Forget Bournemouth, How about Samarkand: The Joys of Group Travel

Written by Lindsay Bamfield
(One of two winning entries in the Travel for Seniors Writing Competition.)

Samarkand

Samarkand

Travel for those of us who are older has never been so easy. We may not choose to back-pack overland to Kathmandu as we did in the 1960s and 70s before Lonely Planet guides, ATMs or the Internet, but destinations with similarly romantic names are still achievable even if we are now less energetic and intrepid.

Forget Bournemouth! In my fifties and sixties I’ve visited Zanzibar, Mandalay, Samarkand and Timbuktu, places I dreamed of since my teens, along with a host of other destinations less elegantly named. I travel with groups for the simple reason that they cater for those who don’t have open-ended months to travel in and are great for those, like me, who are travelling alone.

Ladies of Samarkand

Ladies of Samarkand

If you choose to stay only in smart hotels, your destinations may be limited to the tourist track but none the worse for that. However if you have a reasonable level of fitness, an open mind and are happy to spend the occasional night in a tent, a yurt or on the open deck of a boat, more distant locations are yours.

Whatever level of comfort you choose, there will be a company to suit your needs. Groups cater for couples, friends travelling together or singles and are usually a good mix of each.

Stonetown in Zanzibar

Stonetown in Zanzibar

Of course you will meet the stereotypes: the couple who has everything – a happy 50 year marriage, a holiday home somewhere warm, membership to the opera and ballet, interesting friends and the list of places they’ve visited is longer than anyone else’s, but they are nice people. They are great for interesting conversation, unless you indulge in one-upmanship because no matter what you have done they will always outshine you.

There will often be a grumpy git, generally male, who enjoys a grumble about the perfectly adequate hotel, the local food or the state of the roads and buses (sometimes with justification) and inevitably, there will be the bore, always male, who in an attempt to reinstate his retirement-loss-of-status claims to know more about everything than anyone else, although of course he doesn’t. Sometimes these two are the same person.

Masai lady in Zanzibar

Masai lady in Zanzibar

There will often be the fusser, generally a single female. She endlessly unpacks and re-packs her travel bags, carries an oversize travel pillow and cushion and several bags and invariably loses one, or causes uproar by claiming her recent purchase of local jewellery has been stolen by hotel staff when it was safely stored in one of the pockets in one of her many her bags all the time. If you are travelling on your own, it is well worth paying the single supplement to avoid having to share her room, because she never pays a supplement.

But these travellers are far outnumbered by interesting people who want to explore and experience the same locations as you do.

The Peace Memorial of Timbuktu

The Peace Memorial of Timbuktu

You take photos of the rooftops of Khiva with an engineer from Scotland, share a pot of mint tea with an ex-RAF nurse in Petra, visit a village school in Gambia with two teachers and end up teaching the children to sing ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’.

You share jokes with an over-worked GP and an accountant as you gaze at a billion stars in a desert sky in Oman. You hike to Fidel Castro’s old hideout with three couples and discover you all know the same person back home and you swap books with a retired fireman on the road to Mandalay.

You cast bets as to who will eat a whole fried tarantula in Cambodia or vote for the best Mojito in Cuba. You find the perfect location to establish the group’s own ‘Exotic Marigold Hotel’ in India and you all vie for best picture of the sunset anywhere in the world.

Tuareg school in Timbuktu

Tuareg school in Timbuktu

Joining a group on my own I have found that group members look out for each other, lending one another battery chargers, sun cream, Imodium or local currency. I’ve never had to eat alone and I’ve enjoyed trips on local buses to markets or museums out of town with fellow travellers feeling that bit more confident because there are two or three of us. It’s always more pleasant to get lost when there are several of you!

I’ve met a variety of people who also enjoy travelling – the only downside of which is that I always end up with a list of places they’ve recommended so my own go-to list grows ever longer and I wonder how long I’ll need to live to fit them all in.


POSTED 20th SEPTEMBER 2017 by STEVE HANSON on behalf of LINDSAY BAMFIELD. The photographs were supplied by the author after the competition had been judged.

Lindsay lives in London and tries to see as much of the world as she can. She would like to be eligible for membership of the Travelers’ Century Club but so far has managed only about 53% of its criterion.

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