Group travel companies like Topdeck provide the perfect balance of culture, adventure and fun for anyone who doesn’t want to travel solo. Thinking about booking a group travel experience but not sure what to expect? We sat down with Dan Kilgore (DK) and Jemma Greenhalgh (JG), resident Trip Leaders from Topdeck to find out more about what goes on during trips.
CT: What’s the strangest request you’ve had on a trip?
DK: As Trip Leaders, it’s our job to make sure everyone has the trip of a lifetime, with no request too big or small. I once had a passenger who wanted to experience the sunrise and sunset in every country we visited. It was a 26-day trip that spanned over 10 countries, meaning I spent a large amount of time searching for the picture-perfect sunrise. The passenger was thrilled and had a pretty impressive Instagram account by the end of it.
JG: Being on the road for up to 50 days at a time does mean that you are sometimes faced with some strange requests. A passenger once asked me to call a hotel that we’d recently left in Amsterdam, as she had left a small bag there. When I asked what was in the bag, she was reluctant to tell me but eventually revealed it was a bag of sex toys – cue having to call the hotel to arrange for a bag of sex toys to be sent back to London.
CT: Similarly, what are the weirdest things you’ve seen on a trip?
DK: Being a Trip Leader for the past four years means there are a few to choose from, but one that is up there happened during a sailing trip around Greece. When we arrived at the docks to set sail, every single one of the passengers had made the most amazing pirate costume (we are talking Pirates of the Caribbean level here), which they proceeded to wear and parade around in for the duration of the trip!
JG: On the odd occasion, we encounter some traffic on the road, Topdeckers have been known to have some fun. We were once stuck in grid-locked traffic and after assessing that it was safe, we noticed some of our group playing rugby with a water bottle in the middle of the motorway. You don’t get to see that every day!
CT: What are your top five dos for anyone thinking about a group travel experience?
JG and DK:
- Do have an idea of what you would like to do, and ask your Trip Leader to make sure that you get the most out of it From recommending the best place to find authentic street food in South Korea to finding the best gelato in Rome, your Trip Leader is on hand to make your travel goals a reality so speak up about what you want and we will do our best to achieve it for you.
- Do see the sunrise at least once – yes, this might mean an early start, but there is nothing more beautiful than watching the world wake up, be it overlooking Angkor Wat in Cambodia or on-board a sailing boat in Croatia.
- Do be open to new experiences – you never know what amazing museum, café or hidden beach you might find yourself at if you say ‘yes’ and try something you might not have considered before.
- Do understand you will be able to get some time for yourself, if you want it. At Topdeck, each of our trips include ‘free days’ as standard, meaning there is plenty of opportunity to explore another side of a destination or city whiling away the hours reading a book on your own.
- Do pack light – if you pack too much, you won’t have room to buy any souvenirs that you pick up during your trip and no one wants to be weighed down by a heavy backpack, when they could be enjoying the sites.
CT: Similarly, what are your top five don’ts?
JG and DK:
- Don’t worry about travelling solo – we’ve seen an increase in solo travellers joining our trips over the past year and have been responsible for many a group travel convert as a result. Those looking to break up a longer adventure, often find that the group setting of Topdeck’s trips lets them enjoy a few weeks of hassle-free travel while also creating some unforgettable memories.
- Don’t rely on your phone too much – travel allows you to experience things that you would not normally be able to, so ‘look up’, turn off your phone and take a digital detox. Use paper maps, write handwritten notes and postcards, so when your journey is over, you have physical memories to take home with you.
- On your free days, don’t worry about getting a little lost. Wandering the back streets of beautiful cities such as Florence and Prague without a destination in mind, is half the fun of travel, allowing you to discover hidden sides to a destination.
- During free days, try not to book too much in advance. When you arrive at a new destination, you might be tempted to try something you had not originally factored in. Be spontaneous and try not to book up too much of your free time so you can make sure you tick everything off your travel wish list!
- Don’t be unwilling to have a whole bunch of new Facebook or Instagram friends when you get home. The concept of a ‘Topdeck family’ really does exist, and we’ve known passengers who have flown half way around the world to meet up with their friends they’ve made during a trip. Once you’ve experienced the magic of a group trip, the bonds you create really can last forever. Oh, and when your Topdeck trip tune comes on the radio, no-one will be dancing or singing the words louder than you and your new found friends.
CT: What are the most challenging parts of your job?
DK: During my first year as a Trip Leader, I had a passenger that was very scared of heights, but also determined to fulfil her dream to climb the Eiffel Tower. For anyone that doesn’t know, the floor at the top of the Eiffel Tower is a wire grate, which can be terrifying for anyone, let alone someone with a fear of heights.
My passenger was desperate to climb to the top, so it was a challenge to find ways to make sure she achieved her aim. To help mentally prepare her, myself and a group of other passengers climbed the L’Arc de Triomphe, which is much shorter and has concrete floors. She managed to climb to the top, and when she became more comfortable with the height, we headed to the Eiffel Tower. Although she was incredibly nervous, with a lot of positive reinforcement from me and the other passengers, we managed to help make her dream a reality. We got some amazing photos of her with the city of Paris far in the distance below. She was so proud of herself and spent the rest of the trip continuing to challenge herself and her fear of heights, to the point where she even went paragliding in Austria!
CT: What are the best parts of your job?
DK: It might sound cheesy, but I would have to say the people that you get to meet on the road is one of the best things about my job. Some of my best friends are people I’ve met as a Trip Leader. I’ve never worked somewhere where I’ve been able to meet such a range of amazing people and I love being partly responsible for creating life changing travel experiences for our passengers.
JG: Like Dan, my favourite part of my job is being able to meet fun, like-minded people from all around the world. No day on the road is the same, and travelling to the same destination multiple times a year means you can really get to know and understand a city. Of course, being able to travel all around the world is not too bad either.
CT: Is everyone suited to a group travel experience?
DK: Yes, anyone who likes to travel would be suited to a group travel experience. Attitude is certainly key, but on a group trip, you get to have shared experiences with like-minded people that will quickly become your second family! Plus, it’s a myth that you don’t get to spend time on your own.
JG: I think most people are suited to group travel. At Topdeck, you can be as independent or as involved in a group as you like. There are some people who may want the total freedom to stay in a place as they like, but for most, the hassle-free aspect is a bonus of group experiences. Passengers often tell me that they have had the best weeks of their life on a group trip, which is gratifying.