Of all the things travellers do on tour, creating travel friendships and forming relationships is one of the most special things you can enjoy. With International Friendship Day coming up on 30 July, it is a great time to celebrate travel and friendship!
Group tours give travellers a number of things. You get to see bucket-list destinations, take selfies in faraway places, taste foreign delicacies and walk along the streets of towns with names you can hardly pronounce. The gift of travel is all about experiencing something new. Or even seeing something ordinary in an extraordinary way. On top of all this, one of the greatest gifts that group travel gives you is meeting new people.
The friends you meet and the connections you create on tour can be some of the most lasting memories you take home with you. We asked a few Expat Explore travellers to share some of their tales of friendship and love from their tours. Read their stories below!
Sara Gandikota first met her now-husband Imtiaz in 2016 on the European Vistas tour. Sara is from the USA and was travelling in Europe with her mom and sister while Imtiaz, who is originally from India and was based in Sweden at the time, joined the tour to see more of Europe. The couple got to know each other during their tour, began dating in December 2016 and got married in May 2020! Today they live together in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Travel has always been an important part of both of their lives. “Each destination offers new experiences, challenges and memories,” says Sara. The two of them are always looking forward to their next adventure and feel that even a simple weekend trip is great for couples!
Since they have been together, the couple has travelled to a number of amazing destinations in the USA including Washington D.C, Joshua Tree NP, Mount Shasta, Yosemite NP and the Pacific Northwest Coast.
Sara shared more of their story with us:
How did you meet your husband on tour?
“Our European Vistas tour began in Amsterdam and this was the first time that we saw each other but did not introduce ourselves till later in the tour. The first couple of days passed, we shared some glances but never interacted. Finally, we went to Switzerland and this is where we really connected. Our first day in Switzerland consisted of trying to find the best *and cheapest* lunch in Lucerne. Since I did not have internet, my mom, sister and I decided to tag along with Imtiaz and another person we met on the tour. They both had international sim cards and could find us a yummy lunch spot. We found a spot after walking for some time, had lunch, drank a few beers and headed by the lake for the evening. This was probably one of my favourite evenings on the tour.
The next day we went to Mount Pilatus early in the morning. I ventured away from my mom and sister since I wanted to capture some shots of the Swiss Alps before more tourists arrived. I climbed one of the peaks and Imtiaz was already there taking photos of the scenery. We talked for a bit, exchanged personal details, and connected a bit.
The following day of the tour consisted of our little group going to various places in Paris, France. We mostly enjoyed exploring the Notre Dame Cathedral and almost getting lost in the Paris Metro (partially Imtiaz’ fault since we were all laughing and stuck in conversation while mindlessly following him to “our train”). It probably was not the best idea to travel by Metro at 11:00 PM on a weekday but hey we made it back to our hotel safe and still laugh about it today.
On the final day of the tour, it was quiet on the bus. As someone that travelled with 40 strangers for less than a week, we all got to know one another and knew we probably would never see one another again. So we all started to add each other on Facebook, that way we could stay somewhat connected. Once the tour bus was back in Amsterdam, we said our goodbyes and all went our separate ways.
A few months after the tour ended, Imtiaz moved back to the states. Once I found out that he was moving back from Sweden from a Facebook post he made, we started texting each other about our experience on the tour and rekindled our connection. Since I was not moving to Northern California to continue my education until the following year, we dated long distance for a while, until I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Facetime and social media helped us stay connected and helped each of us get to know one another better.”
Do you have any couple travel plans once travel is possible again? If so, where?
“Since COVID-19 derailed our plans for a honeymoon in Hawaii, we plan on visiting the island once travelling is safer. We are a very outdoorsy couple that enjoys hiking and want to visit as many National Parks in The United States as we can in the next few years, such as Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park and Zion National Park. With regards to international travel, we do have Ireland and Spain & Portugal Expat Explore tours on our list.”
Why do you believe people should travel and see more of the world?
“If more people see travelling as a benefit to their own selves and their relationships, then everyone would get on the next flight to the destination on the top of their bucket list. I feel that individuals associate travelling with debt and large expenses. Sometimes you just have to take the risk, save your money and go where you really want to go. You only have one life, get out there and travel to the places you have always dreamed of going.”
Georgette “Jette” Dominguez, 56, lives in Manila in the Philippines and is an Executive Secretary for a broadcasting company. Jette first travelled with Expat Explore in 2019 on the Classic Europe tour as a solo traveller and made incredible friends along the way!
Over the 14 days, Jette became friends with Sukriti, Christine, Craig, (another) Christine, Noelle, Nabi, Nanett and her mother Ann (who was the oldest explorer at 80+ years old!). The group had journeyed from India, Australia, the USA and further abroad to see more of Europe.
Jette shared more on how they all became friends:
How did you all come to be friends along the tour?
“It began during meals on the tour. You have to sit with your fellow explorers and the conversations started from there. In my case, since I was a solo traveller, I approached other solo travellers during the Amsterdam canal cruise and made friends with them.”
What are some of your best memories from the Classic Europe Tour
“What sticks in my mind till now is the travel to Venice. I was the happiest in that city. I was so excited to take the gondola ride which I shared with Sukriti, Nabi, Craig the two Christines. Then the water taxi was the best way to end the day.”
Are there any interesting or funny moments you can remember from this tour?
“I think the wakey wakey song of our tour leader Steve (Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac) is unforgettable and the group dinners where we just got to hang out with each other. Another thing to note is the closeness the explorers had for each other. You never felt alone. Someone is always looking out for you.”
How do you keep in contact across continents?
“Sukriti and I are constantly in touch. Nanette and Christine Adam send me messages & comments from my FB posts.”
Are you planning to travel with your friends from the tour again?
“Yes if our schedules align! :)”
Do you have any tips for meeting new people and making friends while travelling particularly while travelling solo?
“Always keep an open mind. Make the first move to make new friends and be understanding of each other’s cultures.
As a solo traveller, you have to be fearless to be travelling on your own. Enjoy but also be wary of your surroundings. During free days I took tours on my own. I joined hop on hop off tours which I booked before leaving Manila. So you can call it my break from my Expat Explore family. I am amazed I was roaming the streets of Paris, Berlin, and Rome by myself and managed to have a great time and be safe. Sure I got lost countless times but even that is fun.”
Why do you believe people should choose to travel and see more?
“To begin with I love travelling. Before I went to Europe I was travelling in Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Egypt). I have travelled to many cities in the US with friends and have travelled to some States alone. Perhaps in preparation for travelling to Europe alone! So I am a travel bug. No need to convince me in this area!
But for non-travel bugs, I can say what you learn from travelling is not something taught in books or in school. I also believe that you should make your dreams come true. Don’t wait till you are “old enough” to travel. Life is happening now.”
What do your travel friends mean to you?
“They are like your family while away from home. You look out for each other. They become lifelong connections. When I travelled solo to Niagara Falls in 2017 I made friends with Nui Nan from Thailand and we are still friends today.”
Kevin Screene is one of our excellent Expat Explore tour guides. He created one of his most memorable travel moments when he proposed to his girlfriend Michelle during one of his tours!
Kevin and Michelle met on holiday in Europe and have been together for five years. Today, they live together in London. Travel has always been a passion for both of them, “Michelle and I absolutely love to travel. We love experiencing new places, being adventurous by trying new food, we enjoy meeting people from all over the world and we just love beautiful scenery and sunny weather!” says Kevin. Some of their favourite places they have visited together are Malta, Italy, France, Poland and Mauritius.
Kevin planned the ultimate travel moment when he proposed to Michelle on tour. He shared more of their proposal story:
“Michelle travelled to Switzerland to meet me for her birthday. Little did Michelle know that I had planned a big surprise proposal and that all of my group were in on the secret.
The next day was her birthday and we travelled up on the Cog railway to the top of Mt Pilatus. Everyone in the group went and explored. While I was very nervous, I was trying to get Michelle to the very top of the lookout and she was just taking her time looking around and enjoying the views. I was trying to hurry her up, she was like “what’s the hurry?”. We finally made it to the top and my tour group was waiting for the moment with smiles coming from everybody. The day was perfect with views for miles. I took a knee and I popped the question, the answer was yes the whole mountain roared with cheers from other groups and individuals! It was a moment that will never be forgotten.
One funny memory was that I asked a couple on tour (John and Louise) if they would video record the moment. Of course, they were delighted but as they started they did not realise that they were videoing themselves and not us. We still joke about it now! They turned into great friends after the tour – in fact, John and Louise came to our wedding! John is a priest and he asked if we like him to marry us. Plus our wedding cake was made by Michelle and her husband Stewart who were on another couple tour with me, and they also attended our wedding.”
Why did you choose to propose on tour?
“I chose to propose on tour because I wanted Michelle’s birthday to be one to remember. My group all knew that I was going to propose to Michelle and they were excited to be a part of the plans to help me surprise her! It was amazing to share the excitement to propose in such a beautiful location in Europe and also such fun to celebrate our good news with people on tour from all over the world. The truth was I could not get the time off, so my suggestion was ‘let’s do it on tour’. I think it was the best idea ever.”
What were the logistics of planning a proposal on tour? Were there any challenges?
“There were no challenges at all – I was a little nervous about keeping the surprise and controlling my excitement. However, I had my awesome group there smiling and excited with me, which was just brilliant! Actually, there was a little challenge – the ring. Due to no time at home and changing of tours I had no time to buy a ring, so on arriving in Lucerne, I had to run to every jeweller I could find, to find that perfect ring, and just in time! Ten minutes before I met my group I finally found it.
Do you have any advice for people planning to propose while travelling?
“If you’re planning to propose on tour, it’s great to secretly let your tour leader know! We can help by giving you some advice on where you can get that memorable proposal in and even help calm your nerves too! I really have enjoyed taking part in proposal plans in both Paris and Rome for couples on my tour. Do something different – think out of the box. Do what no one has done before. I did and now I have an amazing story!”
Do you have any couple travel plans once travel is possible again? If so, where?
“The list is always growing, but we would love to visit South Africa, the United States, Egypt, Sri Lanka and Japan!”
The best part of travel is when friends become family. Nicolene de la Rey met her travel family on a 2015 Croatian and Eastern Delights tour. Nicolene, 40, is a solution strategist from South Africa who has completed three tours with Expat Explore and definitely has the travel bug!
Croatia had always been on Nicolene’s travel bucket list and she was delighted to find a tour that covered Croatia and Budapest and Prague! She convinced her friend Alida to join her and they set off on their first international trip together.
Nicolene and Alida from South Africa, Ayesh from Australia, and Laura, Liam and Shaun from the UK became one big happy travel family on tour. Nicolene shared more about how she made lifelong friends on tour:
How did you all come to be friends during the tour?
“Alida and I are both outgoing people and will start talking to anyone! We chatted to most people in our group getting to know them and spent time together walking the streets of the small cities we visited. But the moment that bonded us, in such a way that we became a ‘family’ was on the coach on the way to Split. It was a very windy day, so the coach had to take an alternative route, thus extending our trip by a few hours. We were all sitting in the same area and it just happened. From there, we spent most of our time together for the remainder of the trip.”
Where have your travel family travelled together over the years?
“In 2016, Liam came to SA and travelled my beautiful country for a month. In 2017, Liam, Laura, Ayesh and I met in Paris and from there we joined the Scandinavian Escape tour. Then in 2018 Alida, Liam Shaun and I did the Spain & Portugal Explorer tour. Here as well we made new friends.”
How do you keep in contact across continents?
“With technology today, it is so easy! WhatsApp, FB Messaging, etc.”
Are there any challenges? Especially now with different travel restrictions across the globe
“The time difference is the only ‘challenge’ as sometimes we only reply the following day, but we all understand this. What is not that great is that we cannot just pop by for a coffee, etc. to catch up. We were all planning on meeting in Greece this year, but due to the travel restrictions, we are unfortunately we are not able to see each other ☹”
Do you have any tips for meeting new people and making friends while travelling?
“Don’t be shy! Introduce yourself and start talking to people. This is not easy for everyone but try and put yourself out there.”
Why do you believe people should choose to travel and see more of the world?
“Travel broadens your horizons and opens up a world of possibilities. You get to experience different cultures, see amazing, sometimes unexpected, places. It also makes you realise the beauty and opportunities in your country.”
Finally, what does your travel family mean to you?
“The WORLD!! Sometimes I chat to my Travel Family more than my friends at home. We also try and make plans in advance for our next trip and this is very exciting. People often say that they don’t want to tour with groups as you don’t have time for yourself and it’s too rushed, etc. I personally love tours! You meet so many new people, it’s cheaper than having to book yourself and you have enough free time to explore on your own. If it wasn’t for touring, I would not have met my travel family! ”
Memories aren’t the only thing you make while you’re on tour. Friends, family and even future life partners are all just waiting to be met! Look forward to creating connections and travel friendships with people from all over the world on your next group tour vacation.
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