Though I pride myself on being an independent traveler—I was in the United States Peace Corps in Paraguay for two years, have been to six continents, and spent multiple years reviewing hotels across the U.S. and around the world, by myself— India is one country that I’ve never considered visiting as a solo traveler.
I’ll book a trip alone to many destinations without a second thought, but India is… intimidating. Its reputation of crowds, chaos, and safety problems for women gave me pause. Of course I wanted to see the Taj Mahal, eat tandoori where it was invented, and experience the color, magic, and energy that makes India famous worldwide. I just didn’t want to do it alone. So, when I was invited to experience New Delhi, Agra, and Kathmandu (in Nepal) as part of a G Adventures group trip, the answer was immediately and definitely yes.
Pre-trip, as I filled out the India visa paperwork and shopped for conservative clothing, I was thrilled with the prospect of finally visiting India and Nepal, but admittedly a bit nervous about the group travel aspect. I’m used to planning my own itinerary, moving at the fast pace I prefer, and pivoting plans last-minute if I decide I want to linger at a landmark.
I also had a lot of questions. Is it safe to travel to India? Can you drink the water in India? And what about group tours in India? Would it still be a good experience if I didn’t totally click with my fellow travelers?
I need not have worried. G Adventures is a small-group travel company with an enormous emphasis on social enterprise, travel ethics, and sustainability. It offers hundreds of small group tours worldwide, all led by well-trained and English-speaking locals who absolutely know their stuff. I knew I’d be in good hands, but I had no idea just how good. After a week, I was completely sold on small group travel to India or anywhere else. Here’s how it went down.
The Easy Arrival
After a full day of flying Emirates from New York to a connection in Dubai, I arrived in Delhi. The airport arrival can be one of the most intimidating aspects of visiting India—especially for women. Can you hail a taxi? Is the driver trustworthy? G Adventures has a solution: Women on Wheels, a progressive program that has trained more than 500 female Indian drivers to provide airport pickup services.
Not only is WOW an important, empowering way to provide job training and security to women, it’s an easy service for tourists who want a welcoming face to greet and safely transport them from the airport. I was relieved to see a smiling woman holding a sign with my name on it amidst the arrival chaos at Indira Gandhi International Airport.
After the WOW driver safely deposited me at Le Meridien hotel, I got a second dose of group travel benefits: a G Adventures representative was waiting for me in the contemporary lobby. He greeted me warmly, made sure I had a cool drink, and assisted with the check-in process. I’ve checked myself into hundreds of hotels, but it was comforting to have someone there in case something went wrong with the reservation. I also received a full itinerary for the rest of the trip.
Another foreign feeling: I didn’t have to spend my arrival day looking up directions, making dinner reservations, and double-checking operating hours and transit schedules. I could actually take a shower and unpack, knowing that all I had to do was be in the lobby on time for the first group dinner.
Meeting Like-Minded Travelers
I was starting to see that there are some perks to group travel, but still I had a big group travel hurdle to overcome—the group. I felt a bit anxious as I approached the strangers in the lobby waiting to go to our first Indian restaurant. But I had nothing to worry about. I was among my tribe: international adventure travelers! I immediately hit it off with two women, and for the rest of the trip I enjoyed sitting next to new dinner companions, trading travel stories, and making friends.
I’m still in touch with a handful of my fellow group travelers, and am happy to report that meeting new people was one of the richest experiences of the group travel experience. Who knew?
Having a Guide
Employing local, well-trained, fun guides is where G Adventures really shines. The tour leaders on my trip (called CEOs, or “Chief Experience Officers”) were no exception.
Our trip ran like a well-oiled machine. When the itinerary said to meet at 8:30 for a New Delhi youth-led walking tour with Salaam Baalak Trust, our entire group was in taxis at 8:31. I would have been nervous about taking the subway in New Delhi by myself, but our guides had tokens in hand. They got us through the security lines and deposited the women in the women-only car without breaking a sweat.
I also loved having a guide on-hand to answer all of my India travel questions.
Sustainable, Local Travel
I’ll admit, as a solo traveler I don’t always think that hard about my impact on the local environment and culture. Of course, I try to follow local customs and research small businesses, but it’s not always the easiest to find that information using Google—especially in developing countries. G Adventures, on the other hand, comes through with its commitment to community tourism. Ninety percent of G Adventures small-group trips visit a community tourism project that supports women and kids, environmental conservation, and/or indigenous cultures.
In Delhi, we visited Kitchen with a Cause, which not only serves incredible Indian dishes, but also employs young adults who have been victims of trafficking and abuse. Another local highlight was stopping by Sheroes Café in Agra, run by victims of acid attacks, for chai and an education on how small groups of women are making a huge impact on local laws and domestic violence. I doubt I would have been able to find these small businesses on my own.
It’s Easier to See the Big Sights
Our trip was focused on local and sustainable travel, but there was still dedicated time to see the biggest bucket list item in India: The Taj Mahal. Visiting with a G Adventures group was an absolute dream. There are loads of touts and scammers in and around the marble mausoleum, so having a friendly guide to shepherd us through security and provide factual historical information was ideal. I don’t think I would have gotten as much out of visiting the Taj Mahal had I gone alone.
Pro tip from the guides: Visit the Taj Mahal in the afternoon and again in the early morning to see how the light changes everything from the reflective pools to the gleam of the white marble and inlaid gemstones.
You Can Country-Hop
Group travel gets a bad rap for moving slow and staying in one place. That might be the case with some group tours, but G Adventures is almost always the exception to these group travel stereotypes.
After a whirlwind few days in New Delhi and Agra, my entire group hopped on an Air India flight to Kathmandu. There, we explored Hindu temples and saw Kumari (a living goddess), learned about earthquake relief projects, and experienced making momos with SASANE. We also had time to hike in the foothills of the Himalayas and made dinner with host families in Panauti town.
The sheer number of high-quality experiences I had in a well-led group tour in India and Nepal would have been impossible for me to replicate as a solo tourist. Now, I’m a group travel convert.
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Megan Wood was hosted by G Adventures on her trip to the Taj Mahal.
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