Traveling with an organized group

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A sunset photo with TechWomen ladies in Jordan
A sunset photo with TechWomen ladies in Jordan

I realize I haven’t written much about my trip with TechWomen to Jordan, and it’s been nearly two months since I returned.  Part of that is because we experienced so much and had so little time to process any of those experiences.  The rest is because things have been a bit busy around here.

Recently, I was telling an acquaintance about my trip to Jordan.  When I said that I didn’t have much time to explore on my own, he literally turned away from me– apparently, my trip wasn’t interesting because I spent my time with an organized group.

While I may not have camped out with the Bedouin in the desert (maybe something to add to my list of things to do in life…), traveling with the TechWomen crew made for a very authentic travel experience in a different way.

Long bus rides gave everyone on the trip a lot of time to talk with one another.  I got to know other mentors and the Emerging Leaders (ELs) better by sitting next to them on the bus.  An EL from Palestine and I discussed how dating works in the Middle East vs. in the U.S., and another EL from Tunisia convinced me that I need to go visit her country (and spend at least 3 weeks there).  We spent a lot of time connecting over the similarities and differences in our families, what they are like, and what they expect of us.  It was a gift to have that time to bond and to learn about the region from people who live there.

Most of our meetings during the week were at schools, universities, or technology hubs.  We met entrepreneurs and heard their company pitches.

We learned from VCs how they choose which technologies to fund and learned how censorship in the Middle East differs across the region.

We watched groups of young girls argue about business strategies while playing business simulation games to practice for their Jordan-wide competition.

I ate lunch with a group of middle school students and learned about their lives: their families, their schools, their dreams.  They asked me about my family and career path in return and laughed at the runny gluten-free dessert I was given in my special meal in lieu of delicious chocolate cake.  I talked with their teachers and career counselors and found that they were just as passionate about helping their students succeed as people I’d met in the U.S. in those roles.

I met a high school student who wants to be a chemist when she grows up, so that she can make drugs and cure diseases.  She likes chemistry because she likes thinking about how the different atoms interact and how it explains so much of the world– a girl after my own heart!  Her parents want her to be a doctor, and we talked about how she might be able to convince them to let her study chemistry instead of medicine.  Hopefully it works, because the world needs more people with her passion.

While we didn’t do everything I would have wanted to do as tourist in Jordan, we met real Jordanians and learned a bit about what makes them tick. (It’s not that different from what makes people here tick.)  We met technologists in Amman (kind of like Silicon Valley of the Middle East) and visited people who live 5 km from the Syrian border and are an hour from the nearest place where they can access the internet.  We traveled through different landscapes (Northern mountains, desert canyons) and through time (Petra, Jerash, the Internet hubs in Amman).  It was real, and was a study in contrasts, and I’m incredibly privileged to have been invited on the trip.

Traveling with a group also decreased my stress level about finding gluten-free food.  I worry about being glutened at restaurants in the U.S., where I can ask about ingredients can read the menu, and this can be stressful when traveling.  With our tour group we had someone who knew ingredients in different foods and made sure I had things that were safe to eat.  It was a HUGE relief.

While group travel isn’t my typical M.O., it was great fun to travel with this group of women.  It was less stressful on the food front (which was nice) and I feel I got to know the “real” Jordan a bit, not only through the things we saw, but through the people we connected with.  I feel like I understand the Middle East a little better. Travel, for me, is about experiencing the world and getting a glimpse of what the world looks like through the eyes of the people who live there. My trip to Jordan with the TechWomen crew definitely achieved both goals.

Thoughts on group travel?  Is it better, worse, or just different?  Have you met one of those judgmental-about-travel people and been rubbed the wrong way by it?

One Comment Add yours

  1. Holly KN says:

    I have plenty of opinions about what I think is the average “group travel” experience (big group of people from your own country, riding a little bus around, stopping at a site, taking photos, getting back on the bus, etc.). While I’m totally uninterested in this kind of experience, I’m certainly open to other kinds of group experiences. And I do realize that, for many people, this kind of travel actually makes an otherwise impossible trip possible.

    And we have definitely had some really good group travel experiences. For example, while we were traveling last year, we did some group trips in New Zealand to go kayaking: these trips included people from all over the world – active, outdoorsy, interesting people that we bonded with, learned from, and laughed with. We’re also considering a similar kind of group experience to go hiking in Japan. We find these groups to be diverse, athletic, and share a common set of interests. We got lots of great travel tips for our subsequent European travel from people we met in NZ.

    So although I am not so interested in cookie cutter group tours, I respect other people’s right to take them.

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