Day dreaming about the white sands of Ko Phi Phi, and the tear inducing views of the Taj Mahal is one thing, but having to organise said trip is a whole different adventure. That’s why for most people, the thought of having your transport and itinerary sorted for you is enough to make you weak at the knees. I certainly felt that way when I booked the Southern Sun trip with TrekAmerica across the U, S of A.
Although the thought of traveling with a trek group can be followed by an exasperated sigh by most hard-core travelers, not all of us have the luxury of time to plan such massive trips. And that’s not to say it’s impossible, but being eighteen, doing my A-Levels, applying for various universities and working part time, I was thankful to have Trek America taking most of the weight off my shoulders.
Unfortunately, as with most things, nothing is perfect. So, here are the pros and cons of traveling with a trek group, based purely on my experience I must add.
Organisation is the key
Having your itinerary sorted, but also the option to participate in rare opportunities, is a huge benefit of trekking with a company. I’ll be honest, it would have taken a lot of reading and research for me to have done everything that I managed to do on my three week Trek. Like white water rafting down the Ocoee River in Tennessee, or horse back riding at a cowboy camp in Utah. Although I am aware that many travellers reek of laidback-ness, when it comes to paying bills and studying for exams, it’s nice to take a few short cuts and minimize the stress.
A – to – B
Having transport, as well as the cost of fuel, covered in your initial payment crosses off another ‘To-Do’ on your list. Also, having a driver is an added bonus to say the least, saving you from the delights of a shady cab driver. In fact, we got talking to some guys in New Orleans who had been traveling independently from San Francisco and they admitted that joining a trek group would have probably been a much better idea ‘gas’ wise.
Having your big trip hosted by a ‘local’ who knows their stuff was a great way to get the most out of being a culture vulture. As, contrary to popular belief, North America DOES have a culture! As you travel across America you get the best of, well not both worlds, but a multitude of them! You can brush through the leaves of the heavily forested Shenandoah National park in Virginia, and next week you can be taking a jeep tour over the orange sand dunes of Monument Valley and then walk around lit up Las Vegas. Our Trek Leader, Ashley, from Lubbock Texas, gave us the awesome opportunity to meet her friends from high-school and have an old-fashioned house party, hot tub and mexican food included. Also, Ashley’s enthusiasm over hiking and national parks was extremely contagious.
Spontaneity is still possible!
With a strict itinerary and time keeping, you may think that spontaneity is out of the question. Although we were not as spontaneous as an independent trip could have been, there were still moments. For example, we had our texas house party, and a trip to the Tabasco factory in Louisiana.
Meeting new people – gone right
Now this is on my good AND bad list, but I’ll go in to that later. I was put into a group, according to age I presumed, of nine. I got on great with them, and some are still prominent facebook friends. Although, there were two girls who were a tad bit on the anti-social side, which kind of put a dampener on the trip.
Meeting new people – gone wrong
Prior to your trek, you join up on the Trek America online social media page, Trek America Live, which gives you the opportunity to get chatting to fellow trippers on your chosen trek. I used this to my advantage, and tool of procrastination during study leave, to make some new friends. After a few weeks of getting to know each other, we all decided to meet up in New York a few days before our Trek set off. We had a great time visiting an old Irish Pub in Brooklyn and then went to an old-American Yankees game (read more about that on my New York Bucket List post). The problems arose when we were actually divided into our trek groups. I don’t think this is something that occurs often, but as our trek was at a popular time of the year (July-August) there were enough people to take four separate trek groups, who although were on the same trek, we only saw them every now and then. And this was a shame as I was put in a completely different group to all the people I had made an effort to meet up with in New York, and even worse, had made good friends with.
Go, go, go!
Trying to squeeze 16 states into 28 days is not easy! As a result, the whole trek seemed a bit rushed, and by the end I was so tired out that I actually ended up suffering from exhaustion in Las Vegas (although, I am prone to this anyway). I couldn’t help but think that if I has planned my own itinerary, I could have had more freedom. Washington was great for a day, but by day two I had been there and seen it. If I had the choice, I would have scrapped that extra day in Washington and added it on to our stop off at Zion National park so I could finish the River walk trail. Roswell was a bit lackluster as well, and apart from an overwhelming stock of alien souvenirs and statues, I would have preferred to replace it with a trip to San Francisco.
Lack of freedom
Although we had spontaneous moments, if you wanted to do something, it was unlikely you’d get to do it unless there was a collective agreement between the whole group. For example, I wanted to visit the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Tennessee but we drove past it to make good time whilst another trek group got the once in the lifetime chance I wanted in on.
So, there you go. I do not regret my decision to do the Southern Sun trip with Trek America for a second. In fact, if trek groups like these never existed I would probably have not made it to America, let alone 16 states, in the short time between finishing sixth form and going to University. Now that I’m older though, and surrounded by fellow travel hungry companions, a hand-made big trip is something I’m looking forward to in the future.