The Beauty of Group Travel

December 2, 2009

A Brass Door Knob, Forbidden City, Beijing

Dear Friends,

It’s been a while since my last post.  The fall was busy and marked by a trip to China in October that will go down in my mind as one of the greatest group travel experiences ever. This National Geographic journey started in Beijing and wove its way south through Xi’an, Chongqing, the Yangzi River, the Three Gorges Dam, ending in pulsating Shanghai.  In reflecting on the success of this experience, I concluded that my 23 travelers encountered group travel at its very best and here’s why:

1. Their Openness:  Marcel Proust is known to have said “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Throughout our time in China, each and every traveler demonstrated a willingness to see through the eyes of others or even to expand their way of thinking in ways that were unfamiliar to them.

2. Their Sense of Community:  From the very first day in Beijing, our group showed respect and care for each other, exchanging personal thoughts and experiences, maintaining punctuality, watching out for each other in crowds, resetting a bike chain during a circumnavigation of the City Wall in Xi’an, lending a sweater when the weather turned cold in Shanghai, and empathizing when someone’s personal belongings went missing in Yichang.  During breakfasts and free meals, I observed different travelers joining each other at different times, developing new friendships and learning from one another.  Couples welcomed single travelers within their midst, and no group was exclusive.

VIP Access to the Terra Cotta Army

3. Their Cultural Sensitivity:   No aspect of Chinese culture went unappreciated on this trip.  Each traveler expressed awe, curiosity, and genuine respect for all our itinerary presented.  From the serenity of the Confucian Temple in Beijing and the Great Mosque in Xi’an to the animated hacky sack players at the Temple of Heaven and the charming, erudite Mr. Wang ( former Chief Engineer of the Three Gorges Dam Project), our group members captured 100% of each significant moment and encounter.

4. Their Joie de Vivre:  I marveled at the personal stories behind each traveler and how they came to choose a trip to China. Many had overcome sadness and challenges in the year or so before the trip, and despite these (or perhaps because of these), they launched themselves into China with a verve and appreciation for life that was heartening.  Their perspective helped them enjoy themselves to the fullest.

A kindergartener waves her pom at us in Fengdu

5. The Authenticity of the Experience:  A group of individuals this genuine deserves the most authentic and truest of experiences.  I am proud to say National Geographic Expeditions delivered on this promise.  We were the only foreigners to visit Panjiayuan (a Beijing flea market), the only foreigners to eat in many of the local restaurants selected, to gain VIP access to the Terra-Cotta Army Museum, to hear an exclusive briefing by the dedicated Director of Foreign Relations at the Great Mosque in Xi’an, to enter the restricted visitor center led by a senior engineer at the Three Gorges Dam Project, and to play jump rope with kindergartners  and sing songs with retirees in Fengdu.  And all these authentic experiences were augmented by the superb lectures and refined expertise of our Expert, Ken Hammond.

Without a doubt, my fellow travelers on this trip enriched a well-planned, educational itinerary by applying the very best principles of group travel.  With their important contributions, I would venture to say we achieved perfection, a rare and beautiful thing in the world of travel.  I am forever indebted to them.

Kate Simpson


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