Touring Northern India: A Conversation with Christel Shea
This month, we’re interviewing women from all over the world and asking them about their experiences participating in tours. We had the privilege of speaking with Christel Shea about her experience touring Northern India. Here’s a glimpse into our conversation.
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where are you from? Where do you currently live?
I’m the managing director of a Boston-based travel research website TourMatter. Living here in Boston gives me the wonderful opportunity to play #touristathome with visitors, or on weekend explorations. In particular, I love running along Boston’s many waterfront routes, such as the Charles River or the harbor.
What kind of tour did you participate in? Where did you go? How did you spend your time?
I took a small-group tour to Northern India, with a focus on Delhi, Jaipur, and Varanasi–and a visit to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, of course! This tour has a few long transfer days, but between trains and buses, it’s a great way to see the quiet of rural areas in contrast to the chaos of the cities. This was my first trip to a non-Western destination, so traveling with a group allowed me to take in everything around me without worrying about language and logistics. Having a guide to educate us on cultural nuances was very helpful for everyone, too.
What made you decide to participate in the tour?
For places like India, South East Asia, and Africa, traveling with a group means that major responsibilities, like language and logistics, were handled by experts. Traveling with a group also meant that that I had the benefit of a guide for cultural insight and expertise without the expense of a private tour.
What were the highlights of the tour? What disappointed you about the tour?
Traveling to India will always be my most memorable tour. In the end, the challenges became the highlights as I discovered how really insignificant one person is when shuffled in among one billion. Once I stopped being self-conscious about the crowds and chaos and poverty, I was able to really appreciate the kindness and beauty of the people we met. Traveling with a group, and a guide who was open to answering any question, provided a sense of security I would not have had on my own.
What are some of the benefits of participating in a tour? What are some of the downsides? Would you participate in another tour?
Highlights of group travel include really building relationships with the guides, and having a large enough group to appreciate and digest a shared experience–whether it’s a village visit, or a rare wildlife sighting. (Reliving epic moments is something I sometimes miss while traveling alone.) Challenges are nearly always interpersonal, where individual interests and expectations aren’t well aligned. Whether it’s keeping a schedule (e.g. being on time for the bus), or respecting and minimizing the effects of tourism, it’s important to be with like-minded travelers. Generally, the tour and operator you choose gets you with “your people.” Overall, the positive experiences far outweigh the downsides. (And even the downsides give you good material later on!) For destinations far enough outside a traveler’s cultural or physical “comfort zone,” tours are absolutely the way to go.
Photo Credit: Yann Pinczon