Group Travel: How to Cope When You Don’t Fit In

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Sometimes when travelling with a group, I revert back to my 13-year old self. It’s not a pretty sight.

My Story of Not Fitting in as a Teenager

You see, when I was 13 I was a loser, or more accurately, my peers perceived me as a loser and figuratively labelled 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.

group travel: how to hope you feel alone

The Realities of Group Travel

When travelling 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 when 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.

travelling with a group: how to cope when you feel alone

1) It’s Not You, But It’s Not The Group 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.

travelling with a group: how to cope when you feel alone

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 conversation 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. I ended up being with that grump German guy for 9 1/2 years.  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.

travelling with a group: how to cope when you feel alone

4)Don’t Try to Fit In 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. 

And these travel quotes will lift your spirits when you find yourself on a bus with no one to talk to. 

when you don't fit in when travelling with a group, acknowledge it, then move on and enjoy the rest of your trip.

5)Acknowledge How You Feel, Then Move On To Enjoy the Rest Of Your Trip

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. 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.

know that in your travel group you're likely not the only one who feels like an outsider

6)You’re Probably Not the Only One Who Feels Like an Outsider On Your Group Trip

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.

embrace being alone when you don't fit in with the rest of your travel group

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.

travelling with a group: how to hope you feel alone

Follow these seven tips and group travel will become much easier and more enjoyable, even if you don’t connect with anyone.

27 thoughts on “Group Travel: How to Cope When You Don’t Fit In”

  1. Thank you for this post. I am in the final stretch of a group tour and I am feeling so lonely and rejected. It feels selfish to feel this was on a beautiful vacation but I am regretting taking a group tour. I will try to arrange other things to do to get away from here out. Thank you for this post, I am thankful I’m not alone in this feeling. At least I’ve learned my lesson.

  2. I have been on travel with groups but I never experienced this thing really good. I have seen many eww moments in the group who ruined trips.

  3. I had recently returned from a two-week long holiday. During my time with the tour group it may have seemed to everyone like i was unfriendly but its just that i have always been a socially awkward person and don’t feel quite at ease in a large group of people. Traveling in a group like that kinda forced me to get out of my comfort zone but i guess my effort wasn’t good enough. Even the tour guide whom I found to be really nice and friendly ignored my Facebook friend request but accepted everybody else’s. So, thanks Laurel. I found some comfort when reading your article. It’s good to know that I am not the only one who goes through this.

    • @Jochell, sorry to hear that you had such a negative experience on your tour but kudos to you for getting out of your comfort zone. That’s huge! You’re definitely not alone. It’s a horrible experience but one that many of us have experienced.

  4. Hello Laurel,
    This is very helpful, thank you.
    I was widowed before time 4 years ago. I have now started to go on group holidays including low key walking holidays for fellow single folk. I have just come back from one yesterday and yes I start feeling like the unwanted grammar school teenage girl who no-one especially wanted to be with. I ask myself what is wrong with me. Since leaving school I have had many friends so why don’t I cope with these group hols? Yes it also bothers me that I am bothered! I think what you have to say is so wise and helpful.
    Many thanks again

    • @Sally, I’m so glad that it was helpful and so sorry that your most recent group holiday wasn’t a positive experience. It’s funny how it bothers us, even as adults. We should know better but I think wanting to fit in is very natural. I hope that you were still able to enjoy your holiday. Kudos to you for doing them. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been after being widowed.

  5. I am glad to have read this. Even on FB nobody likes my posts. I don’t think I am an asshole, or a bad person. People seem to misunderstand me, mostly women. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that I couldn’t form normal bond with random women cause my mother didn’t take care of me much as a child. I do have female friends, but it is hard to make them especailly in my 30s. The friends I have are the ones I made back in college.

    I am planning to go on a group trip, but reading this makes me get a step back. I might not be equipped with the mental tools to face people who are mean to me or ostacize me.

    • @Ann, So glad it was useful and sorry to hear that you struggle sometimes. Have you considered doing a solo trip and then day tours with a group? That could be one solution. Or perhaps, you’d do really well on a group trip with like-minded people. Best of luck. I hope that you have an incredible trip.

  6. thank you so much for this post. It really helps. I am a Kenyan taking part in a fellowship in the United States. It is the first time that I am leaving my country. I am here with 24 other fellows for a period of 6weeks. we have been here for 4 and a half weeks and all through I have been trying really hard to fit in. It is so bad that i was on the verge of depression. That was until I read this post. It helps a lot. I will make better use of the remainder of my stay in America.

  7. Hi everyone, I’m travelling with a group of 30 students for two weeks this coming Sunday. None of us knew one another prior to the briefings and hostings (it’s a cultural exchange programme) but on our Whatsapp group, it seems that most of them already know each other very well except for me and a few quiet ones. We have mini lectures to attend and group presentations to do. Other than that it’s mostly free time OTOT with curfew.

    How should i go about dealing with this feeling? I’m afraid that accompanied with my homesickness, I’ll end up crying there. Please help me 🙁

    ~Desperate introvert

    • Hi Lin, Thanks for your message. I hope that some of the tips in the article will help you. In addition, I’d also recommend trying to befriend a couple of the other quiet ones in the group. There’s a good chance that they’re feeling the same way you are and may appreciate breaking off into a smaller group to explore. I hope you have a wonderful trip, let me know how it goes.


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