From the minute he boarded the bus to start a tour of Yellowstone National Park, the man was annoying.
He complained that the tour bus wasn’t brand-new, recalls Pamela Boudrot, a Los Angeles-based tour leader. The low point came at the Old Faithful Geyser stop, when she told the group of 40 that the geyser would erupt once or twice during their lunch at the Old Faithful Inn -- and that they could temporarily abandon lunch to walk outside. They would have to squeeze in the geyser-viewing during the meal because their dinner destination was hours away and they needed to get back on the road.
That was fine with everyone -- except the crotchety guy, who finished his lunch without viewing the geyser. When it was time to board the bus, he announced that he wasn’t leaving until he saw Old Faithful in action.
Boudrot told him he couldn’t. He erupted.
Boudrot’s recollection of the incident (which ended peacefully after the man apologized) reflects a reality of group travel: There’s often a sourpuss -- or a whiner, a bore or the perennially late person -- who threatens to spoil the trip.
Group tours can be an economical and productive way to squeeze in lots of sightseeing, but you may get stuck with people you’d rather not spend time with or who get on your nerves after a few days -- or hours.
You can’t screen your fellow tour group participants, so the next best strategy, mental health experts and veteran tour leaders say, is to learn a bit about group dynamics and how to cope with unpleasant passengers.
“When you are in a group, everyone brings themselves, who they are, but also their history,” says Teresa Rose, a psychologist in Kansas City, Mo., who specializes in group dynamics and relationship counseling.
Certain behaviors, especially in a group of strangers, tend to set people off more than others, Rose finds.
Some people think those who are late are disrespectful. But, Rose says, the latecomers “may not have hostile intentions”; they’re just poor time managers. Understanding that their lateness is unrelated to your own feelings of being devalued may help you stay calmer.
Before the trip, it helps to develop the right mind-set, says Murray Bilmes, a psychologist in Berkeley and a professor of psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology in Alameda. “Go with the flow” definitely applies, he says, when you are embarking on a group trip.
Focus on the pluses, Bilmes suggests. “The hotel reservations are made,” he says. Luggage and other chores are taken care of and often so are your meal reservations.
Look for a group tour that allows some private time, suggests Brett Poierier of Bristol, Vt., a tour leader for various companies for 30 years. For instance, when he leads a walking tour for Classic Journeys, there is often a walk in the morning and an optional walk in the afternoon. Those who opt out are free to do whatever they wish.
When fellow travelers start to annoy you, seek help first from the tour leader, Poierier suggests. Most can tactfully address the offensive behavior.
If you’d like to tackle the problem yourself, consider a straightforward but diplomatic approach. To someone who’s monopolizing the conversation, you might say, “What you have been talking about is interesting, but I heard Susan say something I’d like to hear more about.”
If all else fails, remember why you chose a group tour. “Psychologically, it’s very comforting,” Rose says. “You can be a stranger in a strange land but have someone holding your hand.”
Healthy Traveler appears every other week. Kathleen Doheny can be reached at email@example.com.