Fiona Yau, in our Flights Team, took the plunge into her first solo travel experience. Here she tells all…
Before the opportunity to go on a walking holiday to Madeira arose, I had not considered travelling with a group I didn't know. I am someone who would not describe themselves as a 'social butterfly'; in fact, I'm actually quite introverted and the idea of spending a week with a group made me feel nervous. This anxiety was heightened too because I couldn't find someone I know to travel with. I enjoy walking but I had never done the distances described in the itinerary so I wondered how I would cope. So, I was faced with travelling alone, with a group, and going on a walking holiday - all for the first time in my life!
I think from the first moment I met my group at the airport, I knew I was going to be OK; everyone was so friendly and welcoming. I think I was almost expecting it to be formal but I couldn't have been more wrong. I was surprised by how casual it was and how relaxed I felt. I could join conversations and not feel as though I was intruding because everyone was new to each other and some were travelling alone too. It built a sense of camaraderie.
We used two minibuses to travel to around the island and although everyone sat in the same minibus each time, no cliques formed. Even at dinner, we ate as a group each night; we sat on one long table each time instead of several separate tables, which I really liked, but you sat with different people each time so you could get to know different members of the group. Even when walking, we all mixed with various others in our group, giving us the chance to chat casually as we went.
I often found I was nearer the back but while this worried me before I left, it wasn’t an issue. Everyone was happy to wait for others to catch up; we all walked at our own pace and stopped to take in the scenery when we wanted to. I didn't have to worry about being left behind because it really felt like we were a team. On our final walk to Pico Ruivo, I was the last one to reach the summit but the group gave me cheers of encouragement from the top as I approached!
I wouldn't have considered doing the distances in our itinerary by myself before the trip but I felt motivated with a guide and group by my side. There were fast walkers and others who were keen photographers. Our Explore leader, Filipe, factored this into the walks and made plans accordingly. Having a guide meant that I felt safe because he told us what the terrain ahead would be like and I knew how far we had to go to reach certain checkpoints. I was surprised by how long I could walk for but with plenty of breaks to help and cafés or bars for treats, the distance wasn’t an issue.
Group holidays are a really good way to experience a country if you're travelling alone and looking for company, or if you’re worried about safety and arranging the logistics of a trip. Having a local guide was great too because he had so much expertise - I don't think there was a question about Madeira he didn't know the answer to. I'm surprised and pleased by how much my confidence has grown as a result too. I will definitely go on another Explore group holiday!
Find out more about walking in Madeira here