The do’s and don’ts of group travel

I learned a lot about people on my trip to Sturgis.  Traveling with a big group can present its challenges, but it can also make for a safe and enriching experience that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.  Though not typically one for etiquette guides, these are the lessons I’ve picked up during my years of travel.

Disclaimer: Sturgis was a lovely trip.  Big thank you’s go out to the fearless leaders who organized the trip, the gracious followers, and a big cheers that we all have come out of it with friendships in tact.

The lookout point for Devil’s Tower, WY. These happy, smiley faces are having a winner vacation because we all followed the do’s and don’ts of group travel

Lauren’s guide to safe and happy travels in groups:

DO pick your battles.  Traveling in large groups is a lesson in diplomacy.  DON’T be that one chick who argues about everything. But, this is your vacation too.  So if you’re not happy with a group decision to the point that it affects your good times, speak up.  Otherwise, learn to let it go.

DO pick a leader, and

DON’T be a jerk if the leader is you.  Check with the group and, if it comes down to it, take a vote, draw straws, play rock-paper-scissors.  Again, group travel is a lesson in diplomacy.  And democracy.  Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean that it’s your job to make all the decisions.

DO have an itinerary, and

DO share it with the ENTIRE group, but

DO let people stray from it.  We’re all adults here.  Establish meeting places and times, put them on printed out itineraries, and then divide and conquer.  A group can get real hostile real fast if you spend too much time together, and many friendships have been broken up over a vacation.  That’s lame.

DON’T forget to pitch in.  Even if you’re not a leader or a naturally assertive person, don’t be afraid to put your hand in and help.  Vacation is work, especially in a big group, and no one appreciates you coasting while we’re busy taking out the trash and washing dishes.  If you can’t get anywhere verbally (e.g. “Can I help?  Anything I can do?” doesn’t always get a task assigned to you… the leader will say, “No I got it”) just dive in and do something.

DO embrace the group experience.  Be a joiner and recognize that your great lodging and awesome excursions might not have been possible without the support (financial, that is) of the group.  It’s also way safer, especially when you’re traveling in places that are out of cell phone range.

That said, DON’T forget to create your own experience.  This is your vacation too.  If there’s something you want to see or do, do it.

Freedom, empty space, and other patriotic thoughts from Wyoming

The ride down to Devil’s Tower from our chateau in the Black Hills demonstrates one of the most dramatic changes in landscape I’ve witnessed in two hours of highway.  One minute high in the trees and rocky hills, with the snap of a finger you find yourself on the barren plains of Cattle country almost immediately on crossing the South Dakota/Wyoming border.

But in the middle of the desolate and dry landscape of Eastern Wyoming, there’s an anomaly.

photo by Kelly Soprych

Unlike its fellow national monuments of bronze and stone depictions of dead presidents, Devil’s Tower is not contrived by men.  There was a placard somewhere along the 2+ mile hike around it that said something about molten lava and volcanoes, but I like the Lakota legend better:

Seven sisters were out playing when a bear started to chase them.  They climbed on a rock and the spirits rose the rock to the sky, where the sisters were turned into the constellation Pleiades.  The bear scratched and clawed at the rock, but was unable to reach the top.  

That’s way cooler than lava.

It’s hard to explain the gravity of a place like Devil’s Tower, but even more profound are the thoughts that come with a solid four days of moving Westward. People historically moved West for freedom, space, and opportunity.  They were motivated by gold, coal, oil and land, and maybe they still are.  Whether it’s gold or a job at Wal-Mart that pushes Americans Westward, I was starting to lose hope that there were still open spaces in this country, in spite of its size.  I live in a constant state of claustrophobia, seeking Starbucks after Starbucks, with people living literally on top of one another and paying the highest prices for the least amount of space.

But after a pit stop at the first and last gas station on the way from Devil’s Tower to Gillette, WY, there wasn’t a Starbucks in sight.  In fact, there wasn’t a single building – or even a vehicle for that matter – as far as the eye could see.  In that moment I’ve never felt more vulnerable, or more free.  I imagine it’s as close as you can get to witnessing what it was like for those first settlers moving West over the open prairie in search of, well, nothing… 

…and actually finding it.