I’m going to be frank with you, I really love traveling. I wouldn’t be majoring in International Studies at the nation’s top study abroad university if I didn’t love it. There is nothing like going to a new place and delving into a culture and releasing yourself from your domestic being, that person who is consumed with worry about bills, family, classes, and your existential worth. With travel, all of those worries are placed on a back burner while your pleasure self makes its way to the front griddle, ready to absorb the foreign yet intoxicating flavors of a new country, new customs and new memories.
In my life, I have been incredibly fortunate to have traveled extensively, and to have experienced a lot of beautiful newness that only travel can inspire within one’s self. I have been to three continents (four if you count a layover in Dubai), and I have enjoyed every experience fully – well, except one. This experience was one of the most trying for me, not because of the country, but because of the group I was stuck with while traveling.
Last year, I went on a class trip to Cyprus. (The college that I go to has a program called Preview, which lets freshmen take a class on a specific topic that impacts a country, and then travel to that country during their spring break.) For those who don’t know, Cyprus is a unique island nation in the Mediterranean that has been embroiled in a frozen conflict since 1974 between its Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot inhabitants. Despite the tension, it is a great country full of delicious food, lively political discussion, gorgeous waterfronts, amazing Hellenistic ruins, and Byzantine brick structures. I had always wanted to go to Cyprus, and I was stoked to not only go there, but also to take a course about the nation’s rough political history since the conflict started after its decolonization. (Yes, I am one of those people!) However, the moment I walked into the classroom, I knew this was going to be an interesting trip due to whom I was going with. As we all introduced ourselves on the first day of class, it occurred to me that most of the people who were going with me had not originally signed up to go to Cyprus, but had wanted to go to Italy or other popular trips that the college was offering to first year students for spring break. Most of the people in the room didn’t even know what Cyprus was, and for a good portion of the students there it would be their first time ever abroad. I knew that because they were all new to travel they would of course do some things that first time travelers do such as over-pack, or not know which side of the escalator to stand on. Throughout the next few weeks, each Friday brought forth excitement underlined with a horrid sense of trepidation.
Most of the students in my class were excited to go to Europe for the first time and learn about Cypriot culture. There were others, however, who made it clear from day one that all they wanted to do was drink, party, and hit the beach. There is nothing wrong with that desire, but it was that blunt message along with hints of ugly American generalizations that they were radiating each class that made me more and more worried about my upcoming trip as each class went by. (After hearing “Is this going to be like Taken”, at least three times each class, it starts to make an experienced traveler’s hope dwindle.) By March, we were finally in Cyprus! The airplane ride over was smooth, and everyone seemed to be getting along and having a great time. My worries about the trip seemed to be just another overanalyzed piece of pessimism that had crept its way into my psyche. After the second day, my negativity was back and I was hoping for some awesome miracle to make it better.
Cliques had been formed and cattiness ensued. Three groups were created, and the divisions made daily excursions awkward. Two of the groups – the ones I wasn’t in – were loud and obnoxious with how they delivered their not-so-eloquent opinion of things. The thing that really grated my nerves was how they would act superior and say culturally ignorant things. I recall once we were about to go into a beautiful Byzantine mosque, and one of these ladies very judgmentally and loudly said that she didn’t understand why the men were allowed upstairs, how that was wrong, and questioned why we even had to go to the mosque. (For non-Muslims, it is a privilege to be invited to go into a mosque.) The worst of it, was that the other groups made others on the trip feel bad about themselves because of who they were and it led to people feeling excluded and upset when they should have felt the opposite.
The group I was in was pretty great, but of course, with all group travel there were some drawbacks. Due to not knowing where to go in Cyprus, we often stuck together to do everything – all 7 of us. By rolling seven deep every time we all went out together, I felt as if we were holding bright blinking signs screaming “WE ARE AMERICAN!” I was embarrassed and I felt limited because breaking out of the big group made it seem that something was wrong with you. I didn’t want to cause any more drama and I tried to make the most it. I had some great times with the group, but I really wished to roam the streets by myself and absorb Cypriot culture my own way.
Not being able to do that was emotional for me; I recall going on top of our hotel’s roof to get some air and ending up in tears while watching the lights of Nicosia come on. I needed that moment of solitude and release. I had done group travel before, but it had never been this difficult. Was it the cliques and the malevolent behavior? Was I just tired and just overacting? Or was it because I felt caged and alienated? I wanted to feel joie de vivre in such a unique place, but this trip was wearing me down and making me become as negative as some of the people that surrounded me. Instead of absorbing culture in the way I wanted to, I was regrettably saturated with dismal moodiness.
The last night of our trip was the worst and solidified everyone’s desire for spring break to be over. In order to not go into intricate anecdotes and speculations, I will just give a quick rundown for you. One person had to go to the hospital, and another person was supposedly assaulted (to what extent I don’t know) after a night of partying. These events coupled with a few hours of drinking overly priced sangria at a limp nightclub made me have another private cry spell. Never in my life, did I want a trip to end so badly as I did during that spring break.
Now looking back at this whole trip, I can see it as an important lesson about travel in general. You need to be true with yourself, especially when you are thrown into situations where you have to travel with people who have differing expectations and tastes as you. As for group travel, I think it is an important experience that everyone should at least try out once in their lives because it teaches you about people and what type of traveler you are. The Cyprus trip for me solidified that I am a person who can only travel with loved ones that I know have similar interests and pacing as me. I feel that I can honestly say that I am done with group travel, and I don’t think I will ever do a class trip like this again.
For you the reader, I want you to be aware of how you act during group travel, especially if you are leaving the country for the first time. Find a friend in your class who you know you can rely on for adventures and venting when the cliques of your group threaten to ruin your trip and crush your self-esteem. Know your emotional and physical limits, especially with drinking. Please be smart and try not to be the “ugly American” because no one really likes that guy other than for free entertainment. Try to be kind, and know when to let your new surroundings do the talking rather than you. Most importantly, don’t let your group limit you from doing what you want to do.