traveling with a group of people you don’t know. The thought of many hours or days with strangers can be intimidating for some, and exciting for others. Regardless of how adventuring with new people might make you feel, there are ways to prepare for this type of group environment and make the most of it for yourself and those around you.
Skim the headers from this list; you’ll notice that all our tips require a delicate balance of authenticity and flexibility. If you were on the fence about joining a group trip where you don’t know most people or have already said yes to one, this blog will make you feel more comfortable and confident about the adventure ahead!
Be yourself and be open to compromises.
When hopping into a group where personalities, preferences in clothes and gear, and even how we spend downtime differ drastically, it can feel easier to mold into the social norms so as to not feel like an outsider. Yet, this could leave you unsatisfied.
We recommend finding harmony between being yourself and being open to joining the group when you might otherwise skip out. For example, if you usually plan all the meals for your trips and they’re providing the food in this group, share any dietary restrictions, and then relax and enjoy! Relish in learning new recipes and (depending on the trip) sink into the pampering of someone else preparing a meal for you! That’s a few more minutes sitting in the sun, another chapter read in your book or a few more pages of notes in your journal. Remember, it’s only a couple of days of your life. Enjoy the break!
Alternatively, most group trips have some scheduled downtime, which is the prime opportunity to “do you.” Sure, you can plan an activity with your tripmates, but – especially if you are an introvert – you might genuinely need that alone time to tend to your own well being. How you enjoy the adventure and how others in the group enjoy it will be different. Embrace both sides of this!
For example, when I joined a guided backpack trip to the top of Half Dome, once we reached the top on day two, everyone wanted to get pictures while standing on the “diving board.” I snapped a few shots for otheres and then shuffled away. They hollered, “now it’s your turn! Go out there!” But, I turned down their insistence because I did not want a solo photograph in that location, and I desperately needed to release some emotions by myself. After five to 10 minutes of alone time, I had all the energy and enthusiasm to join the team, and I gathered us together for a group shot. That’s the balance!
Limit judgments and follow curiosity.
Get to know your group and let them get to know you. Find out what lights each person up and share with them what gets you excited. Note: this might not be regarding one’s career. Maybe it's family, a creative endeavor, or a recent outdoor adventure accomplishment.
Remember that even though someone might be a decade older/younger than you, live on the other side of the country, work in a different industry, or have different skin color than yours, it doesn’t mean you have nothing in common. For example, on the same guided backpacking trip to Half Dome, everyone in my group was older than me, had been married at some point, had kids, and had different cultural/familiar backgrounds than me. However, we bonded over one central theme (besides adventures outdoors) - motherhood. They were all moms, I learned how I could do anything I put my mind to from my mom, and our guide was planning to become a mom soon. We also realized that this was where we got our strength! Some were first-time backpackers, yet they powered up and down those mountains because they had the stamina of mothers.
So, before you depart, think about what questions you could ask other than the usual, “what do you do for a living?” What questions do you enjoy being asked? What questions do you typically ask your closest friends? Here are a few of the favorites that we use while traveling and meeting strangers:
What fills up your week?
What are you looking forward to when you return home?
What’s been your favorite activity over the last month?
Why did you choose to join this trip?
Encourage and support one another.
The beauty of group travel is that by saying “yes” you’re choosing to go after the same goal. And thus, you are a team by definition. Although at the surface level the mission is to hike to X or along the Y trail, the deeper joint target is to have a positive experience.
How do we move towards a positive experience for each stranger in your group? Lift one another up! Is there a strenuous uphill ahead? A scary ledge? Is it a hot day? Are people getting tired from the many miles hiked? Take a water or snack break with someone. Check-in and ask if anything, in particular, is causing turmoil. Wait at the top of each switchback and scream out a few, “heck yes! You are moving, lady! Almost to the next break.” Maybe snap a photo at a pretty overlook while they are looking at the view and show them how strong they look.
Or, simply ask, “how can I support or help you?” When I hiked the John Muir Trail in June of 2015, over 18 days, I was out of shape emotionally and physically. After one of my trailmates checked-in on me a few days in, I requested that at least one person hikes behind me because it was too disheartening to always be behind trying to catch up for hours. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I couldn’t have made it to the top of Mt. Whitney without their support.
Knowledge share and allow people to learn on their own.
If you are advanced to expert in the sport of choice, teaching everyone everything and telling them how they should do things will be a great temptation. Sometimes appreciated and helpful, and other times annoying and belittling. We need to leave space for people to learn independently or with supervision, without expert splaining or micro-managing. We are adults, and for the most part, we don’t like being told what to do. Also, in the outdoors, devising solutions in response to surprise situations is what builds us into even strong adventurers.
On my Half Dome backpacking adventure, in my view, there was more than one woman carrying excessive items. First, I was not the guide who was vetting their pack choices. Second, I thought back to those first few trips when I packed too much. Sometimes, the best way to learn the importance of packing minimally is to feel how rough a heavy pack can make a hike.
On that same trip, while setting up our tents – me with my own and everyone else borrowing from the guiding company, I recalled the frustration that led to empowerment after figuring out the pole and loop puzzle. On day two, while at our second camp in Little Yosemite Valley, I heard a snap. The guide and I strolled over. One of my trail mates had accidentally set up the tent backward, bending one pole more than it wanted to. I flashed back to the day prior when I saw pole braces unpacked, lying next to stakes. After years of carrying around my shiny metal tube without actually using it, I was eager to see how it worked. I explained the use while sliding the cylinder over the pinched part of the pole. Laughs and high-fives were shared by all! A mistake. A solution. Together as a team.
Although joining a group of people you don’t yet know for a few hours or for a few days can sound uncomfortable or intimidating, the potential to make new friends, especially as adults, heavily outweighs the “costs.” (See our previous post on “Finding & Maintaining Relationships in Adulthood”). We hope that by reading this guide, you feel so prepared for group travel with people you don’t know that the idea of adventuring with strangers sounds more approachable and, even better, fun! That’s what we are here for! And we don’t want anything to get in your way of that joy.
About the author:
Natasha Buffo is a creative non-fiction writer and a community mental health instructor. You can also find her work on Recreation.gov, the Fleet Feet Blog, GearJunkie, and Tahoe Quarterly Magazine. Natasha’s biggest writing project is her unpublished memoir, which shows that travels can be put on pause but the lives of our loved ones sometimes can’t. When she’s not in front of the computer, you’ll find her snowboarding in Tahoe, riding her bike across states, kayaking on alpine lakes, camping in the backcountry, hiking on unpopular trails, or walking her new puppy.