First, Let Yourself Go
It's the adventure of a lifetime! You just have to share it with eight strangers. (Sigh.)
"Marsopa! Marsopa!" the deckhand cried, and we scrambled for our wetsuits and gear. We were three days into a ten-day live-aboard cruise south of the equator and still edgy and terminally polite with each other. Excusez-moi. Pardon. Eight guests from five different countries fumbling into scuba gear so that we could swim with the marsopas. What we saw when we hit the water was astonishing: about 30 bottle-nosed dolphins, some 500-pounders, some like sleek gray piglets, and all grinning and nodding enthusiastically in our face masks as if to say, "Yes! Yes! Weird, bubble-making, rubber-suited beings, come play with us! You we like!" Unlike when I'd met my fellow passengers, I took one look at the dolphins and thought, This is the fun-loving peer group I've been looking for ever since my high-school friends got lives.
I couldn't tear myself from the ceaselessly circling celebration until, after about 45 minutes, the dolphins lost interest and swam off. Suddenly alone, I kicked to the surface and saw the tiny, very distant dive boat motoring away. Yep, I thought, once again I'm screwed.
When it comes to group travel, it can seem at times that we're all screwed. You think about how you spent all this money and traveled all this way to get stuck with a bunch of tight-assed ophthalmologists' wives. And then you end up having sex with them. (Or don't, but wish you had.) Personally, I start out on a trip among strangers with my defenses up, prejudices blazing. But the more I travel, the more I hold out hope. And what I hope for is a little disaster, the one that breaks the ice—if it doesn't kill me first.
Sometimes it doesn't even have to be about me being the idiot. I wasn't the one who started the riot in the karaoke bar in Koror, nor did I cause the whole team to slide 500 feet down Mount Hood on their butts, practicing self-arrest techniques. I didn't call the Mayan shaman's grandmother "Fat Lady," and it wasn't my navel ring the sea lion wanted to play with in that cavern in Baja. In each of these cases, somebody else stepped up and ate the humble pâté, but each time, everyone in our group rallied around the misfortune. The important thing isn't who does it, or what they do, but that everybody is actually doing something, anything, out at the edge of their comfort zone. Then the moment of terror, beauty, or humor (or all three at once) makes friends of fellow travelers.
For example, my rescue from an uninhabited rock mere hours after running away to join the dolphin circus gave us all something to talk and joke about. And from that point on we eight became a team. No one got left behind as we surged onward, a small community stoking each other with laughter and wonderment—a fine peer group, after all, though I agree with the marsopa: We do look ridiculous in our rubber suits.