Sometimes when travelling with a group, I revert back to my 13-year old self. It’s not a pretty sight.
You see, when I was 13 I was a loser, or more accurately, my peers perceived me as a loser and figuratively labeled with a capital “L” strapped to my head. I didn’t get why I didn’t fit in, I was just painfully aware that I didn’t.
My wardrobe was formed around two core staples: a pastel pink sweatshirt covered with sheep, and another sweatshirt, but this time, red covered with cats strumming banjos. My look was complete with huge owl-like glasses that covered half my face. I was really tall for a 13 year old, 5’8 ft. (175cm) and skinny, but without the grace of a supermodel. I frequently ran into objects that weren’t even directly in front of me.
The fact that I lacked coordination skills didn’t stop me from trying out for the basketball team. To no one’s surprise, I did not make the cut.
Now it may be painfully obvious to you why I didn’t fit in, but to me at the time it wasn’t. Yes, I was shy, but I was also kind, loved animals (so much that I wore them plastered on my sweatshirts) and loved to read. I enjoyed a variety of activities from cycling, swimming, and had just recently given up figure skating. I was also reasonably intelligent. In other words, I had a variety of interests, and was well, nice. Shouldn’t that be enough to make me fit in? Apparently it wasn’t.
Or perhaps it was, but my fellow 13-year-old classmates just didn’t see it. Deanna Aker did. Deanna was the co-basketball coach. She was a few years older than me, pretty, peppy, and most importantly popular. She was also really kind. When the yearbooks came out that thorny year, I mustered up the courage to ask her to sign it. Having Deanna sign it would show the world, or at least my 7th grade class, that I wasn’t a complete loser. She not only readily agreed, but she left a comment that would change the way I perceived myself. Keep on smiling that pretty smile of yours, one day it’s going to break lots of hearts. Someone had seen beyond the owl glasses, animal print sweatshirts and lanky gait. Almost 30 years later those impactful words still bring tears to my eyes.
When traveling with a group, you can have that instant chemistry, the I can’t believe we just met, I feel like we’ve known each other forever. I LOVE it when that happens and have been fortunate enough to experience it on multiple trips.
Then there have been other trips. Those, where I don’t connect with anyone, where a rock would appear to be more interesting than whatever it is that I have to say. I revert back to feeling like my 13-year-old loser self.
Similarly, sometimes I still don’t see why I don’t fit in with the group. The difference now is that it bothers me that I care that I don’t fit in with a group of strangers that I’ll most likely never see again. When I was 13 I was supposed to want to fit in. That’s completely normal for a teenager. But for an adult woman, I should know better than to let a group of strangers make me revert to my awkward insecure 13-year-old self. So on top of feeling like an outsider, I’m busy chastising myself for caring. It’s a no-win situation.
I’ve had to work really hard to not only accept feeling like an outsider in some situations when travelling with a group, but to actually embrace it. It still gets the best of me sometimes, but I’ve found the following strategies to be helpful wen you feel like an outsider. Nobody should ever feel like a loser, but especially not when you’re on vacation and supposed to be enjoying yourself.
1) It’s Not You, But It’s Not Them Either
You can’t control the way people treat you, but you can control the way you react to it. Now if there’s a verbally abusive situation, by all means you should stand up for yourself, but often in group travel, it’s often much more subtle than that. It could be being excluded from conversations. Or perhaps nobody has any reaction when you tell a funny story or a joke. That sucks. I’ve been there and have had it happen even when the joke was funny ;).
Now you don’t have to retaliate and mumble under your breath that you’re surrounded by idiots who are too stupid to understand your really funny joke. Note that the joke has now gone from being funny to being really funny. That won’t make you feel better. Trust me, I’ve tried it. Instead, accept that you’re simply not connecting, that’s it. You’re not going to connect with everyone you meet, and that’s all that’s happening here. Nothing more. You’re not a loser, and neither are they. You’re simply two (or more) people who aren’t connecting that are travelling as a group.
2)Try Connecting with Individuals Away from the Group
Sometimes you may find that you don’t click with a group as a whole, but that you do click with one or two people away from the group. I found this on a recent 10-day trip. It made a huge difference to how much I enjoyed myself. Although I didn’t enjoy the group dynamics, I found myself enjoying my conservation with a couple of individuals away from the group, even if it was just for 10 minutes.
3)You Might Not Connect with Who You Think You’ll Connect With
When I hiked to Everest Base Camp with a group there were a few females around the same age as I was. While I never felt like an outsider, I assumed it was with one of them that I would develop the deepest bond. Instead, the person I connected the most with was a 22nd year old male Swiss journalist. We shared a love of hiking and both live in Europe, but our commonalities ended there. Still, I enjoyed our conversations immensely, and felt more connected to him than to anyone else in the group.
I found it was often the same when I was with a new group of people in my hiking group when I in Calgary. Frequently the person I connected the most with would be 20 years my senior, even though there were other people my own age there.
When I did my first diving live-aboard there was a German guy who I avoided for the first day because I thought he looked grumpy. Instead, I surrounded myself with others who looked happier. Three years after that fateful trip, that grumpy German guy became my husband and I’m only loosely in touch with one other person that I travelled with on that trip.
Be open to everyone in a group travel situation. You may be surprised at who you connect with and how much richer your life will be for it.
4)Don’t Try to Fit In With When Travelling with a Group If You Don’t
If you really don’t fit in after giving it your best shot, stop trying. You will reek of desperation and it will only serve to push people farther away. I came to this stark realization at an Ayurveda retreat in Sri Lanka. I was alone and had a lot of time on my hands since besides the treatments, you’re supposed to relax. A lot. This was challenging in itself for me, so I tried to compensate by making friends. I assumed it would be an English and a Swiss lady. They were both there by themselves, and always seemed to be having a grand time together. I love to have fun too, so this would be great. We could be the three musketeers!
Based on my illusions how the week was going to play out, I asked the Swiss lady if she would like to have dinner with me. We were both dining alone at our separate tables, and I thought she’d be delighted. Instead, she responded with No, I’d prefer to have dinner alone. I was initially crushed. I’m ashamed to admit that my (silent) response to make myself feel better was by assuring myself that she had recently been fired, and was having a time finding a new job. She probably felt worse about herself by hanging around with me. Now, I know that she had been fired, but had no idea if the rest was true.
After a couple of hours of feigned superiority, which did nothing to make me feel better, I realized that her declining to have dinner with me was a blessing. Instead of hanging out with other women who I had little in common with, and would likely never see again, I could use the week to go inwards, to get to know a more relaxed version of myself. It wasn’t easy. And I will admit to being bored at times, but I’m truly grateful and my experience at the Ayurveda retreat ended up being much more enriching than if I had just passed the time with two strangers.
5)Acknowledge How You Feel, Then Move On
We’re human. As social creatures it’s natural that we feel the need to connect. Acknowledge that you don’t like feeling like an outsider, then move on. I know, it’s easier said than done. It’s like saying don’t be afraid of the dentist, but still my fear has kept me away for over 5 years…But really, trying to engage with people who have no interest in you is demoralizing. You don’t need that in your life, and especially not when you’re on vacation.
Instead, shift your focus. Become engrossed in a book on long bus rides that you’ve wanted to read forever, but never find time for– like Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Rather appropriate given the circumstances don’t you think?
Explore on your own if that’s an option and check out what’s of most interest to you. Whether that be visiting a museum, going for a solo hike, or simply wandering the streets. You’ll create much longer lasting memories of your travels than by going along with the group and seeing something that’s only of mild interest to you.
6)You’re Probably Not the Only One Who Feels Like an Outsider
It’s easy to wallow in self-pity and think poor me; I’m the only one who doesn’t fit in. But 1) that’s a complete waste of your precious vacation time 2) It’s probably not true.
I was speaking at a travel blogging conference last year someone came up to me that I had only interacted with online. When I acknowledged her and said it was great to meet her in person, she burst into tears. I was the first person that knew who she was. Everyone else who she thought she had an online connection with, and had previously introduced herself to had no ideas who she was. They had had no idea who she was. I had a similar experience at my first travel blogging event and it was devastating. I welcomed her to join the table I was sitting at for lunch and her baffled response was You’d let me sit at your table with you and the other speakers? Admit it, we’ve all felt like that at some point in our lives and it sucks, but at least you know you’re not alone.
When you do find yourself being part of the in crowd, as I (finally) did at this particular conference, be kind. It may be appreciated more than you ever know. We’re in this together. And it may be you without a place to eat lunch the next time around.
7)The Only Person That Can Make You Feel Like a Loser Is Yourself
At the end of the day, you might have wished that you were with a group that immediately felt like your best friends, and I truly wish that for you. I love it when that happens! But if that’s not the case and you are the outsider, don’t let anyone make you feel like a loser. You get to choose your reaction. Someone doesn’t laugh at your jokes? That’s their loss. You don’t need validation from your travel group to know how special you are. You might think you do, but you really don’t. Choose to believe you are special and yes even perhaps different, and then celebrate it. Don’t wait for a Deanna Aker to show up; be your own Deanna, Keep on smiling that pretty smile of yours, one day it’s going to break lots of hearts.