I admit it: I'm not a fan of big organized tours. I hate the bus trips. I despise standing out like a sore thumb feeling like I've got "tourist" painted on my forehead. It bothers me that we're only as fast as the slowest person in the group. And I'm impatient; I don't want to wait my turn to get a brief peek at the incredible item or drawing the guide is pointing out over there in the corner of the museum or temple. Plus, I can't stand it when all my photos have all the same people from my tour group appearing in them over and over.
Sometimes, however, being in a large group is the best way to see the sites, get behind the scenes and ensure safety, especially in places where tourists are easy prey for aggressive vendors and pickpockets. Often, group tours come with skilled guides who know a whole lot about a destination's culture and history. (I can't count the number of times a guide has made me feel embarrassed I don't know more about our own U.S. history.) In places where tourism is important but safety is a concern, you'll probably get a group security detail and police escort, too. So if you're independent-minded like me but find yourself on a group tour, here are my tips for getting the most out of the experience -- and the best photos -- without losing your mind.
1. Hang out at the back. In a large group, everyone is concerned about being close to the guide; people don't want to miss a thing. But linger in the back -- within earshot -- and you'll find the spaces for prime photo angles clear out quickly. Are you wearing one of those earpieces linked to your tour guide's microphone? Even better. Know where he's going, but take your time to make sure to check out the sites that matter. (Train yourself to listen actively while also browsing around the destination at your own pace). You'll get photos with fewer tourists in them, and you'll see the same highlights he was pointing out to the group. You just won't have to stand on your tiptoes to see them over the crowd.
2. Get to the front. So, the back is cool, and it's my default. But be on the lookout for what's next, too. If you see a tight space or something really detailed coming up, scoot to the front so you can see it, snap your pics and then step aside. (You don't want to be the jerk that stands in everyone's way, do you?)
3. Turn around. Your guide is talking about that interesting statue, and everyone is looking at it. Don't get caught up staring in the direction the group is moving; turn around to see where you came from whether the cool new angle offers something different or beautiful. Some of my best shots happen just because I've made that 180-degree move. You've turned around? Awesome! Now look up. Ceilings and tall statues can be incredible. In Egypt, for example, some of the best-preserved and most-colorful carvings at the temples are well above eye level, and if you don't look up, you'll miss them. And wouldn't that be a shame?
4. Take advantage of free time. "Free time" is my favorite phrase when traveling with a large group. This is when the guide has finished her informative tour and sets you loose. It's rarely long enough (generally 15 to 30 minutes or so), but if you're ready with a plan, it's your signal to book it to those sites you didn't get enough time in front of or over to the spots she pointed out but didn't visit. Move fast: If it was specifically mentioned, others will go there, too. So make that spot your priority and get your snaps in before everyone else arrives.
All these methods work especially well when you are in good shape, so you can be nimble and easily catch up to your group. Once again, another reason to travel fit!
Thanks for reading,