This past weekend, I embarked on an extremely last-minute trip to Cadiz. I’ve been to the small southern town before, although that was at a very different time of the year. This time around, it wasn’t hot, but there were still plenty of people out on the streets all day. The occasion? ‘Carnaval’.
Carnaval in Cadiz is extremely well-known throughout Spain. In fact, it’s supposed to be the top destination for Spanish Carnaval-goers. With that said, I was surprised at how many of the people I met during the festivities were actually from Cadiz. Strangely enough, there were also many from Italy, with not that many from English-speaking countries. As confusing as it was to be in a large group with Americans, Canadians, and some other anglophones, the highlight of my night was being consistently asked if I too was Italian. Will you ever get it right, Spain?
Still, it brings me much pleasure to say I’ve now been to Carnaval in Cadiz. While it wasn’t my favourite festival in Spain (that still goes to Las Fallas in Valencia), it was incredible to see so many costume-wearing folk several months after Halloween. Unfortunately, at night, it was too cold to go completely jacket-less for me (thus hiding the Wonder Woman costume, despite the layers I had on). For that reason, I would suggest that anyone going to the festivities in the future dress as though it really is a real winter, as Spain’s sun is deceptively warm and leaves its nights significantly colder.
Details on Carnaval aside, this trip marked another first for me: traveling with a big group of foreigners. I’ve traveled in relatively big groups before, mostly with family or close friends. Still, I’ve never taken a “students/foreigners only” trip with mostly 18-25 year olds before, and after having done it this time, I don’t know if I ever will again. For that reason, I’ve decided to list off my idea of the positives and negatives of this form of group travel.
1. It’s planned.
Okay, as we’ll later see, this is actually a negative for me. However, if you’re the type of traveler who stresses out about planning, this will make group travel worth it for you. Everything about our trip was planned – from the trip to Cadiz to the trip to Carnaval itself – meaning we just had to follow along. It’s perfect for short-term travelers, students, and anyone who genuinely dislikes researching different travel methods. Also, at times like this, it may be the only form of traveling somewhere while on a budget, which was my reason for doing it. Normally, I think you can find cheaper travel options, though, so be wary.
2. No Spanish.
If you’re an exchange student or newcomer to Madrid with very little knowledge of Spanish, this will be a major positive for you. Spanish from Cadiz is, unfortunately, even more difficult to comprehend than other dialects in Spain. Personally, I love it, find it endearing, and wish I could decipher it better, but even for me it’s impossible to fully understand. For anyone with less than intermediate/advanced Spanish, speaking to a Gaditano (a person from Cadiz) would simply be a nightmare, though the people are well aware that they speak a unique form of the language. Every time I visit Cadiz or speak to a Gaditano, I feel as though I’m actually not speaking Spanish!
3. You get to meet people.
Truth be told, you meet people on your travels regardless of your form of travel. Although, through group travel, there are several times to get to know lots of different people. The wonderful thing for me was that I did meet a few new friends while already being on the trip with some, and as we were all there together, meeting each other was that much easier.
1. It’s planned.
This one goes either way, depending on your personality. For me, traveling is more exciting when I get to choose my adventure. I don’t mind following others’ adventures at times, but in big groups, this is only made to be more complicated than it has to be. In addition, while some people are stressed out by having to read a map, speak a different language, or venture into the unknown, these are all things that I thrive on. As you can imagine, being a part of a big organized trip just stifled me and made me feel like I regressed in terms of my travel skills!
2. You’re probably too ‘old’ for it.
Okay, old is definitely not the right term for this, but to say ‘mature’ might make me seem a little conceited. In all honesty, some people are made for this form of travel, regardless of their age. Some others, however, get irritated by some of their fellow travelers’ behaviour. I consider myself to be generally easy going with travel, but to be constantly surrounded by 18-20 year olds (or some older – including many older than me) who merely fulfilled the stereotype many foreigners have of young travelers from the North American continent was not the funnest thing to be around. Call me a travel snob, but the truth is, my best trips within Spain have been with a small group of cultured travelers, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
3. It’s not the best way to see a place.
I stand firmly by this one, and it’s why I suggest serious travelers opt out of pre-organized trips, unless their main purpose is to socialize with new people. There’s nothing worse than missing out on an amazing location because of group issues, or because no one’s done this before/is too worried to go off alone. You’ll thank yourself later for taking the less safe option by traveling in a small pack.
With the negatives and positives of this type of group travel in mind, it’s important to realize what suits your personality best. Do you just want to have fun with a group of new people? Are you traveling to experience more of what’s around you, not who’s around you? Are you confident in your own survival skills, or do you prefer a little help? The end result is up to you, and while I wouldn’t completely downplay how great group travel can be, it’s important to select the right kind for you.
What’s your preferred form of travel?