The VIPKid Field Trip was basically a group tour with some VIPKid activities mixed in. The travel agency we used was great and our tour guide was amazing. However, if you have never traveled in a group tour setting, there are some things that you may need to consider. I do recommend that the first time you travel to an unfamiliar place, a group tour is a great way to go as you know a bit more what to expect and your tour guide can assist you if you have any issues. This is especially important if you are traveling somewhere that you do not speak the language. After you are a bit more familiar with the area, you might feel more confident to take a trip by yourself. When I visit China again, I will more than likely not do another group trip. I got a taste of how things work in China and I feel that I could make my own arrangements next time.
When you are on a group trip, it almost has the feeling of a school field trip. You are more or less expected to stay together. While it is perfectly acceptable for you to make other arrangements or skip a particular activity, that is your own choice and you will be on your own for that. (Our tour guide would help us figure things out even beyond our tour, but that is not always the case.) There will be people who walk faster or slower than others. There will be people that are louder or quieter than others. Basically, you will be getting very familiar with your group because you will be in tight quarters on the bus and in some of the venues. Obviously, there are personalities that you will enjoy being with, and others that you would rather avoid.
Breakfast was served buffet-style at the hotels. Lunch (on this particular trip) was always served family-style at several round tables with a huge lazy susan. We did not order our particular meals, rather a variety of dishes were brought out and we could each serve ourselves a portion. If you have particular dietary restrictions, this seemed to be quite a bit of a problem. The restaurants cater mostly to the group, not to individual preferences and due to the language issues, it was sometimes hard to get extra service when needed. (Also, they almost always ran out of forks. So, be ready to use chopsticks!).
In a group setting, we were occasionally given a bit of free exploration time. Almost every time that happened, someone in the group ended up being late to our meeting point. This of course made the rest of the group have to wait until all members are accounted for. Also, be prepared to line up two-by-two and be counted about 25 times a day (I will say it helped me learn some of the Chinese numbers a little better hearing our tour guide count over and over again). There is a certain challenge to seeing the beautiful sights you are visiting while keeping up with the group.
The final issue is that after several days of strenuous walking, many of us were not as pleasant as we could have been. I know that I was pretty cranky on a couple of the days when I didn’t think I could possibly walk another step. However, I try not to let my exhaustion wear off on anyone else, but there will inevitably be some people in the group who are not as pleasant. This can cause some unnecessary tension. This group was especially challenging as most of us did not know each other at all before the trip and we are all independent contractors who work from home, so we all have our own particular ways of doing things. This just means that we are usually all accustomed to doing things in our own way and not necessarily conforming to a group. (Honestly, this brought back nightmares of some of my elementary school field trips!)
With all of these things taken into consideration, I will also say that I highly value the friendships I made on this trip! I met some amazing people who share the same passion as I do (and the crazy, early morning work schedule). While we may not be in contact often, I consider them now my friends and hope that our paths cross again soon. So, traveling in a group definitely has benefits that outweigh the challenges.