The rush to make up for two years at home.
The tour buses are rolling again, filled with travelers. My age peers who are hearty travelers, Boomers, are comparing notes on how many trips or tours were cancelled, and how they are making up for lost time.
Countries are traded like baseball cards.
“Have you been to Machu Picchu?”
“Yes, it was fabulous, but I really enjoyed the birding tour to Costa Rica.”
“The view from this hotel rooftop reminds me of looking at the Parthenon in Athens.”
I wanted to scream Be Here Now as this trip is not a competition leg, and there is no Parthenon in France. Although I confess the Covid years did a number on time and memory. “Two years ago…no, it was four years ago…”
I liked my most recent group. It was small and we’d gotten to know each other, cheering for each other on strenuous parts of the tour, forgiving the flaws.
I’ve noted recurring types on tour groups.
This is not a comprehensive list, and I’m sure I will add others to the list in the future. You may have observed additional types.
1) The woman with too much baggage, in every sense. Two large suitcases, which would have been steamer trunks in the old days. These suitcases are on wheels to navigate the cobblestone streets and steps without handrails. She is fully made up, with matching earrings and necklace, and changes clothes before each meal. She shops.
2) The know-it-all who amends the tour guide’s presentations about Meso American ruins. The tour presenter has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology. The tourist guy know-it-all causes the rest of us to roll our eyes or slink down in our seats. He was the kid who always had one more question in class, even as the dismissal bell was ringing.
3) The gourmand who is just here to eat. He orders a cocktail, appetizer, main course, wine, dessert, and aperitif while the rest of us check our watches and try not to count his plates.
4) The couple joined at the hip. They have spent the last forty years together, and cannot sit apart at a meal, on the bus, in a lecture, or walking down a dusty path. When asked to introduce themselves, one or the other just says, “Oh, I’m Bob’s better half” or “I’m with Betty, the same goes for me.” They don’t have separate identities. In the worst cases, they are color-coordinated.
5) The recent widow or widower who will talk endlessly about their former spouse, how they have never been able to eat alone at a restaurant, and how their daughter made them go on this trip.
6) The grandmother. With pictures. Many pictures.
Each tour I have been on — five, no over-achiever — had its own personality and composition. I have been the sole single in a group and felt like the odd one out. I have always paid the single supplement rather than get stuck with a disaster, or be the disaster, of a randomly paired roommate.
For the first day or two, we group participants size each other up. It’s a lot like the first day of high school. Sometimes I am invited to the cool kids’ table. Sometimes I eat alone, with several knots of family groups or friend groups oblivious to anyone else. After even a couple tours, I’ve learned which company and style I prefer.
I regard tour guides as saints, with patience I will never know.
They are part border collie, enthusiast, medic, time-keeper, referee. All done with a smile.
When I was younger I traveled alone more often, or traveled with one friend. I can tell you the tales that make travel an adventure, like asking directions from a hooker wearing only fishnet stockings and stiletto heels on a street corner in the Milan outskirts in the middle-of-the-night.
Adventure is fine and makes for good stories, but now I would rather know I am getting from here-to-there and my hotel has my reservation.
I like not being responsible for the itinerary and the logistics.
I show up, because the tour buses are rolling.